Manchester police chief writes open letter condemning Times 'sex grooming town' headline

Chief Constable Ian Hopkins says the headline 'has no relevance to the horrific murder of a former Imam in Rochdale'

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The Independent Online

A Manchester police chief has written an open letter criticising a Times report about the death of a Muslim religious leader which described Rochdale as a “sex grooming town”.

Ian Hopkins, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, wrote to The Times’ editor John Witherow to decry the “appalling” headline on a piece about the murder of Jalal Uddin, which was entitled “Imam beaten to death in sex grooming town”.

Mr Uddin, 64, died in hospital from serious head injuries after being assaulted in a children's playground in Rochdale on Thursday night. Muslims have been asked to remain calm amid fears of a racist motive for the attack, and one man arrested over the incident has since been released.

In a letter addressed “Dear sir” and posted to Twitter, Mr Hopkins said the headline “has no relevance to the horrific murder of a former Imam in Rochdale”.

The Jalalia Jamé Mosque in Rochdale, Manchester

He said police remained “open minded” about the circumstances of the murder, but that there was currently “no evidence to suggest” it was racially motivated at this stage, and said he had feedback from members of the public angry about The Times’ headline.

“Clearly, horrific murders such as this have the potential to undermine community confidence and create tension between different parts of the community,” Mr Hopkins wrote.

“Your headline and its irrelevance to this case has the potential to cause community tension. It is also offensive to the thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims and non-Muslims living in Rochdale, who are shocked by this murder.”

Local religious leaders in Rochdale have called for calm after Mr Uddin’s death, asking police be allowed to do their work and for locals not to speculate what prompted the attack.

Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said: "We pay our deepest condolences to his family, friends and the community in Rochdale, for the loss of a man who played a significant role within the community and will be sorely missed.

"It is not the first time that an imam has been murdered whilst on the way home from mosque, and we would urge the community to be vigilant and offer support and assistance whilst travelling."