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Humanists UK comment on Trojan Horse Affair podcast

On 3 February, the New York Times (NYT)/Serial Productions published a podcast series called The Trojan Horse Affair, presented by Brian Reed and Hamza Syed.

The podcast focuses on events in 2014 that followed the emergence of a letter purporting to be written by a participant in an Islamist plot to take over state schools in Birmingham. That letter was widely believed by all serious parties at the time to be an obvious fake – and still is. Much of what it described, however, reflected genuine safeguarding, children’s rights, and educational problems that were coming to light in a number of schools at around the same time.

Since 2014, a narrative has developed that foregrounds the fake letter and asserts from this that because the letter was fake, all the concerns and events surrounding the schools were an Islamophobic witch hunt. This is at odds with the facts.

Much of the public attention in 2014 certainly was driven by prejudice in its tone and extent. We have ample experience dealing with safeguarding and children’s rights issues in different religious contexts, and we know from that work that when Muslims are accused of violations, they attract more coverage – and often of a less accurate nature – than similar events involving perpetrators from other religions. This reflects a real bias in society. In addition, politicians’ actions in 2014 were often clumsy, insensitive, and seemed motivated by prejudice.

Nonetheless, as all investigations found and as we know ourselves, there were genuine and significant problems in the schools in Birmingham, corroborated by multiple whistleblowers and by documentary evidence. This remains true even if some of the other claims made in the official investigations turn out to be untrue or unsubstantiated. It cannot be swept under the carpet as Islamophobia.

We believe the podcast presents a misleading account of our own involvement in these events. We have sought and continue to seek a number of corrections and retractions from the NYT. To date they have made one correction but we still hope for more. In the meantime, we are setting out here (i) the facts of our involvement and (ii) some of the ways in which the editing of an interview with one of our staff presents a misleading account. We focus only on what affects us directly and not on other ways in which the podcast may be misleading.

The facts of our involvement

Humanists UK has worked in education for over 125 years and this work is a major and ongoing focus for us. This is true in terms of education practice, where we provide resources and speakers for schools, teacher training, and work with the local councils that set RE syllabuses, alongside religious people. But it is also a major focus of our policy work, because many aspects of the education system in the UK fail to respect human rights and equality in relation to religion or belief. This ranges from religious selection in school admissions, to required daily acts of collective worship, to issues with the school curriculum. We routinely advise and assist parents, teachers, and others to deal with a variety of complaints about these issues. What happened in Park View School, a school legally designated as having no religious character, was an example of this.

January-February 2014: our passing of child safeguarding and other issues to authorities

In January-February 2014, prior to the public emergence of the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter, we were approached by three former staff members (not all of whom the podcasters have spoken to) with concerns about what was happening at Park View School.

The concerns included child safeguarding issues, serious and unlawful sex discrimination against girls, homophobia by staff, nepotism in recruitment, creationism taught as science, Islam unlawfully being taught as true (schools without a religious character must remain neutral on matters of religion or belief in their teaching of RE), and a range of instances of inappropriate behaviour by some male staff. Some of the most serious incidents brought to our attention at that time are still not in the public domain, as they could lead to the identification of the whistleblowers.

Because they involved first-hand accounts of serious child safeguarding issues, we passed them immediately on to the relevant authorities, as any responsible organisation should and must do. Our policy team also reviewed the school’s website and noted that it prescribed what appeared to be an unlawful approach to the curriculum subjects of RE and PSHE. We passed this information on to authorities at the same time.

We made no public comment on any of this and had no contact with any media.

April 2014: publication of corroborated claims of whistleblowers

By late April 2014, we were in touch with six whistleblowers in total, both Muslim and non-Muslim. The additional whistleblowers independently corroborated a number of the allegations made to us in January-February.

Having corroborated the claims, we began facilitating some of the whistleblowers to speak out anonymously about them in public. We thought this was important because some of those accused of wrongdoing were trying to dismiss the allegations they faced on the basis that they all stemmed from the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter, which was itself fake. We knew that they were wrong to do so.

The first interview the whistleblowers conducted was with Newsnight. Prior to their reporting, Newsnight journalists independently verified the claims of the whistleblowers that they reported. This was done through their contact with staff members additional to the six to whom we were speaking and again included Muslims as well as non-Muslims. We did not know these additional staff members.

