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Influential British imam Shakeel Begg, who sued the BBC after being accused as an ‘extremist’ by its ‘Sunday Politics show’ host Andrew Neil, has lost his libel case in the high court.

In its ruling on Friday (28 October), Justice Haddon-Cave dismissed the claim and stated that the BBC had been correct in asserting that Shakeel Begg held extremist views and had encouraged religious violence.

The Court said Begg was “something of a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character” who presented one face to the local community and another “to receptive Muslim audiences on chosen occasions” when “he has shed the cloak of respectability and revealed the horns of extremism”.

Shakeel Begg is the chief imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre (LIC). He is an influential figure among the British Muslim community, especially the youth. Previously he has called for Isis to release hostages and said the killing of British soldier Lee Rigby was against Islamic teaching.

In an episode of Sunday Politics broadcast in 2013, host Andrew Neil named Imam Shakeel Begg as someone who “hailed jihad as ‘the greatest of deeds’” in a speech at the East London Mosque.

Andrew Neil, host of BBC Sunday Politics

Andrew Neil, host of BBC Sunday Politics

In support of its defense, BBC provided a number of incidents including speeches and posts over the last decade that it said proved its assertions about Begg. Although it admitted that it had got the location and timing of the comments wrong, but claimed that neither were significant and the substance of its allegation against Begg were true.

In the ruling, Justice Haddon-Cave, who said he had read a number of texts about Islam, including the Koran, to make his judgment, said that that a single speech in 2009 would have on its own been enough to justify the BBC’s position. In the speech, the judgment said, Begg “encouraged his audience to rise from their seats and take up arms to wage aggressive jihad against the enemies of Islam, including the Jews in Palestine, and thereby they would thereby get closer to Allah”.

The judge mentioned that Begg’s reputation for respectability “is likely to have made his (extremist) messages all the more compelling and seductive to his audiences”.

A spokesman for the BBC welcomed the ruling against Imam Begg who now faces a significant legal bill.Sources close to Imam Begg told that the judge had merely regurgitated what the BBC’s “expert” Dr Matthew Wilkinson said, who has been frequently used by the CPS in anti-terrorism cases.

Read the summary judgment of Shakeel Begg vs. BBC [2016] EWHC 2688 (QB)

Download (PDF, 226KB)