Prison chap­lain tells how he was ter­rorised by Mus­lim ex­trem­ists

The Mail on Sunday - - Front Page - By Ian Gal­lagher and Jonathan Pe­tre

IS­LAMIC mil­i­tants hi­jacked a prison chap­lain’s Bi­ble classes and phys­i­cally as­saulted and abused him be­cause of his Chris­tian faith.

Pas­tor Paul Song to­day de­scribes how he was left in a state of nearcon­stant fear af­ter Mus­lim gangs, act­ing with im­punity, came to dom­i­nate Brix­ton Prison in South Lon­don. He tells The Mail on Sun­day of one chill­ing in­ci­dent when a small group stormed his gath­er­ing in the prison chapel and be­gan loudly prais­ing the jihadis who hacked sol­dier Lee Rigby to death in the street. ‘It was ob­scene,’ he said. Mr Song de­scribes how a hard­line el­e­ment grew in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful, threat­en­ing vul­ner­a­ble in­mates and

telling them to con­vert to Is­lam for their own pro­tec­tion. The pas­tor says many of his fel­low vol­un­teer chap­lains were driven out through in­tim­i­da­tion, too.

‘My col­leagues couldn’t take any more,’ he said.

‘My classes were of­ten dis­rupted. At times in­mates openly spoke in the chapel in sup­port of Is­lamic State and sui­cide bombers. And there was noth­ing I could do about it... They spoke with such ha­tred of Bri­tain that it was fright­en­ing.’

On an­other oc­ca­sion, Mr Song, who was born in South Korea, says he was racially abused, jeered and hit on the back.

It left him afraid of lin­ger­ing any­where in the prison that wasn’t cov­ered by CCTV.

De­spite this men­ac­ing at­mos­phere, it was Mr Song who ended up be­ing ac­cused of ex­trem­ism. An imam took over as Brix­ton’s head chap­lain and stopped the pas­tor run­ning his main­stream evan­gel­i­cal cour­ses be­cause, he said, some of the ma­te­rial was too ‘rad­i­cal’.

Mr Song’s dis­turb­ing ac­count of life in­side Brix­ton Prison comes at a time of grow­ing cri­sis in the prison ser­vice, which faces over­crowd­ing and staff short­ages.

In the past nine months, four jails have been de­scribed as ‘fail­ing’. And on Fri­day thou­sands of prison of­fi­cers walked out for six hours in protest at ‘un­prece­dented’ lev­els of vi­o­lence. Jus­tice Sec­re­tary David Gauke con­ceded: ‘The level of vi­o­lence is un­ac­cept­ably high, and we’re de­ter­mined to bring it down.’

Mr Song’s time in Brix­ton came to an abrupt end in Au­gust last year when he was sud­denly barred from the prison to which he had given 19 years un­stint­ing ser­vice. It was claimed he called an inmate a ‘terrorist’ and be­haved threat­en­ingly to­wards the imam, which he ve­he­mently de­nied

Now, 12 months on and af­ter ini­tially be­ing de­nied a fair hear­ing, he has been cleared and re­in­stated.

An­drea Wil­liams of the Chris­tian Le­gal Cen­tre, which took up Mr Song’s case, said call­ing him an ex­trem­ist ‘de­fied be­lief’.

She added: ‘It is won­der­ful to see jus­tice done.’

Mr Song be­gan to feel the pres­sure soon af­ter imam Mo­hammed Yusuf Ahmed was ap­pointed as head chap­lain in 2015.

He said ‘the imam’s dis­crim­i­na­tory agenda be­came clear from the out­set’, when he be­gan scru­ti­n­is­ing the ma­te­rial used in the Bi­ble classes, claim­ing it was ‘too rad­i­cal’ and that the Chris­tian views ex­pressed were ‘ex­treme’.

‘They are main­stream cour­ses used by churches through­out the world. [The imam] said he wanted to “change the Chris­tian dom­i­na­tion” within the prison,’ Mr Song said.

He agreed to stop run­ning his classes, though he con­tin­ued to work with in­di­vid­ual pris­on­ers.