Having now had the claims corroborated by (i) the six whistleblowers we were in touch with, (ii) in some instances by Newsnight’s additional sources, and (iii) in some instances by documentary evidence on the school’s website, we published those claims (and only those corroborated claims) on our website. We did this because, as our then Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented at the time:

‘It is vital that all our state schools – publicly funded by the community at large – teach a broad and balanced curriculum, actively contribute to community cohesion and foster an environment inclusive of every child, parent and member of staff, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. Education is an opportunity to broaden children’s horizons and should not just reflect back to them the possible prejudices and opinions of their or their peers’ parents, regardless of their religion or belief. These deeply serious allegations have been made to us by a number of former staff; they corroborate each other and with other reports we have seen. They are seriously alarming and we hope that the inspections and investigations under way will comprehensively explore every single one of them.’

June 2014-17: official inquiries, investigations, and tribunals

Four separate official investigations by the Department for Education, by Birmingham Council, by Ofsted, and by the Education Funding Agency all concluded that there was widespread wrongdoing along the lines of that exposed by the whistleblowers.

The Chair of Governors of the Trust was given a lifetime ban from being a governor on account of improper behaviour, which was subsequently upheld by Judge Mr H Khan at a Tribunal and still stands.

One teacher was dismissed for homophobic behaviour. His dismissal was subsequently upheld by Judge Hutchinson at the Employment Tribunal and this decision too still stands.

14 teachers faced lifetime bans from the profession, and in a few cases the relevant Tribunal ruled against them. These bans were later overturned on account of procedural failings by the (now defunct) National College for Teaching and Leadership, the public agency bringing the case, which also caused the ongoing cases to collapse.

August 2019: our interview with the podcasters

On 7 August 2019, our current Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson was interviewed by the podcasters.

At the time of the interview it had been five years since the events in question and prior to the interview Richy did not sense the level of detail the podcasters expected. Prior communication had, it seemed to him, suggested a desire for a broader conversation around the context, for example (to quote an email from Reed before the interview):

‘How do we live with one another? How do we reconcile our differences in a multicultural society? What role should religion have in such a society? Also as investigative reporters, we can’t help but be interested in the provenance of the letter. Something I find interesting is that your whistleblowing effort and the circulation of the anonymous letter appear to have started independently of one another, and then proceeded on equally impactful and simultaneous paths.’

As a result, Richy was unprepared to answer detailed questions of how much verification we had done five years previously. This led to him saying at some points that he could not recall what levels of verification we did and at others erroneously saying we did less verification than we actually did.

November 2019: our follow-up with the podcasters

Prior to the interview in August, Richy was reassured that it would not matter if he could not remember all the details and later in 2019, once he had had a chance to check the facts, Richy made it clear to the podcasters that all of the claims we published in 2014 had indeed been verified at that time.

Following the interview, out of an abundance of caution, we undertook additional verification to check further on the accuracy of what we published in 2014.

We spoke in detail to 16 staff members, four of whom are Muslims, about what happened. These 16 range from senior staff to classroom teachers to non-teaching staff. They constitute at least four unconnected groups of individuals.

As a result of this, every single claim we published in 2014 was further corroborated and we emailed the podcasters to make clear this very high degree of corroboration.

Our email from November 2019 says:

…first of all I want to say that it’s been five years since all this happened, memory does fade over time, and prior to our interview I didn’t have any sense at all of the level of detail you were expecting. Your emails had seemed to me to suggest you just wanted a broader chat about it, and you may recall I asked to see the questions prior to interview, in order to help me prepare, but you refused. So I’m sorry but when you interviewed me I couldn’t remember all the details.

Verification

…[O]ut of an abundance of caution, I have now discussed what we published with all the whistleblowers we were working with in 2014, and have also sought out and spoken to a number of additional staff who I did not speak to before meeting you. In total I have now spoken in detail about things to fourteen staff members [this would rise to 16 by the end of November], thirteen of whom were at Park View and one at another school in the chain. That includes everything from senior staff members through to rank and file teachers and non-teaching staff. It includes people from a wide variety of departments. Since you asked about it, I will mention that three of them are Muslim women…

Finally, having now spoken to [the reporter who was in 2014 at Newsnight], I can confirm that [they] did indeed verify what he reported. What is more, I understand that the staff [they] verified things with are different staff again from those I have spoken to, and that the other staff he interviewed (aside from those you are already aware of) were all Muslims.

