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Andrea calls out HMP Brixton governor

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Andrea Williams responds to Brixton Prison’s attempts to muddy the waters and spread falsehoods in the case of Pastor Paul Song.

 

I have been responsible for overseeing hundreds of Christian interest cases in recent years. Only a few are high profile. Pastor Song’s is one of them.

A common thread in such cases is the way in which the authorities, when exposed for their wrong doing, distort the facts (which often become ‘established facts’ on which unfair judgments are founded) and do not think twice about maligning a person of hitherto impeccable character and an amazing record of service.

This week we have seen the Governor of Brixton Prison, David Bamford, doing just that in his response to a letter I sent requesting a meeting with him following Pastor Paul Song’s removal from Brixton in August 2017 after 19 years serving as a volunteer Christian Chaplain. 

Reading Governor Bamford’s response dated 26 February 2018, I could be forgiven for thinking that Pastor Song’s removal was both warranted and procedurally correct. Many others of you have written to Governor Bamford in similar terms and he has responded in the same way. Some of you have called our office asking whether we have set out the facts correctly. I am here to state, categorically, that we have.

In short, Governor Bamford’s response grossly misrepresents the facts, and is a clear attempt by the prison to cover up their ill-judged and unfair treatment of Pastor Song.

Governor Bamford claimed that a prison officer provided a witness statement affirming that Pastor Song called a prisoner a terrorist. Whether such a witness statement was written has never been established, despite numerous requests from the moment of Pastor Song’s removal. Repeated requests were made over many months by Pastor Song for the name of the alleged accuser and to see evidence from the prison, all to no avail. At no point has Pastor Song been provided with any way of conclusively establishing that an allegation was, in fact, made.

Surely, if such a statement existed, the prison would be all too happy to provide Pastor Song – or the media - with a copy, and so shut down his case that the decision to remove him was taken without sufficient evidence.

But even if a statement was written, how are we to know that it was not fabricated without having an opportunity to test it? Imam Mohammed Ahmed, the Muslim Chaplain to Brixton Prison, had stated categorically to Pastor Song that he wanted to “wipe out the Christian domination” at Brixton. But for our exposure of what is going on, Christian witness within the prison may well have been wiped out. We have heard that since we exposed what was going on, an Anglican Chaplain has been appointed.

Let us continue to look at the correspondence:  

In his letter dated 4 September 2017, Governor Bamford remarked that Imam Mohammed Ahmed was present during the alleged incident between Pastor Song and the prisoner. We have evidence to show that this is untrue. You will see from the letter sent by Mr Horlock (Head of Reducing Reoffending at Brixton) to Pastor Song on 4 September 2017 that Imam Mohammed Ahmed was not present. The letter states that the ”alleged incident was witnessed by a member of staff’’, namely the prison officer credited with providing the witness statement (neither his name nor the name of the prisoner have ever been supplied). No mention is made of anyone else being present.  Had Imam Mohammed Ahmed been there, surely this would have been mentioned from the outset to bolster the prison’s case against Pastor Song?

This misrepresentation is highly material. It looks suspiciously as if the prison is seeking to cover its tracks retrospectively given the way in which the story has been exposed. On the face of it, fabricating the presence of a witness is a blatant attempt to malign Pastor Song and undermine his case. Despite repeated requests the prison has failed to provide any statements. How can we trust anything they now provide?

Governor Bamford also claimed that Pastor Song was only ‘temporarily excluded’ from the prison and that he was ‘asked not to return to the establishment whilst the incident was being investigated’. Again, this is entirely inaccurate, and we can prove it. As you will see from the email sent to Pastor Song on 16 August 2017, Imam Mohammed Ahmed said, “you do not have permission to enter the wings” and “this matter is of a serious nature”. The statement was not qualified as being just for the duration of the investigation. Pastor Song was not provided with any information indicating why the decision had been made, and he was not told that an investigation was taking place. To say now that he was excluded just for the duration of the investigation is, at the very least, disingenuous. Even if it is true, Pastor Song had no way of understanding this based on Imam Mohammed Ahmed’s email, and so cannot be blamed for going to the prison to query why he had been removed after 19 years of exemplary service.

