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Terror threat

Policy Exchange dispute - update

  • Newsnight
  • 29 May 08, 03:21 PM

As summer approaches we thought it was about time we revisited the row we got into late last year with the influential right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange. It's almost six months since we broadcast our investigation into Policy Exchange's report "The Hijacking of British Islam" which named and shamed mosques across the UK for disseminating extremist literature. We have a new statement from them, but more of that later.

(Watch the original report, followed by the interview with the Research Director of the Policy Exchange, below:)

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Here's a quick reminder about the original story: outside researchers working for Policy Exchange on the report visited 100 mosques and Islamic institutions and said they found extremist books available in a quarter of the survey sample. The researchers had obtained receipts as evidence. These were shocking findings and, unsurprisingly, the report made front page news.

Newsnight too had been planning to broadcast a detailed film based on these findings but when we began checking the receipts a rather different story emerged.

The first anomaly we found was in the receipt said to have been obtained from the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in West London. The document contained basic spelling errors in the address (see below). We showed it to the centre's director who strongly denied it was genuine.

When we looked at some of the other receipts we were concerned enough to suspend our broadcast while we checked them. This approach was derided by Policy Exchange's chairman, Charles Moore, who suggested we should have simply broadcast the findings and allowed the mosques to have their say. We took the view that this was not a sensible way forward and began detailed checks.

We soon found suspicious inconsistencies in receipts allegedly obtained from North London Central Mosque, Euston Mosque, Leyton Mosque in London and the Muslim Education Centre in High Wycombe. Most worryingly:

- forensic evidence suggested that at least one receipt had been forged

- forensic evidence strongly suggested that two other receipts - supposedly from different mosques - were in fact written by the same hand

- there were basic mistakes in the addresses printed on three receipts

- all of the receipts we had suspicions about had been printed on home-style ink jet printers. Ink jets are usually used for one-offs or for limited print runs because of expense.

We're republishing the receipts so you can judge for yourself.

Policy Exchange's internal inquiry

On 19th December Policy Exchange released a statement standing by their report but advising readers that "as an evidence-based research organisation, we take the allegations made seriously". It continued: "Our investigations must be allowed time to proceed."

Well surely six months is enough? I contacted Policy Exchange's external relations director Dr Steven King for an update. He got back to me this week with a statement saying that the independent inquiry had been "adjourned" because "the Muslim researchers who conducted the original investigation into the mosques have gone into hiding for fear of violent reprisals after Newsnight revealed their whereabouts on air, in breach of an undertaking given to Policy Exchange. Following the Newsnight broadcast, an Islamist website denounced the undercover researchers and called for them to be hunted down. Policy Exchange takes any allegations against its research methodology seriously, and so is keeping the investigation open in case circumstances change making it possible for it to be completed."

Just to be clear - we didn't identify the researchers, we reported which country they were in, which was the reason why PE said they could not be contacted for interview.

Policy Exchange's most recent statement also states that the report "does not mention the receipts or rely on them as evidence, and Policy Exchange stands by the study's content".

Newsnight finds that argument surprising. Policy Exchange has argued that the report is justified because extremist literature was discovered in the mosques. But if researchers working for Policy Exchange put forward evidence, some of which was flawed, then what reliance should be placed on this influential report which was advertised as "the most comprehensive academic survey of its kind ever produced in the UK"? What is reliable and what is unreliable?

Six months down the line the think tank has still not answered the most basic question of all: were some of the receipts fabricated? Given Policy Exchange's decision to put their internal investigation on hold, it seems unlikely we'll be getting an answer any time soon.

Several of the mosques said they were prepared to take legal action against the report and have instructed libel lawyers. Leading libel firm Carter-Ruck said: "we have been instructed by Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and Masjid and Madrasa al-Tawhid ("Al-Tawhid Mosque") to bring a complaint for libel against Policy Exchange in respect of allegations contained in the report The hijacking of British Islam... which we anticipate making shortly".

Receipt from Muslim Education Centre, High Wycombe

1-ESDA-203.jpgA registered forensic document examiner conducted an ESDA test on this receipt from High Wycombe Muslim Education Centre. This test proved that the High Wycombe receipt was filled in while resting on top of another receipt supposedly from a mosque in West London - 40 miles away. Policy Exchange has yet to comment on how this might have occurred.

