A Muslim mother has dropped legal action against a Dundee nursery which she accused of offering school places to white children while denying them to Muslim kids.
Nadia El-Nakla, the wife of Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, was seeking £30,000 in damages against Little Scholars Day Nursery in Broughty Ferry after the Care Inspectorate upheld a complaint in November 2021 that she and her husband made against the nursery.
But lawyer Aamer Anwar, acting on behalf of Yousaf and Ms El-Nakla, confirmed the legal action has now been dropped following acknowledgement of the Care Inspectorate investigation.
A joint statement, agreed by Ms El-Nakla and Sword Nursery Limited, the proprietors of Little Scholars Day Nursery, said: “Following discussions, parties have agreed to bring an end to these proceedings. No legal expenses will be paid by either party to the other. Sword Nursery Ltd acknowledges the previous findings of the Care Inspectorate identifying administrative changes necessary to manage admission requests in a more transparent and equitable manner.
“Those changes have been implemented in full. As a result of court proceedings being halted parties can confirm there has been and will be no judicial finding against either party.”
However, Usha Fowdar, the owner of Little Scholars Day Nursery, was more combative.
She said: “Whilst we were 100% prepared to see Ms El-Nakla in court, we are extremely pleased that this baseless legal action has been terminated.
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“It bears repeating that, despite some extremely misleading headlines and spurious allegations, the Care Inspectorate identified administrative processes for improvement which had nothing to do with discrimination, because there never was any discrimination. Any attempt to twist this fact should be called out for what it is.
“Ms El-Nakla has, very sensibly, opted to drop her legal action in the face of our determination to defend ourselves and our hard-working employees.
“While I’m pleased our employees will be spared the stress of appearing as witnesses, in one sense I’m also disappointed, as the court case would have been extremely revealing and I’m utterly confident we would have prevailed.
“Despite this vindication, it has been deeply upsetting to have spent almost 18 months and tens of thousands of pounds defending our small nursery against their false claims.
“It beggars belief that, rather than pick up the phone to quickly resolve what was a simple misunderstanding, they colluded in a half-baked sting operation and then mounted a vicious and cynical campaign against us in the national media. What sort of people do that?”
In May 2021 Mr Yousaf and his wife said they were told there was no space for their child but said applicants with “white Scottish-sounding names” were accepted. The nursery denied the accusations.
During a probe by Nadia El-Nakla, the nursery’s headteacher Michelle Mill said it had no space available for three applicants who had ethnic, Muslim-sounding names, including the couple’s daughter Amal.
However, responding to fake inquiries from three mothers with non-ethnic names, the Dundee nursery said spaces were available.
The Daily Record then made its own inquiries using fake names. Under “Aqsa Akhtar” they asked Michelle Mill for any afternoons free for a three-year-old daughter Amira. Five days later after prompting, on July 12, Mill replied there was “no availability for a three-year-old.”
That evening, they emailed under the name “Susan Blake” about a couple of afternoons at any point for Sophie – a three year old. The next day, Mill sent a registration form and leaflet.
She said she wanted to see where Sophie “would fit in on our registers” and to “let you know of availability and arrange a suitable time for a show round for you.” This was in contrast to her statement the day before that there was resolutely “no availability for a three-year-old.”
Later the same year, after concluding an investigation, a spokesperson for the Care Inspectorate said: “We have upheld a complaint in relation to this matter. We found that the service did not promote fairness, equality and respect when offering placements.
“Every child in Scotland has the right to good quality care that meets their needs and respects their rights. We have identified areas for improvement and we will follow up on these to check on progress.
“We continue to monitor this service. If we are not satisfied that the improvements required have been met, we will not hesitate to take further action.”
The Care Inspectorate ordered the nursery to improve its communications with prospective families “to demonstrate that applicants are treated in a courteous and respectful manner. People must receive the right information.”