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Trustees disqualified after former employee exposed children to propaganda 

06 Sep 2019 News

Umar Haque

Image from Metropolitan Police

The Charity Commission has disqualified the trustees of a school where a member of staff exposed children to terrorist propaganda, in what it described as "the worst case we have seen".  

The regulator published the findings of its inquiry into Essex Islamic Academy today.

Trustees were found to have failed to safeguard children from being exposed to serious harm.

According to the inquiry, children as young as 11 were being exposed to attempted radicalisation which included being shown extremely graphic and violent propaganda videos produced by the proscribed terrorist organisation, ISIS.

The videos “showed multiple scenes of extreme and brutal violence, including footage of people murdered by beheading, shot at close range and having their throats cut.”

Children were also taught role play situations including “having two opposing groups where children would take on the role of ‘martyrs’ and police officers and act out the murder of PC Keith Palmer GM, who was killed as he protected Parliament from a terrorist attack in March 2017.”

The regulator initially opened a statutory inquiry into Essex Islamic Academy after an employee at the charity, Umar Ahmed Haque, was arrested and subsequently charged in connection with the attempted radicalisation of children.

Haque was originally recruited as an administrative assistant but he had been teaching classes unsupervised in the charity’s madrassah, which was attended daily by approximately 80 to 100 children aged five to 15 years.

On 27 March 2018, Haque was given a life sentence with a minimum prison term of 25 years.

Trustees' breach of safeguarding policies

The trustees admitted there was no supervision of whether Haque was adhering to the madrassah’s syllabus, and the inquiry found no evidence that the trustees had applied for an enhanced DBS check, which would have been required for his teaching role.

The investigation also found that a number of responses provided to it by the former trustees were false or misleading.

A second individual employed at the charity, Mr Abuthaher Mamun, was later charged and convicted with the preparation of terrorist acts. Mamun assisted Haque in his classes, however the former trustees withheld the fact that they had been aware of his involvement at the madrassah until the inquiry.

The inquiry worked closely with the police and found that the actions of all five former trustees amounted to serious misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the charity. They have been disqualified from trusteeship for a period of 10 years.

Haque and Mamun are automatically disqualified for life from serving as trustees or senior managers of any charity in England and Wales.

Charity Commission: ‘The worst case we have seen’

Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “I, like the public, am appalled by what happened here to these children who should have been in the safe custody of this charity - quite literally the worst case we have seen, with children, as young as 11, being exposed to harm through attempted radicalisation and terrorist material.

“The two individuals have been held to account through criminal proceedings, and it is right that we have, on behalf of the public, held the individuals who were trustees at the time of his actions, responsible for their failures.

“The public rightly expect trustees to honour their positions of responsibility, demonstrating unfailing care for the people they are meant to support. In this case, the children who were in their care, and the people that trusted them to do so, were let down. These individuals proved themselves to be wholly unsuitable; what happened on their watch is deeply alarming and troubling, running counter to everything people expect of charity.”

“Our inquiry’s actions have set important foundations for the good governance of this charity going forward. Clearly, what went on here will not just have affected the children that were abused, but their families and the community as a whole. The charity’s new leadership has to continue rebuilding vital trust.”

During the inquiry, Jonathan Burchfield, partner at the law firm Stone King, was appointed as the charity's interim manager. The charity is now being run by a new board of trustees. 

Burchfield said: "My role was to implement safeguarding procedures, review the charity’s governing document and its financial controls and policies, and then to find and appoint new trustees. I am delighted that the charity is now back in the hands of a new, very committed and well-qualified board of trustees."

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