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EXCLUSIVE: How police counter-terror chief was courted by 'Islamophobic' think tank

Emails obtained by MEE show Mark Rowley held meeting with Henry Jackson Society officials in his New Scotland Yard office
Mark Rowley met officials from the Henry Jackson Society at his New Scotland Yard office (Reuters)

LONDON - The UK's top counter-terrorism police officer met officials from the Henry Jackson Society after agreeing to endorse a report on Islamist terrorism by the controversial neo-conservative think tank, Middle East Eye can reveal.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley had also been due to speak at the parliamentary launch of the report last March but pulled out the afternoon before the event following complaints from Muslim organisations, which accused the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) of “peddling Islamophobia” and "demonising" Muslims.

The Metropolitan Police told MEE at the time that Rowley, who is also the UK's national lead for counter-terrorism policing, had been unable to attend because of “work commitments”. Instead, the police chief sent a statement of support welcoming the publication of the report, which he described as a “factual, impartial and highly useful resource”.

But emails obtained by MEE reveal Rowley had by then already met Hannah Stuart, an HJS senior research fellow and the author of the report.

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In an email to Rowley's staff officer, dated 2 March 2017, Stuart wrote: “It was good to meet you on Monday and I very much enjoyed talking with the Assistant Commissioner”.

Katie Parrett, HJS's chief operating officer who organised the report launch, also attended the meeting in Rowley's office at the Metropolitan Police's New Scotland Yard HQ on 26 February 2017.

The emails, obtained by MEE via a freedom of information request, also reveal that the report's launch at the Houses of Parliament on 7 March was organised to fit with Rowley's schedule after his office had initially declined the invitation, amid close collaboration between Rowley's staff, police press officers and their counterparts at HJS.

Rowley withdrew, the emails show, after police learnt that Alan Mendoza and Douglas Murray, senior HJS officials who have both been accused of stoking Islamophobia and links with far-right organisations in the US, would attend the event.

Relations strain further

The revelations are likely to further damage Rowley's standing in Muslim communities after he used a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank this week to accuse two Muslim campaign groups, MEND and Cage, of seeking to “create and exploit grievances and isolation”.

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Policy Exchange is a right-wing think tank where Hannah Stuart now co-heads a security and extremism research unit.

“We are extremely concerned about these revelations of close ties of a senior Metropolitan Police officer with the Henry Jackson Society,” Shazad Amin, the chief executive of MEND, which campaigns against Islamophobia, told MEE.

MEND had led the campaign to persuade Rowley to withdraw from the HJS launch, and at the time had commended him for his “brave and principled decision” to pull out. It warned that the police “risked losing serious credibility with Muslim communities" by associating with an organisation that "peddled Islamophobia".

"Although we applauded Mark Rowley's last-minute decision not to attend the HJS event on 7 March 2017, the fact that he was listed to attend is worrying. The Henry Jackson Society is an Islamophobic, neo-con think-tank and an integral part of the Islamophobia network in the UK," said Amin.

In his speech on Monday, Rowley, who is due to retire this month, praised the efforts of contentious government appointees including Sara Khan, the commissioner for countering extremism, and William Shawcross, the outgoing head of the Charity Commission and a former HJS director. He also called for a “whole society response” to the “chronic threat of extremism”.

Rowley also highlighted the growing threat of far-right extremism, yet the Henry Jackson Society has itself faced scrutiny over its links to far-right organisations in the United States.

Last November, both Mendoza and Murray spoke at the far-right Restoration Weekend conference in Florida organised by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which is considered an extremist organisation by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an American hate-group monitor.

Other listed speakers included Richard Spencer, Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, who are all considered key figures in the “alt-right” American white nationalist movement.

How the relationship grew

The emails between Rowley's office and the HJS, summarised below, show that Rowley agreed to meet HJS officials and to speak at the launch of the report despite having had criticism of the organisation flagged up to him, and after his office had decided he was too busy to attend.

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They also reveal that Rowley had initially been told that David Anderson, the former independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation who contributed a foreword to the report, would also be on the panel. Anderson told MEE last year that he had declined an invitation to the event.

9 January 2017

An invitation, sent by Katie Parrett, is forwarded to Mark Rowley's staff officer by the office of then-commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, to whom it had initially been directed.

“The Commissioner's schedule is full for the allotted dates, and given the subject matter, is this something ACSO [Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations] would be better placed to attend (assuming he wishes to?),” wrote Hogan-Howe's staff officer.

11 January

The invitation is sent to Rowley by his staff officer in an email which also includes links to background information about HJS, highlighting criticism of its work from the organisation's Wikipedia entry.

Some of the background information about the HJS, written by the staff officer, has been redacted on national security grounds in the copy of the email seen by MEE.

The staff officers also agree that neither Hogan-Howe nor Rowley would be able to attend any of the proposed dates for the launch, then scheduled for February, and to send apologies on their behalf.

16 January

The invitation is re-sent to Rowley in response to a request from the police chief for a copy of the HJS report.

An email also reveals that Rowley's interest had been prompted by a conversation with Peter Imbert, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner and member of the House of Lords who had also been due to attend the event. Imbert died in November aged 84.

17 January

Rowley instructs his staff officer to contact HJS once again to discuss the event. Following a phone discussion with Parrett, Rowley's staff officer tells him that she is “very grateful” to the police chief for giving the event further consideration and says that the launch of the report had been pushed back a few weeks “so she can be even more flexible”.

“They would 'be honoured' if you would say a few words and then be part of the panel,” the staff officer writes. “Katie has suggested that you meet with Hannah Stuart at your convenience to discuss this event, should you require it.”

