Senior police figures criticise Michael Gove’s “desperately unfortunate” decision to appoint a former anti-terror chief to investigate an alleged Islamist plot to take over 25 schools in Birmingham.
The West Midlands chief constable and police and crime commissioner both attacked the education secretary’s decision to appoint Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit, to the Trojan Horse investigation.
My main concern is that the secretary of state is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance. Bob Jones, West Midlands police and crime commissioner
Mr Clarke has been tasked with investigating claims of a hardline Islamist plot to take over 25 schools in Birmingham – originally brought to light by an anonymous letter.
Birmingham City Council is investigating the matter and Mr Gove has already sent Ofsted inspectors to some of the schools involved.
But the senior police figures said that the appointment gives the impression that the investigation is focused on counter-terrorism issues, and not other educational issues.
This is a desperately unfortunate appointment. Chris Sims, West Midlands police chief constable
Bob Jones, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, said: “My main concern is that the secretary of state is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance.
“This would be at the expense of sending a completely inappropriate message to our local community.”
Mr Jones added: “I have every admiration for Peter in his previous role, but having had personal experience as an ex-chair of primary, secondary and college governors and having led on the education authority, I feel he lacks the relevant experience in educational governance issues that are key to this investigation.”
Mr Jones said he agreed with the views of West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims, who had earlier warned that Mr Clarke’s appointment would lead to “unwarranted conclusions”.
“This is a desperately unfortunate appointment,” Mr Sims said. “Peter Clarke has many qualities but people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role as national co-ordinator for counter terrorism.
No pupils should be exposed to extremist views or radicalisation while at school. Michael Gove
“I am a strong supporter of open and inclusive education for all children in Birmingham and across the West Midlands and am committed to the process adopted by Birmingham City Council with educational and social inclusion at its heart.”
Talha Ahmed of the Muslim Council of Britain warned on Channel 4 News that the narrative around this investigation was already problematic.
“Where we are concerned about is there is a whole narrative against the Muslim community and this whole notion of extremist Muslims, we don’t actually know what is meant by extremist Muslims here. So I think there is a lot of clarity to be had on this issue.”
Mr Gove said that he was “extremely concerned” about the allegations that have been made, and that while Ofsted is inspecting a number of schools of concern, more action was needed.
“These allegations need either to be substantiated and firm action taken, or to be shown to be baseless,” he said. “We cannot allow uncertainty for parents or pupils to persist.
“That is why I am appointing a commissioner to oversee this work. Peter Clarke brings a wealth of relevant skills and experience, and is very well placed to lead a fair and thorough assessment of the evidence, and report back to me.
“We expect he will work closely with Birmingham City Council.
“No pupils should be exposed to extremist views or radicalisation while at school. I have tasked Peter Clarke with getting to the bottom of these allegations, so schools in Birmingham can continue the excellent progress that so many have been making.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman later said: “We are confident that Peter Clarke’s background makes him exactly the right appointment for this important job. 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.
“The secretary of state believes that Mr Clarke’s track record, drive and professionalism will mean parents in Birmingham can be confident that the truth of what has happened will be uncovered.”