British probe finds 'hardline Islam' school plot

Reports adds it neither looked for, nor found, evidence of violent extremism in the schools.

Afp July 22, 2014

LONDON: A British government-commissioned report found evidence on Tuesday of a coordinated effort to Islamise state-run schools in the city of Birmingham by taking control of their governing bodies.

The investigation into allegations of a hardline Muslim "plot" at state-run schools said people in positions of influence had either supported or failed to challenge efforts to introduce "aggressive" Islam.

But the damning report said it had neither looked for, nor found, evidence of violent extremism, terrorism of radicalisation in the schools in England's second city.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told lawmakers the report, by former police counter-terrorism chief Peter Clarke, was "disturbing" and announced measures to regulate more closely who was involved in running schools.

"There has been co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action, carried out by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools in Birmingham," Clarke's report said.

"This has been achieved by gaining influence on the governing bodies, installing sympathetic headteachers or senior members of staff, appointing like-minded people to key positions, and seeking to remove headteachers they do not feel to be sufficiently compliant."

The report added that the intent was to impose upon pupils "the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strand of Sunni Islam".

The investigation was sparked by the so-called "Trojan Horse" letter, which was sent to local authorities in November detailing an alleged plot to take over schools.

The anonymous claim reignited an ongoing national debate about multiculturalism in Britain and renewed concerns about the risk to young people of Islamic extremism -- a major issue as hundreds of Britons head to fight in Syria.

Some community leaders in Birmingham, a former industrial centre which has one of Britain's largest Muslim communities, said the row was baseless and driven by Islamophobia.

But Prime Minister David Cameron responded with a call for schools to teach "British values", arguing that tolerance of many faiths and cultures in Britain has gone too far in allowing extremism to flourish.

After the "Trojan horse" letter was leaked to the media earlier this year, ministers ordered emergency inspections of 21 schools in Birmingham, where 22% of the population is Muslim, according to the 2011 census.

Overall, Britain has a Muslim population of 2.7 million, representing 4.8% of the population.

The results of those inspections and several other inquiries have now confirmed the existence of a religious-inspired plot, although no evidence of violent extremism.

Three members of the board of trustees at Park View Education Trust, which ran three schools at the centre of the controversy, resigned last week while insisting they had done nothing wrong.