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Syrian refugee siblings suffered years of abuse in Yorkshire school

28th Dec 2018

Elham Asaad Buaras

Politicians and campaigners have hit out at the reaction of a Huddersfield-based school to the 2-year long bullying ordeal of two Syrian siblings.

Jamal, 15 and his 14-year-old sister, the only Syrian children in Almondbury Community School, are said to have become targets for bullies within a month of starting school in 2016.

The ordeal of the teenagers – who fled the war-torn Homs – hit the headlines on November 26 after a shocking online video of one of the attacks on Jamal went viral.

The video posted on Facebook shows a larger white boy headbutting Jamal before dragging him across a field by his neck, pinning him to the ground by his throat and then simulating waterboarding by squirting him in the face with water.

The attacker is heard shouting at Jamal – who was immobilised with his broken arm on a cast “I’ll drown you” before he launches the sickening assault. After the attack, Jamal calmly walks away. Despite a large crowd gathering, none of the other children follow him as he walks off, alone while others are heard continuing to verbally abuse him.

Jamal had spent nearly half his life as a refugee in Lebanon before being resettled by the Government in Huddersfield. Jamal said bullying at school had only increased since footage of the October attack went viral and had escalated into threats at his home.

The video was shared thousands of times by people angered at the inaction of school chiefs and as that anger grew, a crowdfunding page set up for Jamal and his family receive a deluge (£157,684) of donations. And more than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Prime Minister to launch an inquiry into the rising hate crime and racist bullying following the incident.

In a statement to The Muslim News Superintendent Steve Dodds, of West Yorkshire Police Kirklees District, confirmed that “a 16-year-old youth has been interviewed and reported for summons, for an offence of assault. He will appear at Youth Court in due course.”

The police also said an incident involving three other students on October 7 where Jamal sustained a broken arm, “was also fully investigated at the time. Three youths were interviewed. There was no further police action and the matter was referred to the school.”

The family’s claim that the siblings were the victims of a long-term abuse was strengthened when a separate video a Muslim schoolgirl being assaulted in a playground by another girl who forcibly removed her hijab was identified as Jamal’s younger sister.

The attacker in that incident was excluded from the school. However, the family’s lawyer revealed that Jamal’s younger sister had tragically attempted suicide by cutting her wrists between classes because of the abuse.
West Yorkshire Police said: “We have been made aware of a video showing a girl being assaulted at Almondbury Community School. The incident had not previously been reported to the police but we are now liaising with the girl’s family whom we are continuing to support.”

The Refugee Council said: “The idea that someone escapes war and brutality, only to be met with violence here, is truly awful.”

Previous pleas for assistance

Huddersfield MP, Barry Sheerman, said that Jamal came to his office in late October asking for help: “The young man himself turned up at my office and told me he was being bullied and appealed for my help”. Sheerman reported the allegations to the leader at Kirklees Council Leader as well as the Head of Children’s Services.

Almondbury’s Conservative Councillor, Bernard McGuin, revealed Jamal wrote to authorities in a desperate plea for help three weeks before the filmed attack.

In the email entitled “complaint: please help me”, the youngster said he had been subjected to bullying since he joined the school two years ago in Year 9 and listed “incidents and allegations” at the school.

McGuin contacted safeguarding officers at the local authority and said: “The school only took action when authority figures got involved” this has been denied by the Headmaster.

A statement posted on the school’s website on December 4 and co-signed by the Headmaster and the Chair of Governors read: ‘It is very important to stress that the incidents were dealt with at the time by our school – not at a later date after footage appeared on social media.’

They continue, ‘We are not able to give details about sanctions involving individual students. This would breach confidentiality. However, with any incident on any level, appropriate steps are always taken in line with the severity of the issue. We do not tolerate violent or unacceptable behaviour in our school’.

Far-right influence

Media reports exposed how Jamal’s suspected attacker had shared numerous posts from far-right social media accounts.

The teen’s mother had previously been prosecuted over racist behaviour. The mother’s case reached court in November 2017, where she admitted racially aggravated threatening behaviour and was fined.

The mother had been quizzed over a second suspected racist attack after calling a chip shop owner a ‘terrorist’ in July. Also, the suspect’s brother was jailed after a far-right Britain First rally erupted in violence.


On November 27, protesters took part in a demonstration outside the school, organised by the Huddersfield Pakistani Community Alliance.
Jamal told the Guardian that he and his sister did not wish to return to school, and a solicitor representing the family indicated they were considering moving away from the area.

Jamal asked people not to attack his alleged bully and said that he was alarmed by the violent threats being made online towards the alleged attacker.

Political response and Ofsted inspection

Prime Minister, Theresa May, said “most people were sickened and angered” by the footage of the abuse on Jamal. She also praised the public for setting up the crowdfunding appeal.

Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said he had written a personal note to Jamal and visited Syrian refugees after the incident. Javid revealed he was a victim of racist bullying at school and that seeing the video brought back memories.
MP Tobias Ellwood was among those to share the footage, writing: “This bully, his parents, the school where this occurs and the onlookers who fail to step in, all have big questions to answer”.

The school faced an emergency inspection by Ofsted when Government inspectors made an unannounced visit on December 6. Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Schools, said she was “appalled” by the video and had received complaints about it.

Cathy Kirby, Ofsted North East and Yorkshire and Humber Director, said: “We take the safety of pupils very seriously. Where there are concerns about a school’s ability to safeguard pupils, we will not hesitate to inspect.”
The school had an Ofsted monitoring visit in September 2018, and a previous inspection of the school in June 2017 had found that it required improvement.

False claims by the far-right

Just hours after the video of the attack on Jamal went viral, the infamous far-right activist and newly appointed UKIP political adviser Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) became involved claiming Jamal had previously attacked two schoolgirls. Robinson reposted a screenshot of a message on his Facebook page from a mother claiming her daughter had been bullied.

However, the mother later posted on Robinson’s page denying that it was Jamal who had allegedly attacked her daughter.

Hours after spreading the claims during two Facebook live broadcasts, the founder of the English Defence League admitted to his followers that he had helped spread fake news. Claiming that he had been duped, he said: “I have been completely had, how embarrassing man”.

Jamal’s solicitor, Tasnime Akunjee, issued a letter to Robinson stating “We wish to place you on notice that our client intends to pursue legal action”.
After receiving the letter Robinson admitted to his followers that it was fake news and claimed that he had been duped: “I have been completely had, how embarrassing, man.”

Akunjee said: “Many people on social media having viewed Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s lies believed them and expressed their outrage toward Jamal. Mr Lennon [has] compounded Jamal’s suffering and attempted to further divide a country in so doing. Spreading lies about a person is defamation. It is a legally actionable matter and we have begun the process of taking legal action against Mr Yaxley-Lennon for the wrongs he has committed against our client.”

Robinson deleted the videos and admitted to posting a fake photograph purporting to show violence by a Muslim gang. West Yorkshire police have said they are aware of the most recent video.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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