Banned Christian prison chaplain’s case to be heard at County Court, judge decides12 January 2021 Issued by: Christian Concern
A High Court judge has today ruled that the case of a Christian prison chaplain, who was banned from all prisons for 10 years for exposing Islamic extremism at HMP Brixton to the media, must be heard at a County Court and will not proceed to judicial review.
Pastor Paul Song, 51, a chaplain and former detective, spoke to the Mail on Sunday in September 2018 after news broke about his experiences at the hands of radical Islam in the London prison.
Following the interview, he was banned, not just from HMP Brixton, but from all prisons, for 10 years for whistleblowing.
Today, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Pastor Song brought a claim for judicial review against the Secretary of State of State for Justice to the High Court over the decision to exclude him.
The nine grounds included victimization, breach of public sector equality duty and for breach of his rights under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Court of Human Rights.
Handing down judgment, however, Judge Julian Goose, rejected each ground for judicial review, but instead indicated that the right legal forum for this case was the County Court where crucial and contested witness evidence can be heard.
The hearing included revelations that the day before the hearing, Monday 11 January, the Ministry of Justice had served a 45-page management report from HMP Brixton.
The report revealed further evidence of the Islamic extremism at HMP Brixton which had led to Pastor Song’s initial removal from the prison.
In his submissions, Pastor Song’s barrister, Richard O’Dair, described the case as ‘unusual, disturbing and exceptional,’ and described it as ‘astonishing’ that the Ministry of Justice had only now released this new evidence.
Responding to the judgment, Pastor Paul Song said: “Today’s judgment gives us clarity on where the case will now be heard. I am looking forward to bringing it to the County Court where the full extent of Islamic extremism at Brixton prison and the actions of the authorities which led to my removal will be exposed.
“I was deeply shocked and hurt when I received the letter telling me that I would be banned for 10 years from doing what I have been called to do through my Christian faith.
“After 20 years of service supporting vulnerable inmates at HMP Brixton, I have been severely punished for exposing the truth.
“What has happened to me has set a dangerous precedent for anyone else who dares to tell the public about the growing domination of Islamic extremism in our prisons. I am determined to fight for justice.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, who are representing Mr Song, said: “It is unconscionable that the day before a High Court hearing the Ministry of Justice serve a 45-page report revealing further evidence of Islamic extremist elements at HMP Brixton.
“Why is it that the highest authorities’ side with a discredited Imam over a Christian chaplain who has volunteered his services in our prisons without complaint for over 20 years?
“It is an honour to stand with Pastor Song and we will now press for the full truth to be revealed at the County Court in March 2021.”
On 16 September 2018, Pastor Song revealed in a front-page interview with the Mail on Sunday how his mainstream Evangelical courses had been hijacked by Islamic extremists at HMP Brixton.
He also spoke of how inmates had taken over the prison’s Christian chapel and proclaimed the killers of Lee Rigby, and how he feared for his safety after being assaulted and racially abused by Islamic inmates.
Pastor Song, who had given nearly 20 years of exemplary service to the prison, revealed how Muslim gangs were being allowed to act with impunity and were intimidating inmates to convert to Islam.
In 2015, the serving Anglican chaplain had left the prison, leaving a void that was filled by head ‘chaplain’ Imam Mohammed Yusuf Ahmed.
Imam Mohammed was the former General Secretary of the Islamic Party of Britain, which had advocated for Britain to be transformed into an Islamic State.
Upon his appointment, Imam Mohammed vowed to dismantle what he saw as Christian ‘domination’ in the prison and began to scrutinise Pastor Song’s activities.
Pastor Song was subsequently told by Imam Mohammed that his mainstream Evangelical courses, taught and recognised all over the world (including the Alpha course), were ‘too extreme’ and that he was a ‘radical’ Christian.
Pastor Song reluctantly stopped teaching the courses, was forced out of the chapel, and left with no option but to meet with inmates in their cells.
Troubling lack of transparency
Following a visit to the jail in January 2017, prisons inspector Peter Clarke found high levels of violence and reported that ‘a third of prisoners felt unsafe’.
It was also noted that the jail had been without a full-time Anglican chaplain for 18 months. Mr Clarke said one should be recruited ‘without delay’.
In August 2017, after Pastor Song had an exchange with an inmate about Islam and Christianity, he received an email from Imam Mohammed, which said: “You do not have permission to enter the wings, nor do you have the permission to speak to any prisoners here at HMP Brixton. If you do turn up here without my prior permission, your keys will be confiscated, and you will be walked to the gate”.
After unsubstantiated allegations, that he had called the inmate a ‘terrorist’ and threatened Imam Mohammed, which Pastor Song vehemently denies, he was permanently banned.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Pastor Song is took the Ministry of Justice to the High Court, to challenge the ban and to clear his name.
Ian Acheson, author of a Government review into Islamic extremism in UK prisons, said at the time of Pastor Song’s case that: “There seems to be a very troubling Jack of transparency and due process around the decision to expel this chaplaincy volunteer.”
In May 2018, Pastor Song agreed to stay the proceedings after an independent investigation was promised by the Ministry of Justice.
MP Theresa Villiers had submitted a written question to the Secretary of State for Justice, asking if he had discussed the matter with the prison governor and if he would “take steps to press for that pastor’s reinstatement.”
55,000 people have now signed a petition calling for his reinstatement.
Carried out by Sara Pennington, a governor from another prison, the subsequent review concluded that his exclusion was “not reasonable” and recommended an immediate reinstatement.
Pastor Song met Brixton’s governor, David Bamford, on 16 August 2018, who assured him that he would now be allowed back into the prison with full privileges. He was also told that Imam Mohammed had been suspended, pending an investigation into an unrelated matter.
On 15 September 2018, the Mail on Sunday published a front-page article covering Pastor Song’s experiences in the prison and how he had been vindicated.
However, as soon as Pastor Song formally agreed to drop his High Court case on 20 September 2018, the same day Mr Bamford notified him in an email that he would now be suspended because of the interview he had given to the Mail on Sunday.
Mr Bamford told Pastor Song that there would be an investigation of what he had said in the interview, including his “compromising of the safety of staff and prisoners by disclosing information to the press without permission” as well as “any breach of confidentiality” and “possible anti-Muslim comments.”
On 3 May 2019, following an investigation, London’s Prison Group Director banned Pastor Song, not only from HMP Brixton, but from all prisons for 10 years for ‘failure to adhere to the expected requirements of a chaplaincy volunteer.’
The decision has left Pastor Song with no alternative but to pursue a judicial review of this decision at the High Court and the County Court.
After today’s judgment a preliminary hearing will be held at London County Court on 10 March 2021.