Solicitor becomes second man suspended from job after BBC Tory debate appearance
An employment solicitor who questioned the Tory leadership candidates during a televised debate has become the second member of the public to be suspended from their job over controversial historic social media comments.
Aman Thakar, who was the Labour Party candidate in Borough and Bankside in the Southwark local election last year, has been suspended with immediate effect by Leigh Day while the law firm investigates one of his previous tweets.
It is the latest fallout from the BBC debate, which the broadcaster has defended, after one of the other members of the public chosen to question the five candidates, imam Abdullah Patel, was suspended from his mosque and the school where he works amid controversy about his past comments on Israel.
Screenshots taken before Mr Thakar made his Twitter account private showed he once suggested “Hitler’s abuse of the term nationalism is, to me a nationalist, the most harmful part of his legacy”.
Leigh Day said it was taking the tweet “very seriously”.
Mr Thakar, who did not declare his previous Labour affiliation on screen, asked the candidates when they would call a general election after saying they would have “no mandate from the people”.
He tweeted on Wednesday evening: “Context on my tweets regarding Hitler, my full and sincere apologies for any offence caused”.
He said he had commented on a speech by US conservative commentator Candace Owens which had discussed Hitler and nationalism.
Mr Thakar tweeted: “Was me being sarcastic about this speech, Candace Owens was defending nationalism, hence I said “to me a nationalist”, and said sarcastically as a nationalist the abuse of the term was the worst part of his legacy
“This is not my point of view, I was being sarcastic about the speech that was given and hope this provides you with the full context of the comment”
A BBC spokesman said: “A background in politics doesn’t disqualify anyone from taking part in a debate show. Last night’s questioners held a range of political views and we did not specify these views nor their backgrounds although some chose to do so themselves.
“The last questioner on the debate is a solicitor who was seconded by his law firm to the Labour Party in the past, rather than being a Labour ‘staffer’. He is a Labour supporter and once stood as a councillor.”
Mr Patel, who asked the contenders about Islamophobia during a BBC debate on Tuesday evening, has been criticised for past tweets in which he said “every political figure on the Zionist’s payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn”.
He also shared an image endorsing the relocation of Israel to the US as a way of solving the Israel/Palestine conflict.
The BBC said Mr Patel would not have been selected for the programme if it had been aware of his previous comments, and said his Twitter account had been deactivated ahead of his appearance – meaning the old tweets could not be read.
The executive members of the Masjid e Umar mosque in Gloucester said: “We have decided to act immediately and have chosen to give him some time away to allow us the opportunity to conduct a detailed investigation into this matter.
“This is the official stance of the mosque’s executive committee and we hope you respect our right to privacy as we conduct this deeply sensitive investigation.”
Al-Ashraf Primary School in Gloucester said in a statement posted on its website that it had suspended Mr Patel, who is the deputy headteacher, from all school duties.
Yakub Patel, chairman of Al-Madani Educational Trust, said: “Following some of the comments attributed to Mr Patel in the media this morning, the Trust has decided to suspend him from all school duties with immediate effect until a full investigation is carried out.
“The school and Trust do not share the views attributed to him.”
The BBC chose members of the public from across the UK to address Boris Johnson, Rory Stewart, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Michael Gove via video link during the broadcast.
Home Secretary Mr Javid said Mr Patel should “practise what he preaches” and that words “do indeed have consequences”.
2) It was AFTER the show that Mr Patel reactivated his account revealing his tweets. We wouldn't have put him on the programme if these were public before broadcast but they were not. We also carried out a number of other routine checks which didn't uncover anything untoward.
— Rob Burley (@RobBurl) June 19, 2019
“All of us in public life have a duty to be vigilant for antisemitism & anti-Muslim prejudice. I never imagined we would see it rising in 21st century UK. Unlike the Labour leadership, which is itself part of the problem, my party takes that duty seriously,” he tweeted.
Rob Burley, who edited the programme, tweeted: “It was AFTER the show that Mr Patel reactivated his account revealing his tweets.
“We wouldn’t have put him on the programme if these were public before broadcast, but they were not. We also carried out a number of other routine checks which didn’t uncover anything untoward.”
Boris Johnson says he is "sorry for offence caused" by his article about Muslim women who wear veils, but says "people have taken my words… and escalated them"
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) June 18, 2019
Mr Patel has taken down his Twitter account again after the past tweets came to light.
Earlier, BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Nicky Campbell, who had Mr Patel on his breakfast show, apologised and said the imam had made “extremely disturbing” remarks on Twitter and that he was “sorry” the broadcaster had not checked beforehand.
I would like to apologise. We had the Imam from the BBC Tory leadership debate on our programme this morning. His social media comments have been extremely disturbing. We should have checked. We didn’t. I’m sorry.
— Nicky Campbell (@NickyAACampbell) June 19, 2019
Campbell tweeted: “I would like to apologise. We had the Imam from the BBC Tory leadership debate on our programme this morning.
“His social media comments have been extremely disturbing. We should have checked. We didn’t. I’m sorry.”
In the debate, Mr Patel asked the five candidates whether they believed words had consequences, and said he had seen first-hand the impact of Islamophobic rhetoric on his community.
Mr Johnson said he was “sorry for the offence” his comments about veiled Muslim women looking like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” had caused, while Mr Gove condemned Islamophobia as “repugnant” and attacked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for comments he claimed were “disgusting” and anti-Semitic.