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December 12, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:42am

Times apologises and pays libel damages to imam who appeared on BBC debate

By Charlotte Tobitt

The Times has apologised and paid damages to an imam who questioned the Conservative leadership candidates about Islamophobia during a televised BBC debate in June.

Imam Abdullah Patel, who appeared on BBC One’s Our Next Prime Minister on 18 June, was selected to ask Boris Johnson and the four other Tory leadership hopefuls whether they agreed that Islamophobic rhetoric had real-life consequences.

He was subsequently suspended from his mosque and his job as a deputy headteacher after controversial posts he had made online emerged. Press Gazette understands he has since been fully reinstated and that no action was taken against him.

Two days after the debate, The Times wrongly claimed Patel had blamed Israel for the 2003 murder of a British police officer by a terror suspect in Manchester. The claim is believed to have been based on posts by someone with the same name.

In its correction, published today, the Times said: “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.”

Times front page 20 June 2019

The front page story on 20 June, headlined: “Tory candidates threaten BBC debate boycott”, also wrongly claimed that Patel ran a primary school that had been warned by Ofsted for imposing a segregation policy for parents at events that ran “counter to British democratic principles”.

In fact, the education watchdog’s criticism came before Patel was working at the school.

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The front-page article ended by directing readers inside to the “Cleric’s history of controversy”, while the page eight headline claimed: “Israel is the real problem, said Imam in BBC row.”

The Times has settled Patel’s defamation claim against it by making a formal offer of amends and agreeing to apologise and pay damages and legal costs.

In a statement shared by his lawyers, Patel said: “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.”

Patel’s solicitor Zillur Rahman, of Rahman Lowe Solicitors, said the imam had been “vindicated” and that the case “highlights the shocking level of journalism to which the Muslim community are often subject to, even in newspapers such as The Times”.

Our Next Prime Minister was watched by more than 5m people. The BBC subsequently said it would consider “additional steps” in its vetting process after another guest was found to have been a former Labour staffer and local election candidate whose affiliations were not mentioned on air.

Emily Maitlis hosts the Tory leadership debate on BBC One. Picture: BBC/iPlayer

Picture: BBC

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