Receipt from Leyton mosque compared with receipt from Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre


Take a close look at the hand-writing on these two receipts, supposedly obtained from different mosques 10 miles apart. To my eye they look identical. The registered forensic document examiner concluded there was "strong evidence" that these two documents were written by the same person. This is the second highest degree of certainty in forensic examinations of this kind.

Furthermore, note the misspelling of raod and center on the Muslim Cultural Heritage receipt. And the address on the receipt for Leyton Mosque is wrong: it gives the address of an independently owned bookshop next door, not the mosque itself. Policy Exchange claims the researcher was "led" from the mosque into the bookshop and therefore the mosque sanctioned the purchase of extremist materials. Their argument appears to be that this is the same as the mosque actually selling the material itself. However this version of events was not spelled out in the report.

In a similar fashion, the report also said that extremist material had been bought from East London mosque. This particular claim featured in the Times but the newspaper backtracked a week after our broadcast: "We would like to make clear that the bookshop situated near the East London a commercial tenant of the Mosque and is situated on different premises. The chairman of the Mosque, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, has no responsibility for or control over the material that is being sold there. We apologise to Dr Bari for any distress caused."

Receipt from North London Central Mosque

3-printer-203.jpgThe researchers working on the Policy Exchange report said they obtained this receipt from the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park. The management there deny all knowledge, and say it's a forgery. Like the other suspect receipts, this document was printed on an ink-jet printer - the kind used for small print runs at home.

Receipt from Euston Mosque


This receipt issued in the name of "Euston Mosque" inexplicably gives its address as 202 North Gower Street - which is in fact the address of an entirely different organisation around the corner known as the UK Islamic Mission. Euston Mosque is located at 204a North Gower Street, as any simple check would have shown. The elders at Euston mosque told us it's a forgery. They showed us their genuine, numbered receipt book, which is very different to this receipt. At first Policy Exchange argued they were not able to explain this anomaly because their researchers were "away on a retreat". Later they argued the extremist books were from the UK Islamic Mission around the corner from Euston Mosque (something UKIM denies). But if that was the case then how and why did they obtain a receipt in the name of "Euston Mosque"?


See also

'Disastrous misjudgement?' by Peter Barron
Richard Watson's comment on the Policy Exchange row


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    i believe that the few extremists that have carried attacks or have tried have left a stain on Islam as a whole, extremists have (maybe not deliberately) turned Islam into in quite few a peoples eyes an 'extremist religion' with terroism at the heart of its agenda. We all know this is not true but it certainly is a fear and belief that has appeared since the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well, given Policy Exchange's background, not a total surprise:

    The policy director, Dean Godson, with Paxman above, worked for the Reagan administration, was a signatory to the neocon Project for the New American Century, and was special assistant to the jailed former Telegraph owner Conrad Black.

    The 'Hijacking of British Islam' report was written byDenis MacEoin, a pro-Israel campaigner who says he has "very negative feelings" about Islam.

    The thinktank's founders were Nicholas Boles, now Tory candidate for Grantham, and Michael Gove, author of that British neocon rallying cry Celsius 7/7 and now the Tory education spokesman.

    When the BBC describes them as 'right-leaning', they are understating the case somewhat.

  • Comment number 4.

    When something smells like fraud-explore it!!

    If they try to intimidate you- go all out to and get the facts-

    and PUBLISH them.!!


    For general principles:

    there is too much fraud, spin and intimidation of media. Somebody in the tailspinning society has to fight it- why not the BBC?

    Always look for "cui bono"? Where is the payoff for the smelly condiuct?


    My basic belief is that the majority of people, everywhere, and of all religions, just want to get on with a decent family life.

    Let us nail the trouble-makers who who disturb this human fact!

  • Comment number 5.

    A case of good-old-fashion journalism here, the truth has prevailed! The think tank has been shamed and describing them as 'right-leaning' is being very kind to them.

    Thanks for the update, I wonder what they'll say in reply.

  • Comment number 6.


