Charity Commission board member will lead Birmingham schools investigation

Peter Clarke, former head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan Police, will look into allegations of a Muslim plot to infiltrate schools in the city

Peter Clarke
Peter Clarke

Peter Clarke, a Charity Commission board member and the former head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan Police, has been asked by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to lead an inquiry into potential religious extremism in some Birmingham schools.

Birmingham City Council and some media outlets received anonymous documents in November that purported to show evidence of an alleged plot by Islamic fundamentalists, dubbed "Trojan Horse", to infiltrate schools in the city.

The alleged plot is thought to involve recruiting Muslim parents and staff to make false allegations against non-Muslim head teachers and school governors in a bid to remove them from their posts and replace them with supporters who would teach children along strict Islamic principles.

The documents have not been verified as genuine.

Since the original Trojan Horse documents were received and made public, the Birmingham Mail newspaper has reported that the council has received hundreds of similar allegations and the local authority has launched an investigation involving local police and the Department for Education.

The day after the council set out its plans for investigating the allegations, which included suspending the appointment of new governors in schools it controls, Gove announced he had appointed Clarke to lead a separate investigation into the claims, which will report directly to him and have its own team of inspectors.

Gove said he expected Clarke would work closely with the council. But the appointment has attracted some criticism.

"At first sight, today’s announcement of an independent commissioner is a missed opportunity to strengthen our coordinated approach to addressing these very serious matters," said Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham Council.

Chris Sims, the chief constable of West Midlands Police, said the appointment sent out the wrong message.

"This is a desperately unfortunate appointment," he said. "Peter Clarke has many qualities, but people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role as national coordinator for counter-terrorism."

Cage, a campaigning group that works with Muslim and other communities, called the appointment of Clarke "theatrics" and an attack on community relations.

"That Michael Gove has launched a major investigation into unverified claims found in an unsigned document is itself absurd, but appointing a former counter-terrorism head as the lead investigator is waywardly disproportionate and reveals Mr Gove's ideological teeth in pursuing the securitisation of Muslim life at any cost," said Amandla Thomas-Johnson, a spokesman for Cage.

"We call on the British public to speak out against these theatrics because not only are they a waste of taxpayers’ money, but they are also a direct attack on community relations."

Announcing Clarke’s appointment, Gove said: "I am extremely concerned by the allegations made in connection to a number of schools in Birmingham. I have already asked Ofsted to inspect a number of schools of concern and these investigations are ongoing. But wider, more comprehensive action is needed. These allegations need either to be substantiated and firm action taken, or to be shown to be baseless."

The schools inspectorate Ofsted said it had visited 15 schools in Birmingham at the request of the government since the allegations were first made.

On Monday, the council launched a five-point plan in response to the alleged plot, including the appointment of a former head teacher to lead its investigation.

It also suspended the appointment of any new governors in the schools it controls, which it said was an attempt to update recruiting procedures and training for these roles as well as a response to concerns about Trojan Horse.

A spokesman for the Department for Education defended Clarke’s appointment. "We are confident that Peter Clarke’s background makes him exactly the right appointment for this important job," he said. "He has long experience of leading sensitive investigations and has earned a reputation for thoroughness, integrity and independence. He has worked for many years with diverse communities and in collaboration with a wide range of partners."

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