The Times admits libel of Imam who intervened in BBC televised Tory leadership debate, and publishes apology confirming damages to Imam

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The Times has agreed a comprehensive legal settlement with Imam Abdullah Patel, after it formally conceded his libel claim. The Imam was represented by Zillur Rahman of Rahman Lowe Solicitors, and counsel Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers.

Imam Patel was responsible for the widely reported question on Islamophobia in the BBC’s live televised Tory leadership debate, which led to Boris Johnson agreeing to conduct a formal investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party if he became its leader.

Following the debate, in a front-page story headlined “Tory candidates threaten BBC debate boycott” by its Chief Investigative Reporter, Andrew Norfolk and Political Correspondent, Henry Zeffman, The Times reported that Imam Patel had blamed Israel for the “Islamist” murder of a British police officer and that a school that he ran was warned by Ofsted for segregating parents. The frontpage article ended by directing readers to the “Cleric’s history of controversy, page 8”.

Most of page 8 of the paper was devoted to an article headlined “Israel is the real problem, said Imam in BBC row” under the same by-line as the frontpage story. This repeated and expanded on these claims, and added further allegations that he was headteacher of two schools which were subject to emergency Ofsted safeguarding inspections, one of which imposed a segregation policy which ran “counter to British democratic principles”, and in addition that he taught at a seminary which was associated with a website which The Times had “revealed” to be promoting extreme views.

Each of these published allegations about the Imam was untrue. The Times has settled the defamation claim by entering a formal “offer of amends” by which it admits that it unlawfully published defamatory allegations that:

The Claimant had (i) sought to blame Israel and the West following the murder of a British police officer by an Islamist terror suspect [which had] suggested that he was excusing or explaining acts of terrorism; and (ii) run a primary school which had followed a policy of segregating parents at events, which had been criticised by Ofsted in an emergency inspection report which also found certain safeguarding failings, and which required the school to take steps to promote tolerance of different beliefs and faiths.”

Imam Patel is receiving libel damages from The Times. The Times has agreed with Imam Patel’s lawyers to publish an apology and retraction, and, unusually for The Times and reflecting the gravity of the libel, has agreed to publicise the fact that it is paying him damages as well as his legal costs. This supplies Imam Patel the public vindication in respect of these defamatory imputations that he fought for through this claim. The statement will be published in The Times print edition on election day, 12 December 2019, and is already published online here [link – https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/corrections-and-clarifications-5phnn0xh2] in the following terms:

December 11

In articles published in The Times on 20 June 2019 concerning Abdullah Patel, an Imam and teacher in Gloucester who appeared on a televised Conservative Party hustings, we stated that Mr Patel made a comment which blamed the West and Israel following the murder of a British policeman by a terror suspect. This gave the impression that he had expressed views which excused or explained acts of terrorism. We accept that he did not make any such comment. We also incorrectly stated that Mr Patel had taught at a Deobandi seminary in Bury and that the school at which he worked in Gloucester had been the subject of criticism by Ofsted for segregating parents at events. In fact, Ofsted’s criticism predated Mr Patel’s time working at the primary school. We apologise to Mr Patel for the distress caused and have agreed to pay him damages and costs.

Imam Patel said:

All praise be to God. It’s a great relief for me and my loved ones to finally put this episode to an end. We owe thanks to my legal representatives and well wishers who have ensured that shoddy sensationalist journalism will be challenged and defeated. For my part, I will continue holding anyone, including politicians to task for stoking the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment”.

Zillur Rahman, his solicitor, said:

This case highlights the shocking level of journalism to which the Muslim community are often subject to, even in newspapers such as The Times. I am glad Imam Patel has been vindicated. The question that Imam Patel asked in the BBC leadership debate about whether words have consequences referenced Boris Johnson’s past comments about Muslim women who wear the veil looking like “letterboxes”. Yet it will be seen, in the case of Mr Johnson, whether such words have any consequences as he seeks re-election as Prime Minister of our country”.

NOTES:

Our extensive experience of acting in high profile defamation cases means that we are particularly well placed to advise clients whose case may reach the public eye, and to advise on associated matters such as reputation management.

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