Report slams council’s record on extremism

Waltham ForestTown Hall
Waltham Forest Town Hall

Nationwide investigation into hate groups highlights borough’s role, reports Local Democracy Reporting Service

A former counter-extremism co-ordinator for Waltham Forest Council is writing a national report that singles the borough out as having a “grim history of extremism and terrorism”.

The report, as yet not published, highlights incidents in Waltham Forest including a prominent Islamist being given an award by the council and collection boxes in high street stores for groups advocating extremist ideologies.

Charlotte Littlewood, 27, was at the council for almost two years before being dismissed after facing a disciplinary hearing on allegations that she breached her employment contract – something she denies. All local authorities now have a duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 – and counter-extremism co-ordinators help do that.

In Charlotte’s report, funded by anti-hate charity Ahmadiyya UK, she states that Waltham Forest is considered a priority borough with regard to extremism and therefore benefits from greater government resourcing and support. But the former counter-extremism co-ordinator, who now works for community cohesion group Faith Matters, said: “Despite this the local authority has appeared to have wilfully ignored extremist activity.”

In the past, Charlotte has accused the council of “colluding in sectarianism” for its failure to act when claims were made of discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims in the borough, namely on the Waltham Forest Faith Forum – an allegation the authority said was “misleading and inaccurate”. Now, in her report, she cites a number of incidents over the years to show how she believes the council has turned a blind eye.

One incident in 2016 saw the current head of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami Islamist party, Siraj Ul Haq, receive an award from the council to “honour” his visit to the borough. Two current cabinet members, councillors Liaquat Ali and Ahsan Khan, were photographed with Siraj as he received his award in the council chamber of the town hall. When it was found Cllr Khan’s father had arranged the visit and use of the town hall, the cabinet member for community safety told the Evening Standard he “completely disagrees with [Siraj Ul Haq’s] views”.

According to Charlotte’s report, the borough’s links to other Islamist groups promoting extreme views is an ongoing issue. A number of high street stores in Leyton have been found to have collection boxes on their till counters to raise money for groups such as Dalwat-e-Islami and Madani. Extremist organisations have also held conferences in Walthamstow, including Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, an anti-Ahmadiyya group based in Pakistan.

In November 2015, Channel 4 documentary ISIS: The British Women Supporters Unveiled also found a council-owned building was being used for meetings by three sympathisers of the terrorist organisation. The Asian Centre Waltham Forest later banned the sympathisers’ group, Islamic Circles for Women, from meeting there its “shocking” preaching was revealed.

A foiled terrorist plot to plant bombs on trans-Atlantic planes in 2006 was also partly planned in Walthamstow. According to The Guardian, a flat was purchased on Forest Road by a group of Islamist terrorists in what judges called a “somewhat opaque” transaction. Several Islamist martyrdom videos were then uploaded to the internet from that address. Two of the plotters later jailed for life had been arrested close to Waltham Forest Town Hall.

Charlotte’s report extends across the UK, investigating instances of anti-Ahmadi extremism in Cardiff, Birmingham and Glasgow, and is due to be published in June. It is understood the government is also preparing a cross-party report into the discrimination faced by the Ahmadi Muslim community that is due to be published this month.

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council refuted the allegations made and said: “We host regular visits from officials from around the UK and abroad to learn from what we do and were the first local authority to secure an Anti-Social Behaviour Order against a hate preacher. Our original programme has gone on to form part of the national approach.”

They said the council had responded quickly to criticism following the visit of Siraj Ul Haq in 2016 and brought in a new protocol to ensure the incident wasn’t repeated.

“We have a strong record in tackling extremism in the borough and have been nationally recognised for our work to oppose the terror threat.

“Waltham Forest Council does not support hatred or extremist views of any form or nature, and condemn them entirely. We are proud to be a tolerant and welcoming borough where residents from all walks of life, cultures, and countries can make the very most of their life chances.”