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Police apologise to mosque film crew

Updated 17.04 Thu May 15 2008

A film crew accused of "TV fakery" has received compensation and an official apology from West Midlands Police and the Crown Proescution.

The apology was made at the High Court following broadcaster Channel 4's decision to launch libel proceedings against police and the CPS.

"We now accept that there was no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity" - West Midlands Police

The row centred on a Dispatches programme called Undercover Mosque which exposed extremism among some of Britain's Muslim preachers.

The film featured exerpts of imams saying things like "Allah created the woman deficient" and "by the age of ten, it becomes an obligation on us to force her (young girls) to wear hijab and if she doesn't wear hijab, we hit her".

Other statements included "take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain" and "whoever changes his religion from Al Islam to anything else - kill him in the Islamic state".

One speaker in the programme was shown glorying in the Taliban's murder of a British Muslim soldier in Afghanistan, saying the real hero was "one who separated his head from his shoulders".

West Midlands Police launched an immediate investigation and reported Channel 4 to TV watchdog Ofcom for "heavily editing" the words of Islamic imams to give them more sinister meaning.

Ofcom rejected the complaints but police still considered taking action against Channel 4 before being told the prospect of conviction was unlikely.

The force spent around £14,000 on the investigation, which was initially looking at whether three of the individuals shown in the programme could be prosecuted for inciting terrorism or racial hatred.

But they then announced offences may have been committed by Channel 4, specifically in stirring up racial hatred.

Police also claimed the programme, broadcast in January last year, undermined "community cohesion" and "feelings of public reassurance".

David Henshaw, executive producer and managing director of Hardcash Productions, who produced the documentary, said: "This was a thorough and detailed one-hour documentary, made over nine months and at personal risk to the undercover reporter.

"The abhorrent and extreme comments made by fundamentalist preachers in the film speak for themselves.

"They later claimed they had been taken out of context - but no-one has explained the correct context for arguing that women are 'born deficient', that homosexuals should be thrown off mountains, and that ten-year-old girls should be hit if they refuse to wear the hijab."

Channel 4 head Julian Bellamy said: "When the West Midlands Police and CPS refused to withdraw their damaging remarks we had no option but to support this action.

"As Channel 4's flagship current affairs programme, Dispatches has an outstanding reputation for brave and incisive journalism.

"It was clearly vital to us that an important piece of journalism and the reputation of its makers was not undermined by these unjustified allegations remaining unchallenged. Journalism of this kind has always been, and will continue to be, central to Channel 4's purpose."

West Midlands Police issued a statement which said: "On 8 August 2007 we published, jointly with the Crown Prosecution Service, a press release relating to the Channel Four Dispatches programme Undercover Mosque.

"This press release alleged that footage of the speakers shown had been so 'heavily edited' and taken out of context that it had 'completely distorted' their meaning.

"Reference was made to the CPS having been asked to consider instituting proceedings against those involved in making the programme for inciting racial hatred.

"Following an independent investigation by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, we now accept that we were wrong to make these allegations.

"We now accept that there was no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity."

The statement added that a review of the evidence gathered by Ofcom had demonstrated that the programme had accurately represented the material it had gathered and dealt with the subject matter responsibly and in context.

It said: "We accept, without reservation, the conclusions of Ofcom and apologise to the programme makers for the damage and distress caused by our original press release."

© Independent Television News Limited 2008. All rights reserved. 

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