Labour police boss candidate under fire over event

A Labour candidate for the region's police commissioner role has been criticised for sharing a platform with a group linked with an alleged 'hardline Islamic extremist'.

Simon Foster, who is bidding to succeed David Jamieson as the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, spoke at an online event hosted by the group Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND).

Mr Foster says he does not hold any of the beliefs attributed to MEND by Sir Mark Rowley, the national head of counter-terrorism policing, who criticised the group in a keynote speech in 2018.

Two years ago, Sir Mark accused the group of "fostering grievances and isolation".

He said the group's leaders had sought to "undermine" efforts to tackle hate crime and had made the "absurd" claim that Britain was "approaching the conditions that preceded the Holocaust".

Sir Mark also referred to a former leading figure in MEND, who lost a libel case labelling him "a hard-line Islamic extremist".

Mr Foster is a supporter of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was recently suspended by Sir Keir Starmer over his reaction to a damning report into anti-Semitism in the party.

He spoke at the event last week to mark the start of Islamophobia Awareness Month, telling fellow attendees that if elected in May he will launch hate crime prevention initiatives and "pursue enforcement action wherever possible" against perpetrators.

After the event he praised the "eclectic" group of speakers, which also included Reverend Ray Gaston, the vicar at Church of St Chad and St Mark in Wolverhampton.

Simon Foster, Labour's candidate to replace David Jamieson as West Midlands PCC

Sir Mark, the former assistant commissioner for specialist operations at the Met, who started his career in at West Midlands Police, said: "Leaders of MEND have claimed the UK is approaching the conditions that preceded the Holocaust seeking to undermine the State’s considerable efforts to tackle all hate crime and making an absurd comparison with state-sponsored genocide.

"One of MEND’s former leading figures lost a libel case labelling him as “a hard-line Islamic extremist” in the context of comments he made supporting the killing of British soldiers in Iraq."

Jay Singh-Sohal, the Tory candidate for West Midlands PCC, said: "I am deeply concerned by this decision by a candidate seeking to lead our policing and response to crime.

"Residents will be worried about his judgement. We need a PCC who will bring a robust approach to tackling crime, keeping police stations open, and will support counter-radicalisation efforts not associate with those who seek to undermine it."

In a statement to the Express & Star, Mr Foster said he totally rejected any suggestion that he shared any of the views of MEND as they have been expressed by Sir Mark Rowley.

He said he "does not hold and never have held and nor do I associate myself with and never have I ever associated myself with any of the beliefs or views attributed to 'Leaders of MEND'".

He added: "Any imputation to the effect that I have done or do so is therefore inaccurate and unsupportable."

Mr Foster said: "Discrimination, hatred and prejudice damages us all, it undermines community cohesion and we all have to work together to challenge it.

"Hate crime in any form has no place in the West Midlands. As West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner I will encourage better reporting, action against those responsible for hate crime and support for victims."

MEND said in a statement: "Sir Mark Rowley’s comments regarding the Holocaust were a deliberate misinterpretation of a lecture given on Holocaust Memorial Day which used Allport’s theory of prejudice as its intellectual basis – an academically accepted understanding of the manifestations of public prejudice preceding a genocide, including the role of stereotyping, discrimination, and hate crime.

"The key message of the lecture was regarding the tangible dangers of the normalisation of hatred and the joint responsibility that we all share to tackle all forms of hatred in society, including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and all forms of prejudice.

"We wholeheartedly reject that there was any direct comparison to the Holocaust, and far from seeking to undermine state efforts, MEND is proud of its efforts to tackle hate-crime in the UK, including working with various police forces nationally and setting up its Islamophobia Response Unit, which has helped over 600 victims of hate crime and discrimination

"The accusation against former employee, Mr Azad Ali is based on a misquotation of an extract from a blog entry written many years before MEND even existed. Mr Ali is on record stating that he has never called for attacks against British soldiers.

"As a civil servant employed by the Treasury Department at the time, the investigation into Mr Ali's conduct and any possible breach of the Civil Service Code exonerated Ali of the allegations, and he thereafter returned to his role.

"It is inconceivable that had he actually called for the killing of British soldiers that he would have been allowed to continue in such a role."

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