Undercover Mosque producers lost work in fallout from police probe

The production team behind Channel Four’s Undercover Mosque report lost commissions in the fallout from the police investigation into the programme.

Hardcash Productions managing director David Henshaw revealed that the company lost a BBC programme commission he expected to win after the police and the Crown Prosecution Service publicly accused the Dispatches programme of stirring racial hatred.

The programme makers was also accused of being ‘typical lying journalists’in the fallout, according to the writ issued in Channel Four and Hardcash productions’ joint libel case against the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police.

The team is suing for libel damages of £150,000 over the Dispatches investigation, Undercover Mosque, which went out in January 2007. It included secret footage filmed at Mosques and Islamic organisations, including extreme and offensive views about non-Muslims, women, and homosexuals.

Police and the Crown Prosecution Service investigated the programme over its editing process. The programme makers were not made aware of the probe until the police and the CPS issued a press release in August 2007 accusing Dispatches of distorting views.

Now Hardcash’s Henshaw, producer Andrew Smith, film editor John Moratiel, and Kevin Sutcliffe, Channel 4’s deputy head of news and current affairs, are suing for damages over the press release.

They say that the press release was republished in various national and regional newspapers, and on BBC and Sky News bulletins.

Sutcliffe said he was greatly angered by the fact that the DPP and police issued the press release, and left them to deal with the media fallout. He felt besieged and beleaguered with constant challenges that the programme was another example of TV fakery.

Smith said in August he went to a cricket match with a large group he had known for many years, but faced a day long barrage of comments, was called a jailbird, a lag, a fraudster and a faker, was asked if he had been involved in faking the Hitler Diaries, and the butt of jokes that he, Channel 4 and Dispatches were all dodgy and ‘typical lying journalists”.

The Dispatches team said press release issued was defamatory investigated them for possible breaches of public order and of stirring up racial hatred without having received any complaint, according to a High Court writ.

Neither the Crown Prosecution Service or the police have any remit for investigating the making of television programme, it is alleged.

But instead, the CPS and police stated their conclusion that the editing had completely distorted speeches, which was irrelevant, should not have been made, and this conclusion had been drawn without a proper investigation, the writ said.

The Dispatches team was eventually cleared by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom in November last year, who praised its responsible behaviour in uncovering matters of clear public interest, in keeping with its role as a public service broadcaster.

Henshaw sent a copy of the Ofcom adjudication to the DPP and chief constable, to which the DPP did not bother to respond, the writ says. The Head of Counter Terrorism replied saying the CPS accepted the findings of Ofcom, but did not make any apology, and did not report Ofcom’s findings, or remove the press release from its website.

The chief constable replied purporting to justify his officers’ actions on the basis of community cohesion, and made a grudging apology, the writ said.

Now the team is seeking damages and aggravated damages for libel, and an injunction banning repetition of the allegations at the centre of the case.

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