Harassment a ‘much wider problem’ in society, government adviser on social cohesion warns in new report

Harassment a ‘much wider problem’ in society, government adviser on social cohesion warns in new report
  • PublishedMarch 25, 2024

Dame Sara Khan singled out an incident at Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, where a teacher was forced to go into hiding after showing a caricature of the prophet Mohammed in a lesson.

Harassment is a “much wider problem” in society and doesn’t just affect those in the public eye, according to the government’s independent adviser on social cohesion – and it poses a “serious threat to our democratic way of life”.

Dame Sara Khan spoke to Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips before the publication of a new report she has collated.

It found that more than 75% of the public feel they can’t speak their mind, while some 27% had changed their way of life – like employing security or moving jobs.

Dame Sara is recommending protests be banned within 150 metres of schools, except for picketing teachers, as part of her proposals.

But she faced criticism from one school after it was singled out in the report.

‘Harassment and censorship affecting all walks of life’

Dame Sara said: “In the last couple of months, the focus has been how members of parliament and those in public life have been at the forefront of experiencing this level of harassment and censorship.

“What my report is going to show for the first time is that this is a much wider problem in our society which is affecting people from all walks of life.

“I’m talking about councillors, journalists, teachers and academics, those working in the arts and cultural sector, who are experiencing severe levels of harassment and abuse, which is then resulting in them self-censoring.”

Dame Sara added: “If we care about protecting those democratic rights and freedoms that are so central to us as a nation, my call to the government is we have to do far more to tackle this threat which is undermining academic freedom, press freedom, the arts and cultural sector and civic society, but it poses a serious threat to our democratic way of life.

“The fact that the scale of this is so significant is, in my view, something that the government has to deal with.

“So, it’s not about banning groups, it’s about ensuring that our laws are robust enough, our police are looking at harassment cases more effectively.

“But also this is about behaviours, it’s about how do we respect our differences, no matter how much we may have different political opinions or views or beliefs.

“We have to be able to live together in a way that respects and recognises those differences in a plural democracy.”

Row over school ‘failing teacher’

Dame Sara also criticised the way an incident at Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire in 2021 was handled.

A teacher was forced to go into hiding after showing a caricature of the prophet Mohammed in a lesson.

Dame Sara said the teacher was “totally and utterly failed”, adding: “He was not given any support, he was not recognised as a victim by the victims code.

“For example, he was not even recognised as a victim of crime despite the completely life-altering experience he had to go through. I think that’s unacceptable.”

She said such harassment was not limited to Islamic or religious beliefs but was widespread across society with a “chilling” impact on those affected.

A spokesperson for Batley Multi Academy Trust said they were “disappointed” with how Dame Sara’s report referred to the school, saying it “did not recognise much of what is in it”.

They added: “We are extremely proud of the school and of our community, and how both have moved forward together so positively from the very difficult period in 2021.

“Those events required us to support all our students, their families and our staff, including the teacher involved, for whom we provided counselling and wider support.

“We remain clear that we delivered on our responsibilities and that we followed due process.

“This included immediately establishing an independent investigation, accepting its findings and acting on them.”

The Trust added it had told the government before the report was published that it “contained a number of factual inaccuracies” but noted that “these have not been corrected”.


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