Having now done these additional checks, I am comfortable that we sufficiently verified what we published at the time we published it. I am comfortable with our decision to publish what we published.

I told you when we did the interview that I believed staff other than the [husband and wife whistleblowers] who we were working with in 2014 could confirm or corroborate the allegations we published then, though I couldn’t remember the details. Having now checked, I can confirm that that was right. I regret that I was unable to assert this with more confidence at the time of our interview, and again can only point out that the passage of time means that memories fade.

January 2022: further follow-up with the podcasters

In January 2022 we were notified by the podcasters that their publication was imminent and told by them that we could respond to them by 17 January. We emailed them:

April 2014

You say [in your email to us] ‘our reporting shows that the Humanists are in part responsible for… propagating [the husband and wife whistleblowers’] complaints via press releases and connections in the media.’ I remember in our interview you also accused us of doing insufficient verification when taking this step. I therefore want to set out why that is not true. Some of what I say here is repeated from previous emails I sent you.

Firstly, by the time we published the allegations of our whistleblowers on 24 April, I was in touch with six whistleblowers. The three whistleblowers who I was in touch with but you have not spoken to were able to effectively corroborate the claims of those I did speak to. The whistleblowers did not and do not all know each other.

Additional verification in 2019-20

Finally on verification, out of an abundance of caution, in 2019-20 I discussed what we published with all the whistleblowers we were working with in 2014, and also sought out and spoke to 10 additional staff who I did not speak to before meeting you. In total I spoke in detail about things to 16 staff members (two more than when I emailed you on 15 November 2019), 15 of whom were at Park View and one at another school in the chain. That includes everything from senior staff members through to rank and file teachers and non-teaching staff. It includes people from a wide variety of departments. Since you asked about it, I will mention that three of them are Muslim women…

I understand that with one exception, the staff [Newsnight] verified things with are different staff again from those I spoke to in 2019-20, and that the other staff he interviewed were all Muslims.

Having done these additional checks, I am comfortable that we sufficiently verified what we published at the time we published it. I am comfortable with our decision to publish what we published.

I told you when we did the interview that I believed staff other than the [husband and wife whistleblowers] who we were working with in 2014 could confirm or corroborate the allegations we published then, though I couldn’t remember the details. Having now checked, I can confirm that that was right. I regret that I was unable to assert this with more confidence at the time of our interview, and again can only point out that the passage of time means that memories fade.

The editing of our Director’s interview

Fortunately for us, Richy made his own recording of his time with the podcasters (we think this includes time before and after their own interview recording begins and ends) and so we are in a position to directly illustrate the ways in which we believe the presentation of the interview is misleading.

These issues have already led the New York Times to make one correction to the episode. But we believe much more needs to be done. We think the whole episode should be retracted and an apology given. We have provided a number of reasons for this to the New York Times but here we focus on just a few of them.

The claim that our Director was callously indifferent to the effects of the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter

At around 53 minutes, it is asserted by Syed that Richy ‘utter[ed] five words that were so callous, so enraging, that whatever so called journalistic civilities I was meant to uphold came tumbling right down.’ At 55:30, it is revealed that this is Richy asking of the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter, ‘What impact did it have then?’ Reed then narrates that ‘Richy had been a booster of the Trojan Horse affair for years. He helped bring it into being. He’d promulgated it through the halls of power and into the national consciousness. He’d held a fundraising drive off the back of it with [a whistleblower]. But he was asking Hamza to catch him up on what impact the Trojan Horse had.’

Richy was not ‘asking Hamza to catch him up’ on the impact. In the context of the full conversation, in which they had already discussed the impact of the affair, he invited Syed to expand on his views. This gave rise to an immediate misunderstanding between the two, which was then clarified, and Richy went on to give his own account of what subsequently changed in education policy, some of which Syed appeared to be unfamiliar with. This clarification and account however do not feature in the episode.

Podcast transcript, as on NYT website Full tape (portions in podcast highlighted )

Hamza Syed, narrating: [I]n the midst of our back and forth, Richy would utter five words that were so callous, so enraging, that whatever so-called journalistic civilities I was meant to uphold came tumbling right down.

Syed, in-interview: ‘Things don’t happen overnight. It’s the climate that’s created through years and years of this kind of stuff, these kind of stories. There’s a sentiment that has now taken hold and taken over and is informing everyone’s political choices and everything else in the world because of events like this. The Trojan Horse, which I’m sure you’ll accept, as far as Britain is concerned, had a huge impact.’

