Chaplain banned from prison work for exposing Islamic extremism in prisons

11 January 2021

Christian prison chaplain and former detective, Pastor Paul Song, has been suspended for 10 years from all prisons for telling a Sunday newspaper about Islamic extremism dominating HMP Brixton. Pastor Song, 50, is set to have a permission hearing for judicial review at the High Court tomorrow, Tuesday 12 January.

Exposing Islamic radicalisation in prison

Pastor Paul Song 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. His experiences have included having his mainstream evangelical courses hijacked by Islamic extremists, and inmates taking over the prison’s Christian chapel and proclaiming support for the killers of Lee Rigby.

The pastor also spoke of fearing for his own safety and of being assaulted and racially abused by Islamic inmates.

Pastor Song, who had given nearly 20 years of exemplary service to the prison, also revealed how Muslim gangs were being allowed to act with impunity and were intimidating inmates to convert to Islam.

Imam appointed head chaplain

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 (which included 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 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.”

Furthermore, 43,000 people 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.

Banned once again

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.”

Left with no alternative but to pursue a judicial review of this decision, Pastor Song is now bringing a claim to the High Court on nine grounds, including 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.

Pastor Song’s lawyers will argue that he has been victimized for exposing the reality of Islamic extremism at the prison to the media, and that ‘there was nothing new (post-dating the settlement) which justified the prison taking fresh action against him.’

His case includes witness statements from former prison inmates, whose lives Pastor Song helped to transform during his time at HMP Brixton.

One statement from former prisoner and drug addict, Nigel Williams, states: “I cannot speak highly enough of Pastor Song. He is a brilliant man of God with a loving and compassionate heart and I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him. Paul helped me a lot in my own Christian faith, and I know there are hundreds of ex-prisoners who have the highest respect and admiration for Paul and would say that his actions changed their lives for the better.”

‘I have been severely punished’

Ahead of the hearing, Pastor Song said: “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, commented: “The decision to ban Pastor Song from all prisons for 10 years has sent a chilling message to anyone prepared to expose wrong-doing and corruption in our public institutions.

“Removing him immediately after the prison authorities had confirmation that he would drop the high court legal case against his original removal, was cruel, underhand and unlawful.

“This is a case that exposes the disturbing rise and influence of Islamic extremism and intimidation of Christians in our prisons. The public must know the truth, and those being impacted by it must be free to tell it without fear.

“While Pastor Song has been victimized by HMP Brixton, he is no victim – he is the real deal. A Christian minister who has dedicated his life to his faith and transforming people’s lives through Jesus, not just in the UK, but across the world.

“Christian ministry in prisons has a long history, and its presence is essential for the rehabilitation and transformation of lives. Paul’s work has led to many prisoners in Brixton turning their lives around, and so it is shocking that prisoners who are desperate for a new way of life should now be prevented from being supported by him.”

Find out more about Pastor Paul Song
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