Skip to main content

UK police say Muslim boy not questioned over 'terrorist house' spelling mistake

The police called on media outlets not to 'sensationalise' debate on government counter-terrorism policy by 'misreporting' stories
A boy looks up as Muslims take part in Friday prayers in Baitul Futuh Mosque in south London (AFP)

British police have criticised the media for “misleading” the public over claims a Muslim boy was questioned by police after accidentally saying at school he lived in a “terrorist” house.

The BBC reported on Wednesday that an unnamed 10-year-old Muslim boy in Lancashire was interviewed by police and his computer examined following an incident at school when he had written he lived in a “terrorist house”.

The BBC said the boy had intended to write that he lived in a “terraced house,” a common style of shared wall housing in UK cities and towns.

However, the police responded to the story by saying the boy was not questioned over a spelling mistake and was instead visited by a social worker due to concerns for his safety.

“The facts are that a young person disclosed a worrying issue in his school work – not just that he lived in a ‘terrorist house’ – and this was reported through the appropriate channels and subsequently a visit was undertaken by a neighbourhood police officer and a social worker,” the police said in a statement published on Wednesday evening.

“The reporting of this incident by the BBC has created an unnecessary situation and is damaging community relations and confidence at the very least.”

The police said the incident was not treated as being terror-related, and added that after a social worker visited the boy it was decided that no further action was required.

The BBC story sparked a Twitter hashtag, #IGrewUpInATerroristHouse, on which thousands of people ridiculed the claimed police response to a spelling mistake. British authorities have regularly come under fire for their approach to engaging the Muslim population in counter-terrorism activities.

Police statistics published on 7 January following a freedom of information request show 415 children under the age of 10 were referred to the Channel programme between 2012 and 2015.

1,424 teenagers aged between 11 and 15 were referred to Channel in the same period.

In each instance the number of children and teenagers being referred to Channel have increased year on year.

In 2012-13 just 21 children under 10 were referred to the programme, compared with 247 in 2014-15.

140 teenagers aged 11-15 were referred to Channel in 2012-13, compared with 476 in 2014-15.

The statistics are not broken down by religion. 

However, another freedom of information request covering the same period showed that of 4,206 referrals to Channel, at least 2,660 were Muslims.

The number may in fact be higher though, as the statistics stated “at least 1,500 records (of referrals) have no data entered (for the religion of someone referred to Channel)”.

The government has faced criticism after reported incidents including Muslim schoolboys being questioned by police over Palestinian activism and asked about their views on the Islamic State (IS) after raising the subject of eco-terrorism in a classroom discussion.

“There are huge concerns that individuals going about their daily life are being seen as potential terrorists rather than students,” Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Middle East Eye on Wednesday.

However, citing the “terrorist house” incident, police urged media outlets to be more careful in their reporting.

“The media needs to take more responsibility when sensationalising issues to make stories much bigger than they are and to realise the impact they can have on local communities,” Lancashire Police said in a statement.

“The level of debate about this story today is not warranted given the facts and misrepresents the role of all the agencies involved.”

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.