BBC defends vetting process after Imam’s Israel tweets revealed

BBC defends vetting process after Imam’s Israel tweets revealed

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The BBC has defended itself after tweets from an imam who questioned the Tory leadership candidates during a televised debate were revealed.

The corporation has said it would not have selected the imam if it had known about the comments.

Abdullah Patel asked the contenders about "Islamophobia," but has been criticised for past tweets in which he wrote: "Every Political figure on the Zionist's payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn. They don't like him. He seems best suited to tackle them!"

He also shared an image endorsing the relocation of Israel to the US as a way of solving the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Rob Burley, who edited the programme, said Mr Patel's Twitter account had been deactivated ahead of his appearance on the BBC debate - meaning his tweets could not be read.

He said: "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."

Mr Patel has taken down his Twitter account again after the past tweets came to light.

The BBC has also faced criticism after it emerged that another member of the public - Aman Thakar - who questioned the Tory leadership candidates was the Labour Party candidate in Borough and Bankside in the Southwark local election last year.

Speaking about Mr Thakar's involvement, a BBC Spokesperson said: “Last night’s debate saw, for the first time, all the remaining prime ministerial candidates put on the spot, answering a range of public questions. 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.”

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.

Since his tweets came to light, Mr Patel has been suspended from his job as a deputy headteacher.

Yakub Patel, chairman of the 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 vies attributed to him.”

The independent Al-Ashraf Primary School in Gloucester

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.

Boris Johnson said he was "sorry for the offence" his comments about veiled Muslim women looking like "letter boxes" and "bank robbers" had caused, while Michael Gove condemned 'Islamophobia' as "repugnant" and attacked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for comments he claimed were "disgusting" and antisemitic.

Home secretary Sajid Javid urged all the candidates to commit to an external investigation into the issue within the Tory Party, and his rivals nodded in agreement.

The five leadership hopefuls during the debate

BBC presenter Andrew Neil suggested that the Tory contenders had "committed to an investigation into Tory Islamaphobia [sic] on the basis of the question from Abdullah", adding: "That's Tory leadership for you". 

Writing on Twitter after the debate, Mr Patel said he had asked the question because he wanted the candidates to promise that "things would change", adding: "The hate is real."

In his response to the question, Mr Johnson said he believed his Muslim great-grandfather would have been "very proud" to have seen him become foreign secretary.

He added that, when his great-grandfather came to the UK in 1912, "he did so because he knew it was a beacon of generosity and openness and a willingness to welcome people from around the world".

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