‘The imam said I couldn’t use the chapel, so I held a prayer meet­ing in a cell but the imam got to hear about it and was fu­ri­ous. He is very big, phys­i­cally in­tim­i­dat­ing and he kept urg­ing me to just leave. I thought about it but I also thought, why should I give in?’

‘My col­leagues were forced out of the jail’

BRI­TISH peo­ple are not eas­ily fright­ened. They can live with all the Brexit warn­ings about the planes not fly­ing and food and drugs hav­ing to be stock­piled.

But tell them that the price of their house will fall by one-third and that is scary.

No won­der, then, that when the Gover­nor of the Bank of Eng­land warns that in the event of a dis­or­derly Brexit UK house prices might fall by 35 per cent, we all sit up.

So is Mark Car­ney right to talk in such alarmist terms? And is he right that this sort of out­come is re­ally pos­si­ble?

The an­swer to both ques­tions must surely be: ‘No.’

The Gover­nor knows all too well that cen­tral bankers must, by their na­ture, take care about what they say. His po­si­tion de­mands a cool, clear voice – not blood-cur­dling warn­ings.

This is for two rea­sons. First, ev­ery word a cen­tral banker ut­ters can move mar­kets. Any hint of an un­ex­pected change in in­ter­est rates, for in­stance, can send shares, bonds and cur­ren­cies soar­ing or plung­ing. That is deeply dis­rup­tive, un­der­min­ing the whole econ­omy.

Sec­ond, the role of a cen­tral bank is to pro­vide sta­bil­ity – par­tic­u­larly in a cri­sis. They can’t give sta­bil­ity if they keep shoot­ing out wild opin­ions, par­tic­u­larly if what they say turns out to be wrong.

Mr Car­ney’s term in of­fice was re­cently ex­tended by Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond pre­cisely to pro­vide sta­bil­ity in the face of choppy wa­ters. By al­low­ing fear to spread about Bri­tain’s hous­ing mar­ket, he is do­ing pre­cisely the op­po­site.

His head­line-catch­ing 35 per cent f i gure emerged f rom ad­vice given to se­nior Min­is­ters, in­clud­ing the Chan­cel­lor, and was based on con­tin­gency plan­ning by the Bank of Eng­land as part of the ‘stress tests’ it reg­u­larly car­ries out to de­ter­mine the strength of the bank­ing sys­tem.

This, it must be said, is a wholly sen­si­ble thing to do. Had t he var­i­ous cen­tral banks around the world car­ried out a bit of stress test­ing in the runup to the Lehman Broth­ers col­lapse ten years ago, we would not have had the near-fail­ure of the whole bank­ing sys­tem.

The prob­lem is not the con­tin- gency plan­ning, but the way in which it has been dis­closed.

The BBC, for ex­am­ple, re­ported that the Gover­nor also told a Down­ing Street meet­ing that ‘mort­gage rates could spi­ral, the pound could fall and in­fla­tion would rise, and count­less home­own­ers could be left in neg­a­tive eq­uity’.

That does not make a lot of sense. Af­ter all, the one thing the Bank does have con­trol over is mon­e­tary pol­icy – so the only way that rates can rise is if the Bank it­self de­crees so. If push came to shove in a cri­sis, it could in­stead pump more money into the sys­tem.

That would weaken the pound a lit­tle more, granted. But with ster­ling at his­tor­i­cally low lev­els, the ef­fect would be lim­ited. To present soar­ing in­ter­est rates as a fore­gone con­clu­sion – even in a worst-case sce­nario – would be mislead­ing at best.

Mr Car­ney has since sought to clar­ify the story. His brief­ing, the line goes, was not about what the Bank thought might hap­pen, but how it has to pre­pare for ev­ery even­tu­al­ity.

But make no mis­take – Mr Car­ney is ex­tremely me­dia-savvy. He should have fully un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of his com­ments, but failed to clar­ify them the mo­ment the story broke.

Which brings us to the sub­stance of his state­ment: the risk to house prices. How much can we read into pro­jec­tions that rely on dozens of as­sump­tions, any of which may or may not prove cor­rect?

Well, it is pretty clear that quite ir­re­spec­tive of Brexit, UK house prices are out of pro­por­tion with wages and prices in the rest of the econ­omy.

