Teacher 'pulled off Muslim pupil's scarf and insulted Islam'

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The Independent Online

A teacher was accused of religiously aggravated assault yesterday after she allegedly tore off a Muslim pupil's headscarf and told her that her religion was a "big joke".

Hazel Dick, a senior secondary school teacher, ordered the 15-year-old pupil to remove her headscarf, or hijab, and replace it with a version approved as part of the school uniform, Peterborough Crown Court was told. The prosecution claimed that as the girl was unravelling the headscarf, Miss Dick lost her temper and tore at it, scratching her pupil's chin.

Miss Dick, 43, then aimed a volley of abuse at the girl in front of two of her classmates at the 900-pupil Bretton Woods Community School in Peterborough. She told the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, that her religion was a "big joke" and that "the bottom of my shoe" was more important than Allah.

Stuart Alford, for the prosecution, told the court: "The girl was unfastening the pins which held the scarf in place. She began unfastening the pins under her chin.

"She says it was at this point that Miss Dick became annoyed and she pulled the scarf from her head forcibly. As she did so the pins, particularly the one under her chin, opened up and became undone and scratched across her neck. It was not a serious injury. It was a scratch. But the act of forcing the scarf from her head in this way was assault.

"More than that it was accompanied by words said by Hazel Dick which were insulting [to the girl's religion]. The girl says that Miss Dick said: 'Doesn't your religion teach you any respect? Would you look at your father like that? The amount you respect Allah. That is the amount I respect your shoe. Islam is all a big joke.'"

Mr Alford said the incident was witnessed by two other pupils, who also cannot be named for legal reasons.

One pupil had told police: "Miss Dick became angry and said, 'Well your religion is a joke'. [The girl] said 'My religion means a lot to me'. Miss Dick said, 'I don't care because the bottom of my shoe is more important than Allah'." Another pupil told police he saw Miss Dick pull the scarf away and say: "Your religion is a bit of a joke really." He said that he heard the girl reply: "You cannot say that. You have not got the f****** right to say that, you bitch."

Mr Alford said the girl went to the school's principal, John Gribble, to report the incident. Later she was visited at home by a police officer who noted that she had a "two-centimetre scratch" across her neck. Miss Dick was interviewed by police who charged her under the 1988 Crime and Disorder Act.

Mr Alford said Miss Dick recalled the incident and taking the girl to a classroom so she could change into a correct scarf. Miss Dick told police that the girl had undone the pins which were loose. "It was at that moment that she [Dick] reached up to take off the scarf. Just slid it off at the back of the head," said Mr Alford. "Because she was worried that [the girl] was changing publicly she said, 'You cannot think much of your religion because you are getting changed in public. If you had a lot of respect for your religion you would come in the correct uniform'. [The girl] said: 'You are the one that doesn't respect my religion' [The girl] got upset and she stormed off."

Miss Dick denies a charge of religiously aggravated common assault. The trial continues.