19 January

By now, Rowley has agreed to attend the launch. “Following on from our previous conversation, Mark would be delighted to help at this event, subject to availability in his diary,” his staff officer writes to Parrett.

“You mentioned it might be possible for him to meet Hannah before the launch itself. When you have finalised a date for the event, perhaps we could arrange for Hannah to meet with Mark in his office.”

24 January

Parrett sends Rowley's staff officer a list of proposed dates in early March. “Please pass on our thanks to Mark for agreeing to help with the event, we are delighted,” she writes.

26 January

The staff officer replies: “The only availability Mark has is is Tuesday 7th March from 9.45-11.15am. Can you let me know if this is acceptable. Can you clarify where in Parliament it will be and if he needs to be in uniform (or is it his choice?)”

“This is perfect, thank you” Parrett replies. “I will let you know the room as soon as I do, Mark does not need to be in uniform, it is completely his choice.”

26 February

Rowley meets Hannah Stuart and Katie Parrett at New Scotland Yard.

1 March

Parrett writes to the staff officer: “It was lovely to meet you and Mark on Monday, thank you for your time. As discussed, I am putting you in touch with our Press team.”

2 March

Hannah Stuart writes to the staff officer: "It was good to meet you on Monday and I very much enjoyed talking with the Assistant Commissioner."

6 March

The police chief was still expected by his office to speak at the 7 March launch a day earlier, when his staff officer emailed Parrett to request final details about the event and the identities of the other panellists.

11.37 am

Parrett emails the staff officer to confirm that she will be at parliament to meet Rowley “along with our executive director, Dr Alan Mendoza”.

12.30pm

The staff officer replies: “That's great. Can you confirm yet who will be on the panel? If there are any Bio's for Mark to peruse beforehand that would be appreciated (unless he is likely to know all of them?)”.

12.44pm

Parrett writes that Rowley will be speaking alongside Stuart and Michael Howard, the former home secretary and leader of the Conservative Party.

The email also notes that Mendoza and Douglas Murray will attend. It includes links to their biography pages on the HJS website.

4.15pm

Rowley's withdrawal from the event - apparently discussed in an earlier phone call - is confirmed by an email from Parrett to the police chief's staff officer.

“Further to our phone call earlier, is there anyone else who can attend in Mark's place, perhaps Bernard Hogan-Howe? As you can appreciate this is very short notice for us to find someone else. If not, could you please send me a statement from Mark on his views for us to read out at the event?” she writes.

“I can only apologise again for this very late notice cancellation,” the officer replies. “It is also with regret that, due to the late notice, there is no one else able to attend. All communications for this event are being handled by our Comms team who are in contact with your press office.”

Parrett replies: “It's a real shame but I understand... Are you able to pull some strings for us anywhere else? Perhaps a contact in Birmingham?”

Police emails that afternoon also refer to an open letter that has been received by Rowley's office, which is believed to have been sent as part of the campaign organised by MEND to put pressure on Rowley to withdraw.

7.49 pm
Rowley approves a statement of support to be read out at the HJS event which has been drafted by a police press officer, writing “ok ta”.

8.07 pm

Shortly afterwards, his staff officer writes again to Parrett.

“I have now had sight of the open letter that has been sent out regarding your event tomorrow. I can assure you that the decision that Mr Rowley could not attend the launch was made well in advance of this letter being received,” the officer wrote.

“As stated over the phone, the decision to cancel was made due to ongoing work commitments, and media facilities following the launch of a national CT [counter-terrorism] Policing campaign. The CT Policing network, together with security partners, works tirelessly to identify and disrupt the terrorist threat, and by continuing to engage with communities can further focus on the critical role the public play in defeating terrorism.”

8.25 pm

Parrett makes one final appeal for the police to send someone along in Rowley's place.

“Thank you for getting back to me,” she writes. “I of course understand Mr Rowley's busyness and the demands following the launch of the national CT policing campaign. However, given the decision was taken some time ago, do you not have anyone from CT that could attend the event to read out the speech that Mr Rowley would have said?”

'Usual slurs levelled at Muslims'

The next day, the event took place as scheduled at 10am, with Rowley's statement of support for the report read out by Michael Howard. Photos of the event show Mendoza sitting at the front of the room alongside Howard and Stuart.

And while Rowley's late withdrawal from the event was initially welcomed by MEND, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body representing hundreds of Muslim organisations, expressed concern in a strongly worded statement that his endorsement of the HJS report risked undermining relations with Muslim communities.

"Our police services quite rightly place a strong emphasis in building strong relationships with the communities they serve," the MCB told MEE last March.

"Our senior police officers should therefore be wary of endorsing organisations who have consistently served to demonise British Muslim communities.

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"However objective and factual the report may be, the accompanying narrative released by the Henry Jackson Society seems to make oblique references to the usual slurs levelled at Muslims: that Muslims do not integrate, are not part and parcel of British society, and are therefore likely to be terrorists. This is a picture we do not recognise."

Asked to comment on Rowley's relationship with the Henry Jackson Society, a police spokesperson told MEE that Rowley had been "forwarded an invitation to attend an event" staged by the organisation but had withdrawn because of "ongoing work commitments".

The spokesperson also sent a statement with the same wording as the email sent by Rowley's staff officer to Katie Parrett: "The CT Policing network, together with security partners, works tirelessly to identify and disrupt the terrorist threat, and by continuing to engage with communities can further focus on the critical role the public play in defeating terrorism." 

The Henry Jackson Society declined to comment.