'Give commission credit' for fast action on Hamza

The Charity Commission should be given credit for its prompt action in removing cleric Abu Hamza from the Finsbury Park Mosque charity in February 2003, according to a leading charity lawyer.

In the week the regulator froze the assets of charity Sanabel Relief Agency and launched a formal inquiry into its alleged links to al-Qaeda, Anne-Marie Piper, partner at Farrer & Co, praised the commission for its early action against Abu Hamza.

Piper said she hoped his conviction for inciting murder and race hate would embolden the commission so it is "less afraid to take a stand" in future.

Abu Hamza's conviction and sentencing to seven years in prison last week provoked criticism from some quarters that he had not been prosecuted earlier.

But Piper pointed out that the commission did stick its neck out early on. "I get cross when it doesn't take action when it's necessary because it gets fearful of the old race card - I've seen it in action," she said.

"But this is a case where it did, and it has been vindicated. If it was recognised for this, it might be a bit bolder in future."

The Charity Commission opened its inquiry into the mosque in 1998, suspended Hamza in April 2002 and removed him the following year amid concerns that he had been using the mosque for "inappropriate political purposes". A spokeswoman said: "Inciting racial hatred and murder are unlawful and have no place in charity."

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