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Chaplain fails in bid to overturn 10-year prison ban over extremist gang claims

Paul Song had claimed inmates cheered the killing by extremists of soldier Lee Rigby in London

Tributes outside the barracks in south-east London where Lee Rigby was killed in May 2013. Ian Jones  
Tributes outside the barracks in south-east London where Lee Rigby was killed in May 2013. Ian Jones  

A UK-based volunteer chaplain’s bid to have his ban from visiting prisons overturned has been thrown out by the High Court in London.

Paul Song, a Christian chaplain, was barred after going public with his concerns about violent gang members who he claimed openly celebrated the murder of a British soldier.

Mr Song detailed his experiences at Brixton Prison, south London, in a newspaper article in 2018 when he claimed extremist gangs were trying to spread their vision of the world and radicalising other inmates.

Mr Song, who first worked at the prison in 1998, said that a group of inmates interrupted one of his classes in the chapel to acclaim the killing of soldier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death by two extremists outside his London barracks in 2013.

“To do this in a place of worship was obscene,” he told the Mail on Sunday in 2018. He said some openly proclaimed their support of ISIS in the chapel.

Two men were convicted in 2014 for the attack on Mr Rigby. One of them, Michael Adebolajo, was told he would never be freed from prison.

The unpaid volunteer chaplain was first barred from Brixton Prison for misconduct in 2017 after allegedly asking an inmate about changing his faith from Islam to Christianity. He was on the brink of returning before he publicly outlined his experiences at the prison.

His comments in the Mail on Sunday led to a 10-year ban after he was accused of putting the safety of prison staff at risk with “materially incorrect” information and by publicly naming the senior chaplain at the prison.

Mr Song went to London’s High Court on Tuesday for a full review of his case to try to overturn the ban. He said the decision by the government violated his rights, but the case was dismissed and his claim will continue at a lower court.

The hearing was told that Mr Song, one of about 300 chaplaincy volunteers at Brixton, had an unblemished record until 2015.

Changes at the prison led to the head chaplain being replaced with an imam and the pair clashed repeatedly. Mr Song was later barred from the prison when an inmate claimed that the chaplain “linked Muslims and terrorism which the prisoner found to be offensive”, said Mr Justice Goose. Mr Song denied the claim.

An independent 45-page report into Mr Song’s case paved the way for his conditional return to the prison, where a quarter of the inmates are Muslim.

The move was scuppered with the publication of the article in September 2018, in which Mr Song, a former South Korean detective, was quoted as saying: “Two or three would often come to my classes and rant about different things like how the actions of suicide bombers were justified. There was nothing I could do.

“Some of the inmates spoke with such hatred about Britain, the Government, the military. It was frightening.”

Counter-terrorist officials have highlighted concerns about the radicalisation of inmates and the use of force by criminal gangs behind bars to convert prisoners to extremism.

A government-commissioned report in 2019 warned of a hierarchical structure with terrorists holding senior roles in groups that included recruiters, enforcers and followers.

The UK government has introduced a series of changes to try to limit the power of prison gangs, including segregation wings, but a series of attacks carried out by newly released prisoners highlighted the threat.

They included Khairi Saadallah, a former anti-regime extremist in Libya, who was jailed for life on Tuesday after stabbing to death three men and injuring three others little more than two weeks after his release in June last year. He was said to have come under the influence of extremist preacher Omar Brooks, who was connected to the banned terrorist organisation Al Muhajiroun.

Published: January 12, 2021 07:08 PM

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