Richy Thompson: ‘What impact did it have then?’

Syed: ‘What impact did it have?’

Brian Reed, narrating:Five words. Richy had been a booster of the Trojan Horse affair for years. He helped bring it into being. He’d promulgated it through the halls of power and into the national consciousness. He held a fundraising drive off the back of it with [a whistleblower they interview]. But he was asking Hamza to catch him up on what impact the Trojan Horse had.

Syed, in-interview: ‘It changed our educational policy. It changed our counterterrorism policy.It gave lifetime bans to educationalists in East Birmingham. It destroyed Park View Trust that was doing things that people around Europe were coming to learn from. It had a swarm of headlines. This was referenced in the Tory Party conferences. Do you know what I’m saying? This is not a little thing. This wasn’t a little thing. It continues to inform debate and dialogue about Muslims in this country.’

Thompson: ‘Yeah, sure. Sure, OK.’

Syed: ‘So you asked what – that’s the impact it had. So I don’t know. You know, I–’

Thompson: ‘Well, I don’t know that it’s quite – I think, obviously, I don’t know what to say for that impact. Clearly, all the impact and everything else that went around it was not on us.’

Reed, narrating:Hamza and Richy kept at it.


Hamza Syed, in-interview: ‘No, it’s just, you know, things, things, things don’t happen overnight. It’s a climate that’s created through years and years of this kind of stuff, these kinds of stories. There’s, there’s, there’s the sentiment that has now taken hold and taken over and is informing everyone’s political choices and anything else in the world because of events like this. The Trojan Horse, which I’m sure you’ll accept, as far as Britain is concerned, had a huge impact. It informed our counter-terrorism policy.

Richy Thompson: ‘What impact did it have then?’

Syed: ‘What impact did it have? Do you deny the Trojan Horse had an impact?’

Thompson: ‘No, I asked you a question.’

Syed: ‘Okay, well you seemed to ask me the question as if you, you denied the assertion that I made.’

Thompson: ‘No, I was wondering –’

Syed: ‘[Interrupting] It changed our educational policy. It changed our counter-terrorism policy.’

Thompson: ‘[Agreeing] Right.

Syed: ‘It gave lifetime bans to educationists in East Birmingham. It destroyed Park View Trust.’

Brain Reed: ‘Largely Muslim.’

Syed: ‘Largely Muslim, right. It dismantled a Trust that was operating in… Doing things that were – people who are [sic] in Europe are coming to inspect and, and learn from . I don’t know if you have had an opportunity to follow up on what’s happened to their lives since. We have. Right. So you asked about what impact it had? It grew – it had a swarm of headlines that informed this idea. This was referenced in the Tory Party conferences in Birmingham. Do you know what I’m saying? Like this is not a little thing.’

Thompson: ‘[Agreeing] Yeah.

Syed: ‘This wasn’t a little thing.’

Thompson: ‘Yeah.’

Syed: ‘It continues to be referenced as a thing. It continues, even when these No Outsiders things happen. What’s the first reference that’s being made about it? Trojan Horse. Where’s the newspaper? Where’s the cameras assembling? Who are they, who are they trying to get as part of the reports? Where are the links being made? Trojan Horse. It continues to inform debate and dialogue about Muslims in this country.

Thompson: ‘Yeah, sure. Sure. Okay.’

Syed: ‘So you asked what – that’s the impact it had. So I don’t know, you know, I –’

Thompson: ‘Well, I don’t know that it’s quite… I think, obviously I don’t know what to say for all that impact. I think I’ve explained to you what we did at the time and why we did it. And clearly all the impact and everything else that went around it, was not on us. And more than that, I can’t go through every single one of those things. I will say, although of course means don’t justify ends, I think that the British values, the specific British values [‘to actively promote democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’], are good. And it’s good that schools are being scrutinised.’

Syed: ‘Well, I agree. I think those values are good. I just think without it being branded as British values [inaudible] –’

Thompson: ‘Yeah, sure.’

Syed: ‘– towards anyway, those are universal values and I think you are as uncomfortable attributing them as like British values as –’

Thompson: [Agreeing] ‘Yeah, sure.

Syed: ‘These are universal values.’

