Ifhat Smith and Prevent Watch: the facts

I wrote in the Sunday Telegraph at the end of January about something called Prevent Watch, an organisation of Islamist activists linked to the terror-sympathising group Cage (famously supportive of “Jihadi John”) who promote inflammatory stories about the Government’s anti-terrorism policy, Prevent. I discovered that not only were many of the stories false or exaggerated, but that several of the supposedly ordinary victims in them were in fact activists in Prevent Watch.

Among this number was a lady called Ifhat Smith, also known as Ifhat Shaheen or Ifhat Shaheen-Smith, who won copious newsprint and airtime with a claim that her schoolboy son had been “interrogated” and “treated as a criminal” because he had used the phrase “eco-terrorism” in class. It was, she told the BBC, the act of a “police state.”

I discovered that when Mrs Smith took the school (and the Government) to court over the matter, her claim had been dismissed in scathing terms as “bound to fail” and “totally without merit” and she had even been ordered to pay £1000 for wasting the court’s time.

It turned out that the supposed “interrogation” of the teenager using “police state” and “criminal” methods had been conducted by school staff on school premises, had nothing to do with the criminal justice system or police, and lasted ten minutes. No further action was taken and the boy returned to classes normally.

Mrs Smith understandably neglected to mention all this when briefing journalists about the Islamophobic outrage visited on her son; I was the first reporter to learn about the outcome of the court case.

I also discovered that Mrs Smith was or had been the manager of the London office of Ennadha, the Tunisian Islamist party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood – in which capacity she had hired an American PR company, Burston-Marsteller, to promote Ennadha’s image in the States. Her role is shown in official US government documents which the PRs had to file under Washington’s Foreign Agents Registration Act. (In May this year, four months after the article was published, Ennadha claimed to move away from Islamism – but many other sources have documented the party’s links, and those of its leader, with Islamism and the Brotherhood, see for instance here, here and here.)

Mrs Smith has a record of, shall we say, hardline activity on social media, describing the future London mayor, Sadiq Khan, as a “house nigger,” see here and here (you need to read the posts in order) and tweeting her support for Cage.

Prevent Watch complained that Mrs Smith “was not and never had been” an activist in Prevent Watch, or an Islamist, or connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, or an activist of any kind, and had not promoted false or exaggerated stories about Prevent. We referred them to the evidence above, and were also able to point out that at the time of publication Mrs Smith was already booked to speak at least four Prevent Watch or anti-Prevent public meetings in the following few weeks (see here, here, here and here.)

They lost their complaint to Ipso, which ruled:

It was not in dispute that the mother in the “ecoterrorism” case had spoken against Prevent at a number events open to the public. The newspaper had provided promotional material for some events she was scheduled to speak at, in which she had been described as a “campaigner against Prevent”, and the complainant accepted that she had spoken at one of the events it had organised….The complainant accepted that both [Smith and Haras Ahmad, another Prevent Watch activist] were affiliated with Prevent Watch, and it was not in dispute that they were already affiliated with the organisation at the time they had approached the media with their respective stories… it was not significantly misleading for the article to describe these individuals as Prevent Watch “activists.”

Neither was it significantly misleading in the full circumstances for the article to suggest that their stories were “false or exaggerated”, where the court had dismissed the claim of the mother in the “ecoterrorism” case as “totally without merit”…Further, the newspaper was entitled to report the comments of the think-tank researcher who characterised their media approaches as a “campaign of lies”. There was no breach of Clause 1 in respect of these points.

Ipso added that Prevent Watch

had published comments on their website in defence of a person convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000, [and] it was not significantly misleading to characterise Prevent Watch as having “sympathised” with terrorists. Further, it was not significantly misleading to state that some of those involved in the campaign were “Islamist activists”  in circumstances where the complainant did not dispute the allegation that one of the people identified as a Prevent Watch “activist” was involved with a group which allegedly believes in replacing a secular government with an Islamic government.

As for the links to those fine people, Cage:

The newspaper had been able to demonstrate that Cage and Mend [another Islamist front group] had used Prevent Watch material in their own presentations, that Cage and Prevent Watch had promoted each other’s work on Twitter, and that they had each presented case studies with identical wording. The newspaper therefore had sufficient grounds on which to report that there were links between Prevent Watch and the organisations Cage and Mend.

So I admit I was rather surprised when yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph published an apology to Mrs Smith. Either she must have very good lawyers, or the Telegraph – which got rid of many of its excellent and robust legal team at the same time as it got rid of many of its journalists – must now have very bad ones. Either way, the forces trying to undermine this country’s fight against terror had a result yesterday.

I set out this evidence about the good Mrs Smith so you can make up your own minds – and if she wants to sue me, she knows where to come.