Warning: this article and video report contains examples of anti-Islamic content
Durham Police is investigating a local far right group, after ITV Tyne Tees discovered its members have been posting online material that experts say is inciting hatred against Muslims.
The group is called 'Bishop Auckland Against Islam.'
Its Facebook page featured posts praising acts of violence against Muslims, and suggesting they should be killed. Facebook has now taken the group down after we reported it to them.
It comes amid increasing levels of hate crime and far right activity, in which the North East is a hotspot.
Watch Tom Sheldrick's exclusive report:
Bishop Auckland Against Islam describes itself as a "right wing movement".
We applied to get into its closed Facebook group 'Bishop Auckland Against Islam 3', and were accepted. During the time we had access, the group had around 170 members.
We found the following posts inside by members of the group, all during the last year. We are not naming those who posted them.
- Three people responded to a link to a news story posted to the group on 1 February about Darren Osborne, the man found guilty of murder after driving a van into a crowd of Muslims near a London mosque. They wrote: "top boy", "legend" and "the man wants a [medal emoji]." Others liked their comments
- Responding to a post on 2 April about 'Love a Muslim Day', a woman wrote: "I'd support kill a Muslim day"
- In response to a post on 21 April claiming 10 per cent of London was controlled by Islamic 'no go zones', a man wrote: "hang the lot of them next"
- In response to a post the same day about the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who is a Muslim, the same man wrote: "hang him aswell next"
- In response to photographs posted on 3 May about Islamic adverts on buses, a woman wrote: "they all want shooting"
- In response to a post on 14 May about the Muslim month of Ramadan, the same woman wrote: ""wish it was legal to kill the *******"
- Responding to a news story posted to the group on 12 August about two women from Teesside who were jailed for torturing a man who had converted to Islam, the woman wrote: "It's about time. I'd love to do what they have done and so should more people. The police do **** all to protect us so take it in our own hands"
We showed what we found to Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell MAMA - a national service monitoring anti-Muslim incidents. He said: "they are inciting hatred towards members of the Muslim community and with threats to kill, so they are illegal and they cross the line."
Amjid Khazir, Director of Media Cultured, a Teesside-based social enterprise campaigning against extremism, said: "People take these comments for face value - people such as Thomas Mair, who attacked MP Jo Cox, who said he was taking it into his own hands having followed Facebook and Twitter posts. So these kinds of comments have significant real-life reactions."
We reported what we found to Durham Police, and the force is now investigating the posts.
We contacted the people whose posts we have mentioned. Only one responded.
She wrote: "It's a private group. So not harming anyone. I hate them taking our jobs and houses and trying to take over our country."
There have been a number of far right demonstrations in the North East in recent months.
On Saturday 29 September, dozens attended a rally in the centre of Newcastle, called 'Ban the Burqa' - the veil worn by some Muslim women. There were heated confrontations between them and anti-racist campaigners who came out in opposition.
Among the far right demonstrators, we found several members of Bishop Auckland Against Islam.
We showed our evidence to Colin Dodds, one of the administrators of the Facebook group.
He told us: "I was added to it [the group], I was made admin. Come back with some of them [posts] with my name on. I don't read all the posts that are put in."
Asked if he opposed what people had written in the posts cited above, he replied: "Yeah - of course - they could end up killing anybody."
We questioned another member of the group, Michael Pocklington, about whether Bishop Auckland Against Islam was inciting hatred against a whole religion. He said: "no - we are opposing rapists, grooming gangs."
The 2011 census found just 39 Muslims lived in Bishop Auckland, less than 1 per cent of the town's population. There's been little indication of a significant increase in those numbers since.
Professor Matthew Feldman, Director of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, told us Bishop Auckland Against Islam has been active for around three years, a product of the splintering of groups like the English Defence League (EDL).
He said: "it's a very quickly moving set of circumstances, but what we are seeing is a localisation of the far right. Bishop Auckland Against Islam to a degree was set up and reflected activist fears of Syrian refugees settling."
We reported the group to Facebook a week ago, using the platform's 'Report group' function, and citing 'hate speech.'
Facebook responded later the same day, saying: "we've looked over the group that you reported... it doesn't go against any of our specific Community Standards."
Three days later, Facebook changed its position, saying: "We’ve reviewed the group you reported. As it violated our Community Standards, we've removed it."