Thompson: ‘Although I’m not sure that they are universal values, because I know that some other schools that are, various of other types of faith school –’

Syed: ‘Faith schools? I don’t know about faith schools. This is not a story about faith schools, this is a story about state schools [sic. Faith schools are usually state schools. We assume he meant that Park View was a school of no religious character].’

Thompson: ‘Right, okay. So what I’m saying is that the British values coming in has helped –’

Syed: ‘I know this is, I don’t know how much that is –’

Thompson: ‘– deal with faith school issues.’

Syed: ‘– I don’t know how much that has been applied to faith schools. Do you know how much it has been applied to faith schools?’

Thompson: ‘The British values?’

Syed: ‘Yeah.’

Thompson: ‘[Surprised] Yeah. It’s now a requirement that all independent schools [which includes Academies and Free Schools, which are state schools] uphold the British values –’

Syed: ‘Faith schools?’

Thompson: ‘Including faith schools.’ [Many faith schools are independent schools, whether Academies, Free Schools, or private schools.]

Syed: ‘Right? And what, I don’t – in what way has that been applied? Do you know?’

Thompson: ‘It’s been helpful when it comes to several schools, for example, being picked up by Ofsted in their treatment of LGBT issues and their attitudes towards women and that kind of thing. And so some good has come out, in my view, of those British values.’ [See e.g. here, here, and here.]

Syed: ‘Right. And without, without the Trojan Horse event, something like that would not have been implemented, you believe?’

Thompson: ‘I don’t know. And as I said, means don’t justify ends. So, I can’t say that, you know, if the means were bad here, that the ends were justified.’

Syed: ‘Okay.’

Thompson: ‘But it’s context, that’s worth being aware of.’

Syed: ‘Yeah.’

Reed: ‘Thanks Richy. We appreciate it.’

Even if Syed was outraged in the moment, we struggle to see how his misunderstanding of the nature of Richy’s question could be legitimately maintained past the end of the conversation. And yet it appears in the podcast without the rest of the conversation.

It is also not true that Richy had done the things that Reed narrates him as having done in relation to the ‘Trojan Horse’ aspects of what happened in 2014. We had nothing to do with the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter or those elements of the investigations whatsoever, never supported it, never claimed it was true, and never did anything to promote it. Our involvement was solely in relation to the whistleblowers we worked with and our own research, focussed on human rights and equality issues in state schools. This is work we are proud of and are happy to have fundraised for.

Reporting that we did not verify claims in 2014 before publishing them

At around 54:30, the podcast quotes Richy saying, ‘At the time, we did not go to any effort to verify the allegations beyond talking to them and seeing whether or not we felt in broad terms that they were credible.’ Later, while that previous quote is still in frame, Syed asks: ‘Do you think it’s dangerous to put allegations out there specifically on the internet, unchecked, unchallenged, uncorroborated? Do you think that’s a dangerous thing to do?’ Reed then narrates: ‘So it was while Hamza was questioning Richy about a bunch of claims against Park View that the humanists had published on their website without checking them…’

The impression given is that in the words quoted, Richy was talking about April 2014, when we published some of their claims. But in fact, he was talking about January 2014, when we passed allegations onto the Department for Education (as detailed in ‘The facts of our involvement’ above).

In any case, we made it plain to the podcasters in emails, both later in 2019 and in January this year, that having had a chance to go away and check the facts, we did not think it was true to say that we had not done any verification, whether we are talking about January or April. Richy got some things wrong in the interview, but corrected the record in good time subsequently.

In 2019 and again in January, we had also told the podcasters about the verification done by Newsnight and that our knowledge of that verification preceded our publication of the claims. More generally, after Newsnight reported, we also only facilitated the whistleblowers to speak to reputable media outlets that we knew had other whistleblowers through which they conducted their own further verification.

As we say above, after the interview in 2019 we embarked upon a much more extensive verification exercise to be as certain as possible that what we published was accurate. The result of having now spoken to a total of 16 staff members is that we are still confident that everything we published was correct. Any impression given that we never verified what we published in April 2014 is simply not true.

Claim that our Director didn’t tell the podcasters what other whistleblowers said (now retracted by the NYT)

In the original broadcast episode Reed narrated, ‘Richy was dodging, equivocating. He said at some point, he was in touch with some other people from Park View, but wouldn’t tell us how many, or what they said.’

