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BBC chair donated to Quilliam because he was 'impressed' by Maajid Nawaz

Richard Sharp told parliamentary committee he wanted to support controversial radio host's 'personal efforts to combat radicalism and extremism'
Sharp said he donated to Quilliam after he was left impressed by Maajid Nawaz after hearing him on LBC radio (AFP)

The incoming chair of the BBC has told a parliamentary committee that he donated thousands of pounds to the controversial Quilliam counter-extremism think tank because he was impressed by its founder, Maajid Naawaz.

Richard Sharp was quizzed by Kevin Brennan, a Labour member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, about the donations on Thursday, after Middle East Eye columnist Peter Oborne wrote that they raised questions about the former banker's suitability to lead the public broadcaster.

Richard Sharp's donations to Quilliam raise questions about his BBC chairmanship
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Sharp, whose appointment at the BBC was announced by the government last week, did not respond to Oborne's requests for comment about the donations.

But he told Brennan he had been impressed by the work of Nawaz, Quilliam's founder, who also hosts a regular show on the UK's LBC talk radio station.

"I heard Maajid Nawaz on LBC and I was impressed at his personal efforts to combat radicalism and extremism, and I felt that it was appropriate to support his efforts in trying to bring the community as a whole together," Sharp said. 

Asked whether he was aware of controversy surrounding the organisation in British Muslim communities, he said: "Well I was concerned on its merits to see what I can do to help fight radicalism and that was the purpose of my involvement."

Public records show that Sharp donated £25,000 to Quilliam in 2017 and a further £10,000 in 2019 via his Sharp Foundation charity.

Quilliam was founded in 2008 and describes itself as "the world's first anti-extremism organisation." It initially received funding from the British government and has worked with right-wing organisations that promote anti-Muslim views, according to the Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University project researching Islamophobia.

It has faced recent criticism over a report into so-called "grooming gangs", which said that Asian men made up 84 percent of convicted child sex exploitation offenders.

In late 2020, a Home Office report said there was no evidence to suggest that any ethnic group is over-represented among child sexual exploitation offenders. 

Quilliam was also criticised for its attempt seven years ago to rehabilitate Tommy Robinson, founder of the far-right and Islamophobic English Defence League, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. 

Robinson later distanced himself from Nawaz, but said he was paid thousands of pounds by Quilliam to leave the EDL.

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