The peculiar and erratic attitude towards Pastor Song is further evidenced by considering an email sent by Mr Reilly, Prison Group Director at the London and Thames Valley Prisoners to Pastor Song on 11 January 2018, confirming the decision to remove him from Brixton. In the letter, Mr Reilly said that Pastor Song’s “exclusion applies solely to Brixton”, and that he can be “deployed in other HMPPS locations”. If the allegation made against Pastor Song is true, and he is indeed a danger to prisoners, then the only logical decision would be to prevent him from volunteering at every prison in the country. Either he is a danger, or he is not. Brixton cannot have it both ways. The fact that he has been removed from Brixton, though allowed to volunteer at any other prison, shows that they can’t have viewed the allegations as seriously as they now seem to be saying. 

During our work for Pastor Song, I have had the privilege of speaking to three former Brixton prisoners who have all provided signed witness statements attesting to the remarkable, life-changing work done by Pastor Song at Brixton. One former prisoner credited Pastor Song with “always being there to talk, pray and support me through all the issues I was facing”, and that this “bought hope of a new way of life”. Another former prisoner said of Pastor Song, “he is a very likeable man with high moral standards, who was always there to help and never judged anyone”. Pastor Song worked alongside prisoners and staff of different religions and identifying as homosexual during his time in Brixton, and he did so in harmony, recognising their differences and praying that they would come to faith; during this time, no complaints were ever made. To suggest now then that Pastor Song would call a prisoner a ‘terrorist’, having an impeccable record over the past 19 years, defies logic.

We have also spoken to numerous other Christian groups who have volunteered in Brixton for over a decade, leading Alpha courses, Christian drama courses, prayer groups and other vital ministries, only to have since been told that they can no longer continue at the prison. Some of them wish to remain anonymous out of fear, though they all tell the same story. Their courses ran smoothly until Imam Mohammed Ahmed took over as Senior Chaplain in 2015. From then on, one by one, their ministries were shut down. Different reasons were given. Some were told that there was no longer a demand for their course, despite them regularly being oversubscribed. For others, procedural minutiae prevented them from continuing. For others, Imam Mohammed Ahmed made it so clear they were no longer welcome that they felt intimidated and left.

While numerous attempts have been made since the summer of 2017 to arrange a meeting with Governor Bamford, Mr Horlock or Imam Mohammed Ahmed, to allow Pastor Song to discuss the allegations and evidence more fully, the requests have either been ignored or refused. Would it not be in the prison’s interest to meet with Pastor Song and give him the compelling evidence on which their decision was made? It can only be assumed, based on their refusal, that no such evidence exists. The prison relies on the investigation having been conducted in the proper manner as justification, though as has been shown above, the correct procedures have clearly not been followed, and the facts on which the dismissal was based have not been proven. No evidence has been provided to substantiate the allegations, Pastor Song has not had any meetings to discuss the issue, he has not been provided with an opportunity to present his case in front of a panel, and any attempts to introduce transparency to the proceedings have been flatly denied.

What we have not established is who is responsible. Could Governor Bamford be unaware of the cover up within Brixton, and have made decisions based on misleading and inconsistent information provided to him by Imam Mohammed Ahmed and Mr Horlock? It is certainly possible. If so, Governor Bamford is, at least, negligent for not knowing what is going on in his prison; if he knew of the cover up it is even more sinister.

There is nothing at all to show at any point that the Imam has not simply made this up. In an atmosphere which prisoners have described as having a ‘militant Muslim’ feel, where we have signed statements showing that forced conversions are also happening by radicalised Muslim gangs, we should not be surprised that a radical Imam would attempt to have Pastor Song removed from Brixton. When we turn to the Quran, we find that there are several forms of lying to non-believers that are permitted under certain circumstances, the best-known being taqiyya (the Shia name), which states that it is acceptable to lie where doing so advances the cause of Islam.

We are committed to getting to the bottom of what happened at Brixton and to those responsible being held to account, and we will continue standing by Pastor Song throughout this battle. This is a battle which we cannot fight alone though, and so we encourage you to write to your MP, to Governor Bamford, Mr Horlock and Imam Mohammed Ahmed at Brixton. Some of your letters may get brushed aside, though do not lose heart. Together, we will expose this injustice and restore strong Christian witness to Brixton. 

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