Race relations charity criticised over attacks on Prevent and MP

Watchdog condemns Just West Yorkshire reports on anti-extremism programme and Sarah Champion

A race relations charity has been reprimanded for paying a former trustee thousands of pounds to write a dubiously sourced report calling the government’s anti-extremism programme Islamophobic, and releasing a press statement accusing a Labour MP of stoking racist abuse against the Pakistani community.

In 2018, Just West Yorkshire published a critical report about the Rotherham MP Sarah Champion after she wrote an article in the Sun headlined: “British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls – it’s time we faced up to it.”

The charity, which was set up in 2007 with the aim of eliminating racial discrimination, publicised its report by claiming its online survey of 165 people found that Champion’s article had led to an “increase in verbal and physical racist abuse”.

The Charity Commission decided to investigate Just West Yorkshire after receiving complaints about a separate report it wrote, entitled “Rethinking Prevent: a case for an alternative approach”. It called for the abolition of the government’s anti-extremism programme, Prevent, which it said relied on “institutionalised Islamophobia”. The commission later expanded its investigation after receiving complaints about the Champion claims.

After a two-year investigation, the watchdog concluded there was “misconduct and/or mismanagement” in the administration of the charity.

It found Just West Yorkshire’s own research could not justify accusing Champion of inciting racial hatred, and criticised the charity for not being clear about how it sought views about the MP.

The commission also criticised the “unbalanced” report on Prevent, which quoted two people, both of whom it said “are linked to statements which could be considered to support extreme views”.

One of the Prevent report authors was a former trustee of the charity, who was paid £6,000 to write it. Investigators found “no evidence that conflicts of interest were managed, and no agreements or contracts were in place”, the commission said.

Last September, the regulator said it intended to issue an official warning to the charity. But before that happened, the trustees dissolved the charity and it was removed from the register of charities on 23 January 2020.

The charity’s former chair, Nadeem Murtuja, who in 2017 accused Champion of conduct “bordering on industrial-scale racism”, is now the executive director of communities at Oxford city council, according to the Times. He said he respected the commission’s perspective but felt it misinterpreted parts of the charity’s report on Champion, which was seeking to make the point that “incendiary comments do incite acts of hate”. 

Champion said she welcomed the commission’s findings, saying it felt as though Just West Yorkshire conducted a “targeted smear campaign – designed to drive a wedge between myself and the community I serve”.

She said the report “provides a huge relief, vindication and draws a line under a very unpleasant period”.

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Helen Pidd North of England editor

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