The BBC has published a retraction of a statement made by presenter Andrew Neil in which he claimed the prominent Islamic scholar Haitham al Haddad said Jews were descended from pigs.
Neil made the claim on BBC1’s This Week show on 5 March 2015. The statement was based on an inaccurate internet post attributing words to Dr al-Haddad that he had never said.
The BBC had not corroborated or checked the internet site with Dr al-Haddad before broadcasting Mr Neil’s statement as a statement of fact.
The BBC has now published the following retraction:
This Week, BBC One, 5 March 2015
During an episode of This Week broadcast by the BBC on 5 March 2015, the BBC made a number of statements about Dr Haitham al-Haddad. One was that Dr al-Haddad believed that Jews were descended from pigs. Dr al-Haddad has made clear to the BBC that he has never stated that Jews were descended from pigs and that the BBC had referenced an incorrectly attributed sermon. The BBC accepts Dr al-Haddad’s assurance that he has not stated that “Jews are descended from pigs”. It has withdrawn this allegation and confirms that it will not repeat it.
The retraction and undertaking not to repeat the claim concludes long running litigation in which Saracens Solicitors, instructing Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers, acted for Dr al-Haddad against the BBC.
The BBC continued to broadcast the allegation on its website for almost three years while litigation continued, until it was required to halt ongoing publication last week pursuant to an undertaking as part of the settlement.
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At the point when Mr Neil’s statement was first broadcast on This Week, Dr al-Haddad had already confirmed on the record that he had never said those words.
Nishtar Saleem, Senior Partner at Saracens Solicitors and Dr al-Haddad’s solicitor, said: “Andrew Neil’s statement that my client believes that Jews are descended from pigs was, it turned out, based on nothing more than an inaccurate posting on a foreign website.
“The BBC breached its own accuracy rules by doing nothing to verify this uncorroborated internet source before broadcasting Andrew Neil’s claim as if it were established fact. Had it first done some elementary research, it would have seen, including from video online, that my client had confirmed that the report was indeed false and that he had never said such words.
“The BBC also breached its own guidance and Ofcom fairness rules and failed to respect basic principles of fair and responsible journalism by broadcasting this allegation without first making any approach to my client for comment.
“Dr al-Haddad is horrified that the BBC relied on an unverified internet posting to broadcast such an allegation. In the course of the long battle to correct it since it was first broadcast, the BBC has produced not a shred of evidence to support the claim. To make this incendiary allegation against an Imam, scholar and jurist respected within the British Muslim community and abroad without any corroboration at all, undermines the trust that the community places in the BBC.
“Dr al-Haddad was clear throughout these proceedings against the BBC that his aim was to win a public retraction of this allegation and a recognition that it was untrue, and to ensure that the BBC would stop broadcasting the allegation online and never repeat it. He is relieved to have finally achieved all these aims.
“Dr al-Haddad remains deeply concerned that the BBC continued to broadcast Mr Neil’s allegation online for almost three years after he had confirmed directly to the BBC that it was relying on a false report. He very much regrets that he had to fight for so long to win a public retraction and a published acceptance that he had not said what was attributed to him, together with an undertaking not to repeat it, which finally halted all online publication on the BBC’s website and Facebook pages.”