Anti-racism campaigner planned attack on Sikhs

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THE MUSLIM leader of a campaign against racism at a school was himself involved in planning a violent attack on a group of Sikhs.

Chaudhry Iftakhar Ahmed, president of Slough's Pakistan Welfare Association, is at the centre of a campaign accusing Slough and Eton school in Berkshire of 'institutional racism'.

The Church of England secondary school with 98 per cent Asian pupils has a predominantly white governing board and teaching staff.

Mr Ahmed was convicted at Reading Crown Court in January 1989 of conspiracy to commit violent disorder and of possessing an offensive weapon. He was arrested with five other Muslims at Langley College in Slough in January l 1988. They were planning to attack a group of Sikh students called the 'Holy Smokes' with baseball bats, a knuckleduster, a machete and a knife.

Mr Ahmed was sentenced to 180 hours of community service. He has refused to confirm or deny that he was involved in the planned attack, saying he believes the media is attempting to undermine his campaign against Slough and Eton school and cloud the real issues.

He said he was seeking legal advice and the Commission for Racial Equality was dealing with the issue. But a spokesman for the CRE said Mr Ahmed had not approached it.

The campaign against racism at the school began with the delivery of a petition, signed by 1,000 parents and members of the Asian community, to Berkshire County Council. It accused teachers of racism and of running the school on a 'Euro-centric basis'. It said staff taught 'unethical values' and treated the pupils' culture, religion and heritage in a 'scant, dismissive and contemptuous manner'.

The petition was drawn up with Mr Ahmed's help by four parent- governors who are all Sikhs, including General Ruprah, the vice- chairman of the governors. Mr Ruprah said that digging up Mr Ahmed's past was an attempt to turn Pakistanis against Indians and had nothing to do with children's education.

Since the campaign began, one teacher has received hate mail and police are investigating a fire at the home of another. Mr Ruprah says he has also received threatening letters.

Mr Ruprah and Mr Ahmed complain that only 17 per cent of the staff are of ethnic minority origin, and 11 of the school's 16 governors are white. Mr Ahmed said the diocesan governors had been at the school for 15 to 20 years and formed a 'closed monopoly'. Both want fair representation for Asians among governors and staff.

They say parents were dissatisfied with an inquiry by Berkshire County Council into allegations of illegal fining of pupils for minor misdemeanours and want an independent inquiry carried out. They also claim the school failed to appoint an excellent candidate for the headship because he was Asian. Staff are alleged to have refused to work under him.

Fred Fox, the previous head teacher, took early retirement at the end of term, and the council has appointed a temporary acting head, Raymond Hadfield, who is seen as a 'troubleshooter'.

Stanley Goodchild, director of education, expressed surprise over the accusations about the school, saying it was very popular and oversubscribed. The council was taking the matter 'very seriously'.

The Rev Tony Dickinson, one of the diocesan governors, said the petition had come 'out of the blue' and the concerns expressed did not seem to tie in with the ethos of the school. Very few parents had turned up at the last annual general meeting, he said, which seemed to suggest all was well. But Sam Ragendra, a Slough borough councillor, said most of the parents were not fluent in English and had 'no way of communicating their desires to the management'.

Geoffrey Parkinson, chairman of the education committee, met Mr Ahmed and the parent-governors last weekend. He said the meeting was 'very friendly' and the governors had said they were 'not trying to take over the school'. But they did seem to believe that 'parents have more say in the management of the school than is the case'.

He said the council was going to appoint an Asian governor and he wanted to talk to the Oxford diocese about the possibility of it also doing so.