But then so are house prices in most de­vel­oped economies, partly thanks to a decade of very low in­ter­est rates, and the UK is not the most ex­treme case.

Fur­ther, the fact that houses are over-val­ued does not mean the price will plunge. In the case of the UK, given the ris­ing pop­u­la­tion and a dearth of new homes, they may stay over­val­ued for quite a while yet.

In a study last week by global fore­caster Ox­ford Eco­nom­ics, the hous­ing mar­kets most at risk were Swe­den, Aus­tralia, Canada, Hong Kong, Den­mark, New Zealand, Nor­way, and then the UK – in that or­der.

The top five were all 60 per cent or more above their longterm norm, with the UK 33 per cent above where prices would be if they had grown at a more nor­mal rate – the same sort of num­ber, in­ci­dent ally, that popped out of the Bank of Eng­land stress tests. Iron­i­cally, Mr Car­ney’s home coun­try of Canada has a worse prob­lem than we do. Swedish houses are down seven per cent on the past year.

TY PI CALL Y, for homes to be­come un­der- val­ued – as they are in Ja­pan, Italy and Ger­many – t here must be very good un­der­ly­ing eco­nomic rea­sons.

In the case of Ja­pan and Italy, this is due largely to falling pop­u­la­tions, which cre­ates less de­mand for houses and puts down­ward pres­sure on prices.

The Ger­man pop­u­la­tion, mean­while, would be falling were it not for the ar­rival of large numbers of refugees who are not able, at least for the time be­ing, to buy their own homes.

Mr Car­ney’s anal­y­sis also makes no al­lowance for the huge vari­ance sin re­gional house prices. The mar­ket in Lon­don and t he South, for in­stance, has boomed since the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. By con­trast, prices in the North East are still stuck in the dol­drums.

But per­haps the most pierc­ing ap­praisal of Mr Car­ney’s fore- casts is this: in the UK, a house price de­cline of one-third would be more ex­treme than any­thing that has hap­pened since the Sec­ond World War.

The only pe­riod that comes close was the mid-70s, in the chaos that led to the IMF bailout in 1976.

But then high rates of in­fla­tion in ef­fect bailed out home­own­ers. This is be­cause, as­sum­ing they could cover the dou­ble-digit in­ter­est rates, their mort­gage debt started to seem smaller as wages rose.

There were some house price de­clines in the early 1980s and 1990s, and again af­ter 2008 – a good re­minder to us all that homes are not in the short-term a sure-fire path to riches.

Go back fur­ther, and house prices fell slightly dur­ing the 1930s, when there was a huge num­ber of new homes built, many of which we live in to­day. But by 1945 prices were roughly three-times their pre-war level and rose slowly through the 1950s. So to put the Bank of Eng­land’s stress test in per­spec­tive, it is pre­pared for some­thing that has not hap­pened for the best part of a cen­tury.

Could Brexit re­ally be worse for the econ­omy, and hence for house prices, than the Great De­pres­sion or t he Sec­ond World War? That re­ally does beg­gar be­lief.

Let us not for­get, too, that Mr Car­ney has form when it comes to these types of pre­dic­tions. He has al­ready proved overly pes­simistic about the im­me­di­ate eco­nomic im­pact of the ref­er­en­dum.

And his reg­u­lar hints about the fu­ture of in­ter­est rates have so of­ten turned out to be un­true that he has been likened to an ‘un­re­li­able boyfriend’ by one MP.

His lat­est gloomy prog­no­sis about the fu­ture of the Bri­tish econ­omy has been to pre­dict soar­ing unem­ploy­ment as ten per cent of jobs are taken over by robots – which seems a nice round num­ber, but one plucked out of the air.

To be clear, Mr Car­ney was a wel­come ap­point­ment to the Bank of Eng­land and has been a com­pe­tent and ef­fec­tive Gover­nor. His ex­ten­sion in the hotseat may be no bad thing for the UK in the short-term, ei­ther.

But he needs to watch what he says – and how he says it – if he is to pro­vide sta­bil­ity through what will be a tricky time.

His job’s to pro­vide sta­bil­ity but he is do­ing the op­po­site

OR­DEAL: Paul Song re­veals how Mus­lim gangs dom­i­nated Brix­ton prison

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