We complained to the NYT that this misrepresented what Richy said. They then amended the episode to say ‘He said he was in touch with two or three other people from Park View, who shared similar concerns as the [whistleblowers he spoke to] – who alleged there’d been instances of gender discrimination and homophobia at the school. And he said as time went on he felt the allegations were corroborated by other reporting.’ A correction has been posted in a footnote on the NYT website. However, this does not fully explain what was said originally in the podcast, so it is not possible to see how badly the podcast misrepresented the situation. Nor is the fact that there has been a correction aired in the podcast itself – just the updated audio. Nor is the correction on any podcast platform. UK journalists have suggested to us that this would not meet the UK Independent Press Standards Organisation (ISPO) Editors’ Code of Practice.

On ‘fake news’

At one point they air Syed asking, ‘Do you think it’s dangerous to put allegations out there specifically on the internet, unchecked, unchallenged, uncorroborated? Do you think that’s a dangerous thing to do?’ They then air Richy as saying, ‘I would also say as well with regard to your reference to fake news that this of course was five years ago [2014] when the problems that we have seen since with fake news…’

The broadcast exchange omits both the second part of Syed’s question, when he referred to ‘the damage Internet stories have done to democracy around the world’, as well as the first part of Richy’s answer, where he made clear he did not think we had done this.

Podcast transcript, as on NYT website Full tape (portions in podcast highlighted )

Syed, in-interview: ‘Do you think it’s dangerous to put allegations out there, specifically on the internet, unchecked, unchallenged, uncorroborated? Do you think that’s a dangerous thing to do?’

Thompson: ‘Well, it depends on the nature of the allegations, obviously.’

Reed, narrating:It was while Hamza was questioning Richy about a bunch of claims against Park View that the humanists had published on their website without checking them or contacting the school first that Richy set him off.’

Thompson: ‘I would also say as well with regards to your reference to fake news that this, of course, was five years ago when the problems that we have seen since with fake news –’

Syed: ‘Things don’t happen overnight. It’s the climate that’s created through years and years of this kind of stuff, these kind of stories. There’s a sentiment that has now taken hold and taken over and is informing everyone’s political choices and everything else in the world because of events like this. The Trojan Horse, which I’m sure you’ll accept, as far as Britain is concerned, had a huge impact.’


Syed: ‘Do you think it’s dangerous to put allegations out there, specifically on the internet, unchecked, unchallenged, uncorroborated? Do you think that’s a dangerous thing to do?’

Thompson: ‘Well, it depends on the nature of the allegations, obviously.’

Syed: ‘On stuff that says marital rape has been taught in school. Do you think that’s dangerous for us there?’

Thompson: ‘That was verified by Newsnight.’

Reed: ‘The worksheet was not verified.’ [This is not true, as per this video.]

Syed: ‘The stuff that says a kid’s got homework to convert their, to convert their, to convert their staff, at Park View. Is that something that’s dangerous to go on the Internet unverified?’

Thompson: ‘As I said, that was consistent with other wider allegations that had been made at the time.’

Syed: ‘That specific point was never consistent. How is that consistent with…’

Reed: ‘I don’t get how that is consistent with what you read online about their RE syllabus. I’m sorry, I don’t see how that’s consistent.’

Thompson: ‘Well it’s obviously not the same, but what the RE syllabus seems to suggest is that they were…’

Syed: ‘See, look at those words, seems to suggest. I shared with you the reputation that you guys have and I don’t think you’re helping yourself here.’

Thompson: ‘And this is what we said in the statement, we made clear in the statement that we put out that these were allegations.’ [As above, we had in fact corroborated this between multiple staff before publishing it. Thompson couldn’t remember all the details of this verification during the interview, but we made it clear to the podcasters in emails well prior to release.]

Syed: ‘So when I ask you, do you think it’s dangerous to put such allegations out on the Internet, unverified, unchecked. Do you think that’s a dangerous thing to do, knowing, for example, what the society’s like at the moment and the damage internet stories have done to democracy around the world? Do you think it’s a dangerous thing to contribute to, to put stuff like that out there on the internet?’

Thompson: ‘I did not think that it was a dangerous thing to do at that time. No. And I felt subsequently that the various reports that came back confirmed much of what had been alleged and showed that there had been real issues in the schools.’

Syed: ‘Okay, alright, that’s fair.’

Reed: ‘And you still feel that way?’

Thompson: ‘I’d have to look at everything you’ve told me. I’d be interested, for example, to see that letter [that one of the whistleblowers sent, but that Thompson only first knew of in the interview].’

