The BBC was “overwhelmingly” justified in calling a senior London imam an extremist, the High Court has ruled.
The court dismissed a libel claim brought by Shakeel Begg against the corporation, saying he was a “Jekyll and Hyde character” who cultivated an outwardly respectable image while promoting a dangerous, extreme message behind closed doors.
Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said the BBC was within its right to call Mr Begg, who is chief imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre, an extremist after the broadcaster presented six speeches given by the imam as evidence.
The judge ruled that four of them showed he had promoted violence and two that he supported extreme positions. Put together, the speeches showed an “overwhelming case of justification for the BBC”, the judge said.
Mr Begg had brought the complaint after an interview on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme in November 2013 featuring presenter Andrew Neil and Farooq Murad, then head of the Muslim Council of Britain. During that interview, Mr Neil alleged that Mr Begg had promoted jihad.
According to The Times, the judge said that one speech at Belmarsh prison was particularly sinister as Mr Begg had praised crimes committed by Muslim inmates.
“I am satisfied on the evidence that, whilst the claimant’s speeches are not always consistent, the claimant holds and harbours extremist Salafist Islamic views and, from time to time, reveals these to selected Muslim and other sympathetic audiences,” Mr Justice Haddon-Cave ruled.
Mr Begg had disavowed extremist Islam during the trial, but the judge said this was unconvincing.
“In my view, the claimant’s ostensible cloak of respectability is likely to have made his message in these speeches all the more compelling and seductive to his audiences,” he added. “For this reason, therefore, his messages would have been all the more effective and dangerous.
“It is all too easy for someone in the claimant’s position of power and influence as an imam to plant the seed of Islamic extremism in a young mind, which is then liable to be propagated on the internet.”
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We were right to stand by the journalism of Sunday Politics. The judge has concluded, based on the evidence, that Imam Begg has preached religious violence and an extremist worldview in his remarks.”