Headteacher ‘happy’ after judge bars ‘awful’ LGBT protests from school gates

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson welcomed a fresh interim injunction against demonstrations which have lasted 12 weeks

LGBT education protests
LGBT education protests

The headteacher of a primary school at the centre of “awful” LGBT teaching protests has welcomed a fresh interim injunction moving demonstrations away from the front gates.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson welcomed a judge’s ruling on Monday which continues to ban protests from an exclusion zone surrounding Anderton Park Primary School, in Birmingham.

She said: “We feel happy – very happy – we have this judgment.”

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson added that the last 12 weeks of demonstrations had been “pretty awful” and brought “distress and harassment” to staff, pupils and many parents.

LGBT education protests
Protesters held their latest demo outside the court-imposed exclusion zone contained within the injunction, last week (Jacob King/PA)

Speaking after the judgment was handed down, the head also called for Labour to remove the whip from MP Roger Godsiff, in whose constituency the school falls, after he appeared on video telling protesters “you’re right”.

Calling his comments “quite discriminatory”, she said: “Well, it has just created a sense of incredulity amongst people who live in his constituency, and further – more far reaching than that.

“How a Labour MP can say such things which appear to be the opposite of what we had to do.

“We have to tackle prejudice, we have to seek to eliminate discrimination and actually his comments seem to have fuelled discrimination and fuelled prejudice.”

Asked if he should lose the party whip, she replied: “Yes I do.”

LGBT education protests
Headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson said Roger Godsiff MP should lose the party whip over his remarks about the protests (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

Mr Godsiff has called on protesters to end their demonstrations and said he would continue working with the council and Department for Education to bring the campaigning to a close.

In a recent statement on his website, he said: “I very much regret that this conflict ever arose.”

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson also called for Education Secretary Damian Hinds to visit the school and “come quick” to discuss the current policy on relationships and LGBT education in schools.

She added: “The importance of this goes beyond Anderton Park, it goes beyond protests on my pavements, it’s a British law issue.”

She was speaking after lawyers for the protesters brought a legal challenge against Birmingham City Council after the authority successfully applied for an interim injunction on May 31.

Protesters have been campaigning against the teaching of certain aspects of relationship education in the school.

LGBT education protests
Protest organisers Amir Ahmed, Rosina Afsar, and Shakeel Afsar, who have been demonstrating against relationship education materials being used at Anderton Park Primary School (Richard Vernalls/PA Wire)

Mr Justice Warby QC, hearing the challenge at the High Court in Birmingham, quashed the original injunction but immediately imposed a fresh interim order, with varied conditions, which still bans protests outside the school’s gates.

He said: “I find it likely the claimant (city council) will establish at trial some of the protesting has gone beyond lawful limits and strayed into harassing, alarming or distressing conduct, through it’s persistence, timing and context.”

The order was made against three individuals – the protest’s main organisers Shakeel Afsar and Amir Ahmed, and parent Rosina Afsar – as well as “persons unknown”.

Protesters brought the challenge after they were not given notice of the original interim injunction hearing in London.

A council barrister told Monday’s hearing the “urgency” and “risk of further escalating conduct” had forced the local authority to act quickly – and not give the usual three days’ notice that an injunction was being sought.

The school’s headteacher was in court along with about 30 protest supporters.

She previously branded the protests “toxic and nasty” and has allegedly received threats since they began, triggering a police investigation.

Mr Afsar has denounced the making of threats.

He has repeatedly claimed the “peaceful protests”, often featuring a megaphone, are being held because the school’s head has not properly consulted parents about their concerns that relationships teaching is not age appropriate.

He has also claimed the school’s teaching of particular relationship education materials is “over-emphasising a gay ethos”.

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said she has met parents who had concerns, and after the hearing urged parents to use their “voice”, adding “you don’t need somebody else’s”.

The fresh hearing was set to examine the separate issues of whether the interim injunction should stay in place in its current form, ahead of considering a full trial of the issues surrounding the injunction.

Mr Justice Warby set a date for that trial between July 22 and 31, and it is estimated to take two to three days.

At the hearing, Jonathan Manning, the council’s barrister, said: “The aim (in seeking an injunction) was not to prevent people expressing strongly held views about issues of equality and education in schools.

“It is to protect the school, by virtue of the small number of roads around it, from behaviour which on any basis it is submitted is unacceptable and intolerable.”

He added that counter-protesters putting up placards in support of the LGBT community at the school “had eggs thrown at them”.

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson had described the protests, in her witness statement, as “volatile, aggressive and intimidating behaviour by Mr Afsar and his colleagues”.

Mr Manning also added that on one occasion a protester, thought to be an imam from outside the area, had claimed there were “paedophiles” in the school who had “a paedophile agenda”.

The defendants’ barrister John Randall QC, responding, claimed some of the evidence before the judge was full of “selective highlights” from the council’s witnesses.

He added that despite “almost daily” attendances by police, there “has not been a single arrest” during protests.

Mr Randall said the council’s had painted “a misleading and seriously exaggerated picture”.

“Whereas in practice it would require a snowflake sensitivity to regard these as terrifying or threatening demonstrations,” he added.

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