I was dismayed to read Andrew Gilligan’s story “Sir Ian Blair’s deal with Islamic radical” on the Telegraph website yesterday.
Azad Ali and I are colleagues at the Muslim Council of Britain, since he chairs the Membership Committee while I chair the Business & Economics Committee, and both of us are members of the Central Working Committee. As in any organisation with a diverse membership, sometimes we agree and often we disagree. For example, I have been a Conservative Party member for over 25 years, while I doubt if Azad has ever voted Conservative, although I have no direct knowledge of his voting history!
I am writing this blog, in an entirely personal capacity, because I consider Mr Gilligan’s article comprises mainly innuendo, and serves to damage the reputation of both Sir Ian Blair who was a very conscientious commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and of the Muslim Safety Forum (MSF).
Starting with the very beginning, the subtitle states that Sir Ian “signed a formal agreement with an Islamic extremist to treat him...” It is only when one reads the body of the article that it is made clear that the agreement was between two organisations, the Metropolitan Police and the MSF and not some personal deal cooked up between these two individuals. Obviously every agreement between organisations needs individuals to sign it, but Azad Ali was no more acting personally than is the Foreign Secretary when he signs a treaty on behalf of the United Kingdom.
The innuendo continues when the article states that “It [the MSF] was accepted by the police as a legitimate body.” Why not? No evidence is put forward by Mr Gilligan to challenge the bona fide nature of the MSF. It is rather like me writing that I accept that Mr Gilligan is a legitimate journalist; I would only say it if I wanted to cast doubt on his legitimacy.
It is in the interests of all citizens to have policing based on good intelligence. Fiascos like the Forest Gate incident damage the image of the police and regrettably reduce the willingness of citizens to cooperate with the police. Accordingly, it seems quite sensible of the Metropolitan Police to run their intelligence past trusted individuals with strong community connections.
Mr Gilligan implies there was something wrong with this, without however giving any evidence of leaks or other improper conduct by the MSF representatives. If there were any, it would be a good reason for terminating the agreement, but Mr Gilligan simply leaves us in the dark. It appears unlikely that leaks occurred, since we are informed that the Metropolitan Police and the MSF are continuing to cooperate.
Mr Gilligan spends a considerable part of the article repeating Azad Ali’s alleged views on a range of issues. I have no independent knowledge of whether he is portraying those views accurately; that is a matter for Azad Ali to deal with. However, what Mr Gilligan needs to do is to demonstrate is why he considers that the MSF as an organisation is unfit to have a relationship with the Metropolitan Police; this he fails to do.
Mr Gilligan is a journalist I have always admired; he is capable of doing better than this article.