A primary school took children on a trip to meet an Islamic preacher, just months after the High Court ruled the imam an ‘extremist’ who had ‘promoted and encouraged religious violence’.
The visits by state school students, aged eight and nine, to meet Shakeel Begg, the imam at the mosque attended by the killers of Lee Rigby, has provoked widespread outrage.
Mr Begg, chief imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre, was described in a High Court judgment at the end of October as a “Jekyll and Hyde character”. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave also warned that Mr Begg’s role as imam put him in a position to “plant the seed of Islamic extremism in a young mind”.
One expert said it was “shocking and unacceptable” that a school was arranging visits to a known extremist and accused it of ‘woeful neglect’.
It is shocking and frankly unacceptable that any school should be arranging visits with anyone associated with extremism.
Henry Jackson Society
The Year 4 children from Kilmorie Primary School visited Lewisham Islamic Centre in south east London over the course of two days on March 21st and 22nd. Mr Begg hosted a discussion with the pupils.
Details of the visit were posted on the mosque’s website including photographs of the imam with the children sat attentively on the floor.
On the Islamic centre’s website, Mr Begg praised the school children for their “keenness” to test their knowledge of Islam.
Two days later, the imam addressed potential foster carers at a meeting held in conjunction with Lewisham Council.
Tom Wilson, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society who has written a research paper on Begg, entitled “Extremism in the Community: The Case of Shakeel Begg”, condemned schools for taking children to visit the imam.
He said: “It is shocking and frankly unacceptable that any school should be arranging visits with anyone associated with extremism.
“If this is happening then there is a duty of care that is being woefully neglected.
“Schools are under a statutory duty that quite explicitly prohibits exposing pupils to extremists.”
He added: “The Department for Education has provided detailed guidance for schools on how to show due diligence when researching external speakers and guarding against the threat from extremists.
“One of the concerns about the government’s counter-extremism Prevent strategy is that many of those in our public services who are responsible for upholding it still appear to be ill informed about extremism and the dangers it poses.”
Mr Begg had sued the BBC for libel after Andrew Neil, the presenter of the Sunday Politics programme, had accused him of promoting extremism on air. Neil said the imam had praised the jihad as being a great deed.
During the libel trial, the BBC presented six speeches given by the imam, of which four - the court found- were promoting violence.
The imam had denied he was an extremist and produced “an impressive number of testimonials” demonstrating his inter-faith work and “commitment to the community”.
But Mr Justice Haddon-Cave ruled in favour of the BBC. “The Claimant is an extremist Islamic speaker who espouses extremist Islamic positions,” he said in his judgment, adding: “The Claimant had recently promoted and encouraged religious violence by telling Muslims that violence in support of Islam would constitute a man’s greatest deed.”
Lewisham council declined to answer a series of questions posed by The telegraph but insisted it supported the Government’s prevent strategy, adding: “We work hard to promote British values in Lewisham.”
Sally Kelly, Kilmorie school’s chairman of governors, said: “Visits like this one to a religious establishment are an important part of our rich curriculum promoting the British values of tolerance of people of different faiths and beliefs and the learning is part of the National Curriculum.
“This short two hour visit was undertaken by a number of classes over the course of a few days. Safeguarding is a very high priority for us and we ensure that our policies and procedures are relevant, effective and that staff have the correct training.
“This visit like any other followed all the correct procedures. Children are supervised at all times by trained staff to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit for all.”