In a statement in open court read on 15 November 2021 before Mr Justice Nicklin, the Home Secretary apologised to Dr Salman Butt, the editor of Islam 21C, for a press release published on 17 September 2015.
The press release accused Dr Butt of being an extremist hate preacher who legitimises terrorism, and from whose poisonous and pernicious influence students should be protected. The allegation was completely false. The Home Secretary has now accepted this and has apologised to Dr Butt, made a payment of damages and agreed to pay legal costs.
The proceedings were issued on 26 October 2016. On 20 October 2017 Nicol J held that the (i) the natural and ordinary meaning of the Press Release was be that “the claimant is an extreme hate speaker who legitimises terrorism and from whose pernicious and poisonous influence students should be protected.” (ii) the statement complained of was a statement of opinion ( EWHC 2619 (QB)). This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal ( EWCA Civ 933).
The Home Secretary subsequently agreed to settle the claim after documents revealed that it was a mistake to include Dr Butt’s name in the publication.
The Statement in Open Court recorded that the damage and upset caused to Dr Butt was made significantly worse by the following:
- First, the Government refused to remove the press release from the internet, with the result that Google searches against his name would bring up results containing the Government’s very serious allegations against him. As a result the accusations have continued to be repeated by other publications.
- Second, that the Government refused to remove the press release despite the facts that it did not seek to defend its contents as true, or even that they were published in the public interest. Its sole defence to Dr Butt’s libel claim was “honest opinion”.
- Third, that, as Dr Butt learned through the proceedings, the Government had not actually intended either to include his name in the press release or to make the very serious allegations it did about him at all. His name was included through oversight and the Government did not intend to allege that he was an “extremist hate speaker” at all. Nevertheless, it refused to remove the press release from the internet for 5 years
and defended this claim, adding to Dr Butt’s distress.
Dr Butt commented:
This long battle has uncovered many shocking revelations along the way. One of the clearest lessons of this case in particular is how the government sought to silence me using allegations of ‘extremism’, a nebulous term too easily misused.
There was a news report on the website of Dr Butt’s solicitors, Bindmans LLP.