Patel apologises for calling Muslim man 'hate preacher'
The apology was issued at the High Court in London, following a lengthy libel action pursued by Islam21c news website chief Dr Salman Butt.
"The government accepts that it was wholly false to allege that Dr Butt is an extremist hate preacher who legitimises terrorism and therefore someone from whose influence students should be protected," said the Home Secretary’s legal counsel, Aidan Eardley, in court on Monday.
"It is sorry for the harm caused to him and in particular for the fact that the allegation was made and maintained for so long."
Dr Butt launched a claim of libel and breach of data protection laws after being named in a 2015 Home Office press release on tackling extremism in universities.
The release, entitled "PM’s Extremism Taskforce: tackling extremism in universities and colleges top of the agenda", related to the government's controversial Prevent anti-radicalisation scheme. Critics of the scheme say it unfairly targets British Muslims and creates a climate of fear and suspicion.
Butt's lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson QC, told the High Court that his client was given no prior warning or chance to respond to the allegations, which were "widely republished in the UK media".
The Home Office initially responded to the libel claim with an 'honest opinion' defence, however, has now apologised to Dr Butt and will remove his name from the press release.
British government apologises & agrees to compensate Islam21C’s @DrSalmanButt after losing legal battle. He was called “extremist hate preacher”. Important lesson: do not let anti-Islam bigots or opportunists use labels like “extremist” to silence youpic.twitter.com/SoyHj0XN2Y— Hasan Abdullah (@journalisthasan) November 15, 2021
"The most shocking thing about this claim is that the home secretary defended it over five years, even though it was accepted that the very serious allegations were not true. It was only after documents revealed that it was a mistake to include Dr Butt's name in the publication that she was forced to conclude the proceedings and pay a very substantial sum in compensation to Dr Butt," said lawyer Tamsin Allen.
Dr Butt hailed the legal victory as signalling the end of the government's discourse on extremism.
"This long battle has uncovered many shocking revelations along the way. One of the clearest lessons of this case in particular is just how baseless the notion of 'extremism' - and therefore 'counter-extremism' -actually is," Dr Butt said in a statement published by Islam21C.
"I believe the discourse of extremism is dead. More and more people are realising that it is a nebulous term used by the powerful to silence any thoughts, ideas or speech they do not like or cannot challenge without coercion. It is the 'heresy' of today.”