    I have to say that, while I am no fan of Godson - a genuine "Bushite" - your inference that self-confessed neocon Gove (staunch defender of gay rights; wrote extremely favourable biography of Conservative-left Portillo) is on the extreme right of UK politics is rather silly and totally baseless. Perhaps you occupy an extreme position on the other side of the political spectrum, yes? Or maybe you work for The Grauniad, to whom everyone right of Gordon Brown is a goose-stepping fascist?

  • Comment number 7.

    I was sent an e-mail yesterday urging me to complain because the holocaust had been dropped from the GCSE sylabus because it was 'offensive to muslims who don't believe it happened'

    This simply isn't true and GCSE history still teaches the holocaust (to the point where the rest of WW2 is a sideshow), most muslims do accept it happens, and using pictures of Jewish victims of the nazi's to hell 'sell' a nazi-style anti muslim propaganda campaign is sickening at all levels.

    I'm no fan of the 'muslim community' and its failures to tackle extemism but there is a huge wave of anti-muslim propaganda sweaping the UK that is just as dangerous as the bile coming from the mouths of extremist immans.

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree that by trying to 'stand-up' the Policy Exchange's allegations you have tried to avoid the old 'churnalism' of regurgitating allegations without checking the evidence on which they are based. But maybe it is also about time, now that 'Undercover Mosque' is about ready to be shown again to launch an investigation of your own into what is happening in the mosques which have been the subjects of such conflicting reports.

    As Nick Davies hints at in his book, telling both sides of the allegations without trying to get at the underlying truth doesn't really help us find out what is really going on. And I think finding out the truth of what is happening in these mosques is important as it has been clouded somewhat in the heat generated over past reports.

  • Comment number 9.

    I hope we are going to see this new statement on newsnight. I find it completely unbelievable that a previously respectable think-tank has fabricated these things. Good on newsnight for uncovering this, and it is now about time that the policy exchange admit they made mistakes.

  • Comment number 10.

    Who funds a particular "think-tank"?

    Who, if anyone, purchases its reports?

    What are the CVs of its associates?

    Some consulting firms became government contractors and others became fronts for special interests.

    It has become necessary to qualify and classify such sources when relaying their views.

    There are also various false web-sites that pretend to impartiality while disseminating disinformation.


    My suggestion concerning the Mosques:

    give them lots of air-time with a trained moderator and someone to do do clearly articulated voice-overs or translations.

    What could be better for understanding, venting and cooperation?

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.


    This entire story has left me bemused, firstly we had the Policy Exchange 'sexing up their evidence', which was both deceitful and ironically very damaging to the report that they wished to highlight.

    Secondly, the BBC's incorrect (IMHO) strategy to attack the PE on this specific part of the evidence, rather than explore the real newsworthy story that some Mosques are selling extremist material, and therefore by extension also condoning extremist behaviour, this is a much more newsworthy story that should have been explored and should still be explored.

    In closing the Policy Exchange and the BBC are both guilty of behaving incorrectly, and both parties seem to show a certain bias in how they interpreted the report, I would suggest that this could be down to the BBC's refusal to discuss how extremist sections of the Muslim population are able to exert such terror on the world, and why reports such as that from the Policy Exchange deserve an impartial debate on their content and conclusions, rather than a politically correct judgement made in advance by some faceless BBC political commissar.

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting follow-up. Whilst I think you are right to investigate whether some of the receipts in Policy Exchange's report were 'forgeries', one question is, does your focus on the 'dodgy receipts' detract from the issue of whether or not certain literature is for sale or not in mosque bookshops (and when is a 'mosque bookshop' not a mosque bookshop?!) and if so, what issues does this raise?

    It would appear that Policy Exchange have handled this issue badly.

    However, re-runs are boring and if you are going to cover this story again with an update, would you consider spending perhaps 50% of the piece focusing on the receipts and the research with vigour,then shed some light on the allegations as made. Along the lines of. "So, we believe that some of the receipts were forgeries. That said, we tried to purchase these books yesterday and this is what we found.......".

    If I remember correctly, there was one occassion when your reporter went into one of the 'mosque bookshops' and discovered that talthough he receipt was a fake, the book stated on the receipt was available on the bookshelf and for sale.

    This has always been a mystery to me - what could be the motive of the reserachers to forge the receipts? If the books were actually available, could it have been laziness on the part of the researchers, rather than a serious attempt to mislead?


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