Government adviser criticises Batley Grammar School over Prophet Mohammed cartoon protest

Protests took place outside the school in March 2021. Credit: PA

A teacher who was forced into hiding after he showed a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson was "let down" by his school, council and police, a government adviser has said.

The religious studies teacher received death threats and was forced to move house after protests outside Batley Grammar School in 2021.

The case was referred to in a report by the government's independent social cohesion adviser Dame Sara Khan.

She said the teacher had been left feeling "suicidal" and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Writing in the report, she said: "Despite being cleared of any malicious intent by an independent investigation two months later, our review of his case demonstrates that he was not considered a victim of crime, he was not entitled to, nor did he receive any of the provisions set out in the Victims Code.

"In failing to understand the seriousness of the incident, he was let down by all the agencies involved, most notably Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire Police and the Batley Multi Academy Trust.

"There was a considerable lack of leadership by the agencies named above. They should have issued clear messages that threats, harassment and abuse would not be tolerated under any circumstances."

Police were called after protests took place in March 2021. Credit: PA

What happened at Batley Grammar School?

Police were called when protests took place outside Batley Grammar School in March 2021 after the teacher showed a caricature of Mohammed.

The cartoon was first featured in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Its publication led to a terrorist attack on staff at Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people were shot dead and another 11 were injured.

After the Batley Grammar School teacher showed the cartoon he was accused of blasphemy and suspended by the school.

Headteacher, Gary Kibble, at the time "unequivocally" apologised "for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson".

It prompted a huge ongoing debate about freedom of speech. Petitions demanding the teacher's reinstatement gained tens of thousands of signatures.

Batley and Spen MP Kim Leadbeater later said it was "completely unacceptable for him to have been forced into hiding and his family put at risk".

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Dame Sara said in her report that there was no "clear condemnation of those engaged in such behaviour who were creating an intimidatory and threatening climate".

"There was a disproportionate concern for not causing offence to the religious sensibilities of those who, unaware of the facts, chose to engage in intimidation and harassment," she said.

She is recommending the establishment of an exclusion zone for protests outside schools following the case in Batley.

It would mean a ban on all forms of protest activity within 150 metres of schools, except striking teachers on picket lines.

Dame Sara said polling for her report found more than 75% of the public feel they have to refrain from speaking their mind.

More than a quarter have changed their way of life, from employing security to moving jobs or house.

Dame Sara said: "What my report is going to show for the first time is that this is a much wider problem in our society which is affecting people from all walks of life.

"I’m talking about councillors, journalists, teachers and academics, those working in the arts and cultural sector, who are experiencing severe levels of harassment and abuse, which is then resulting in them self censoring."

School criticises 'factual inaccuracies'

In a statement, Batley Multi Academy Trust took issue with Dame Sara's conclusions.

A spokesperson said: "We do not recognise much of what is in it, its description of the events, nor the characterisation of our school and community.

“We let the government know ahead of publication that its draft report contained a number of factual inaccuracies but note that these have not been corrected.

“We are also surprised that the authors of a report on social cohesion decided that the right thing to do was name our school and identify some individuals.

“However, our school and community is in a very positive place and we know that this report will not upset that.”

A West Yorkshire Police spokesperson said: “We are aware of the concerns in this report regarding our response to this incident and note the recommendations, which we will be reviewing with our partner agencies.

"Threatening behaviour is taken seriously and measures were put in place to manage this incident and the repercussions which resulted from it. This included the provision of a personal contact officer for the teacher and his family. A full investigation was also carried out into the offences reported.    

"West Yorkshire Police works hard to engage with all communities within its policing area, investing in Neighbourhood Policing Teams and specialist investigators to investigate offences and reduce tensions which may arise as swiftly as possible."

Kirklees Council said it would seek to "learn" any lessons from the report.

A spokesperson added: "Local people and groups in Batley work across communities every day to promote understanding and tolerance, often in the face of challenges such as deprivation and economic inequalities. We will continue to amplify those constructive voices in our communities and challenge those who seek to divide us."

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