Reed: ‘The Ofsted one?’

Thompson: ‘The 2013 one. Yeah. And I also, I would also say as well with regard to your reference to fake news that this of course was five years ago when, um, the problems that we have seen since with fake news.

Reed: ‘Yeah, but we’re talking about…’

Thompson: ‘And, you know, that doesn’t justify…’

Syed: No, it’s just, you know, things, things, things don’t happen overnight. It’s a climate that’s created through years and years of this kind of stuff, these kind of stories. There’s a sentiment that has now taken hold and taken over and is informing everyone’s political choices and everything else in the world because of events like this. The Trojan Horse, which I’m sure you’ll accept, as far as Britain is concerned, had a huge impact.

Claim that our Director went ‘stricken’ from the room

Reed narrates that: ‘Richy turned from us, stricken, and walked out of the room.’ This did not happen.

What actually happened, as the tape shows, is that Richy responded, ‘I don’t have anything more to say’. (The interview ran significantly over time and was going over the same questions repeatedly.) Richy briefly left the room, but came back in. Our tape shows the three of them then resumed chatting normally and the three of them left the room together.

Podcast transcript, as on NYT website Full tape (portions in podcast highlighted )

Syed, in-interview: ‘That’s something you could have done by April to change the entire spectrum of this conversation. So there was still something left for you to do in April if you’d done your job. No comment?’
Reed, narrating:Richy turned from us, stricken, and walked out of the room. I packed up our stuff and headed out of the building to get us a cab. I saw Hamza go look for Richy to shake his hand.

[At the end of a very lengthy discussion]

Syed:‘That’s something you could’ve done by April to change the entire spectrum of this conversation. So that was still something that you could’ve done in April, if you’d done your job… No comment?’

Thompson: ‘Well, I don’t, I mean…’

Reed: ‘You guys disagree.’

Thompson: ‘Yeah. I don’t have anything more to say.’

Syed: ‘Okay.’

[Sound of the door opening and closing as Thompson leaves the room, then eight seconds later…]

Reed, quietly, presumably into his microphone: ‘He just walked out.’

[Four more seconds later, sound of door opening again, immediately followed by sound of telephone ringing elsewhere in the office through the open door.]

Reed, to Syed: ‘We gotta go now.’

Syed: ‘What time is it?’

Reed: ‘About 2.45, 3.’

Syed: ‘3?’

Reed: ‘Yeah. Can you pack this up then?’

Syed: ‘Yeah.’

[47 seconds after the door closed, possibly now past the end of the podcasters’ tape, Thompson, clearly by now back in the room, asks…]

Thompson: ‘Are you speaking to [the next person they were due to interview that day] next then?’

Reed: ‘We have to go to him right now.’

Thompson: ‘[Laughs] Will you be late for him?’

Reed: ‘No. We’re right on time. How far is it to [names the location of the next interview]?’

Thompson: ‘Oh, not that far. About 20 minutes, half an hour.’

Syed: ‘Okay, nice one.’

Thompson: ‘And you haven’t spoken to Ofsted or the DfE?’

Reed: ‘We’ve been talking to the DfE for a while, yeah. They’ve been very difficult. Honestly, it’s been frustrating. I mean listen, I hope you appreciate that, what brings us to this is, we’ve gone in earnest to [names a whistleblower] that we’ve gone, we’ve spent the last three months reading every account [they’ve] given of a lot of this stuff.’

Thompson: ‘Yeah. Sure’

Reed: ‘Like we, you know, we put the work in here. Like literally three, three of us for the last two months…’

[Tape trails off as the three of them walk out the room together.]

Prejudice and discrimination

There are many more ways in which we believe the podcast presents a misleading picture but, finally, we wish to address the podcast quoting an accusation recounted by Syed’s brother that we are motivated by prejudice against Muslims. This is false. Prejudice certainly motivated much of the public attention that the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair received in 2014 but in no way motivated any of our actions. Our view, which we made clear to the podcasters prior to publication, and assert here again, is that discrimination against Muslims is profoundly unjust, and damaging to our society.

Our own work is motivated by a commitment to the human rights of freedom of belief and of thought, to equal treatment, and to the human rights of children. Although it is not a major focus for us, this includes a programme of active dialogue with Muslim groups, and of public advocacy challenging anti-Muslim hatred.

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