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BBC defends Tory leadership debate vetting process after imam Abdullah Patel's 'disturbing' tweets

Abdullah Patel asked the leadership hopefuls about Islamophobia. Credit: BBC

The BBC has defended its vetting process after it was revealed that an imam who appeared on their Tory leadership debate programme had made “disturbing” comments on social media.

Abdullah Patel asked the leadership hopefuls about Islamophobia, but has been criticised after Guido Fawkes revealed he posted a number of offensive tweets online.

He had previously tweeted: "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!"

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

The BBC said Mr Patel would not have been selected for the debate if his previous comments had been known.

Rob Burley, who edited the leadership debate 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 reactivated his account after the show to post about the debate and then deactivated it again when news emerged about his previous tweets.

He has now also been suspended from his role as Deputy Head of a primary school in Gloucester, and also from his mosque.

The executive members of the Masjid e Umar mosque in Gloucester said: "We have decided to act immediately and have chosen to give him some time away to allow us the opportunity to conduct a detailed investigation into this matter.

"This is the official stance of the mosque's executive committee and we hope you respect our right to privacy as we conduct this deeply sensitive investigation."

Al-Ashraf Primary School in Gloucester said in a statement posted on its website that it had suspended Mr Patel from all school duties.

Yakub Patel, chairman of 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 views attributed to him."

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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.

Campbell tweeted: "I would like to apologise.

"We had the Imam from the BBC Tory leadership debate on our programme this morning.

"His social media comments have been extremely disturbing.

"We should have checked.

"We didn't. I'm sorry."

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Following the revelations about Mr Patel's tweets, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the imam should "practise what he preaches" and that words "do indeed have consequences".

"All of us in public life have a duty to be vigilant for antisemitism & anti-Muslim prejudice.

"I never imagined we would see it rising in 21st century UK.

"Unlike the Labour leadership, which is itself part of the problem, my party takes that duty seriously," he tweeted.

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 anti-Semitic.

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.

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."

"As an Imam, I'm exposed to many incidents which happen in my community, and of course, as a visible Muslim, I also witness it first hand.

"I have received numerous incident reports of blatant racism against members of my community, from spitting and swearing at Muslim women ... to asking students coming to my mosque if they had bombs in their bags," he wrote.

He added: "What I got as a response was nothing short of disappointing and deluded: @BorisJohnson forgot my name, spoke about his G(reat) grandfather and about Iran. Gove used the opportunity to have a dig at @jeremycorbyn.

"@Jeremy-Hunt used the chance to speak about how he can't be racist because he has an immigrant wife, and @RoryStewartUK forgot that this is also OUR country.

"The only positive from the debate was @sajidjavid making them all commit to an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the @Conservatives."

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", adding: "If I am prime minister, I will ensure that that is the way our country acts and behaves."

At one point he appeared to forget Mr Patel's name, referring to him as "my friend over there", before presenter Emily Maitlis interjected: "Abdullah".

Another member of the public - Aman Thakar - who questioned the Tory leadership candidates during the BBC debate has been suspended by law firm Leigh Day, where he works as an employment solicitor.

He will be investigated over a tweet.

Mr Thakar, who was the Labour Party candidate in Borough and Bankside in the Southwark local election last year, has now made his Twitter account private.

A Leigh Day spokesman said: "We can confirm that Aman Thakar is currently a solicitor at Leigh Day in our employment department. We have been made aware of a tweet which we are taking very seriously.

"Mr Thakar has been suspended with immediate effect from the firm whilst we carry out an internal investigation into these matters."