‘THEY SPOKE WITH SUCH HA­TRED ABOUT BRI­TAIN’

PRISON CHAP­LAIN’S SHOCK­ING STORY

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Ian Gal­lagher and Jonathan Pe­tre

FOR part-time chap­lain Paul Song, Brix­ton Prison’s oak-beamed 19th Cen­tury chapel was an oa­sis amid the hec­tic clam­our of pe­nal life.

But that was be­fore Is­lamic ex­trem­ists hi­jacked his Bi­ble classes. One af­ter­noon three in­mates ap­peared in the chapel, in­ter­rupt­ing a dis­cus­sion on di­vine grace to loudly ac­claim the killers of Lee Rigby, whose mur­der by jihadis on a South Lon­don street shocked the na­tion.

To the dis­be­lief of Mr Song and his fel­low Chris­tians, the in­ter­lop­ers in­sisted that hack­ing to death the 25-year-old sol­dier was jus­ti­fied since, in their eyes, it avenged the killing of Mus­lims by Bri­tish troops.

When Mr Song calmly tried to ar­gue back, he was shouted down. Nor was it the only time his classes were to be sim­i­larly dis­rupted.

‘To do this in a place of wor­ship was ob­scene,’ he says. ‘Some openly spoke in the chapel in sup­port of Is­lamic State.’

To­day, Mr Song tells The Mail on Sun­day in chill­ing de­tail how ex­trem­ist Mus­lim gangs came to dom­i­nate his jail: in­tim­i­dat­ing pris­on­ers into con­vert­ing to Is­lam and phys­i­cally as­sault­ing him over his Chris­tian faith.

And he de­scribes how he was sum­mar­ily dis­missed from the jail over claims – which he stren­u­osly de­nies – that he called one inmate a ‘ terrorist’. He was also falsely ac­cused of espous­ing ‘rad­i­cal’ Chris­tian­ity.

He be­lieves the com­plaint was or­ches­trated by imam Mo­hammed Yusuf Ahmed, who was ap­pointed as the prison head chap­lain in 2015 and soon set about up­end­ing the multi-faith re­li­gious sup­port of­fered to in­mates.

Ini­tially, Mr Song was de­nied a proper hear­ing but this news­pa­per can re­veal that an ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion even­tu­ally cleared him a year later and he has been re­in­stated.

He claims his dis­missal af­ter 19 years’ ser­vice fol­lowed a power shift in the South Lon­don prison, where a hard­line Mus­lim con­tin­gent, feared by of­fi­cers and in­mates alike, were act­ing with im­punity.

Mr Song be­lieves the days were num­bered for him and other Chris­tian vol­un­teers af­ter Mr Ahmed was ap­pointed. Mr Song taught main­stream evan­gel­i­cal cour­ses which proved pop­u­lar with in­mates, but the new imam banned them, say­ing the ma­te­rial was too ‘ex­treme’.

De­scrib­ing a cli­mate of fear in­side HMP Brix­ton, Mr Song, who moved to Bri­tain from South Korea 26 years ago, also claimed:

In­mates were forced – in some cases through vi­o­lence – to con­vert to Is­lam for ‘pro­tec­tion’;

Mus­lim in­mates jeered, pushed and abused him, call­ing him ‘Chinky’ and ‘Crazy Chris­tian’;

He feared for his safety and al­ways tried to en­sure he was in view of a CCTV cam­era;

That t he i mam vowed to change what he called the ‘Chris­tian dom­i­na­tion’ in­side prison;

He was forced to hold prayer meet­ings in a cell be­cause the imam stopped him us­ing the prison chapel.

Mr Song said: ‘I was very upset by what these men said about Lee Rigby that day. They were mak­ing a com­mo­tion, say­ing the mur­der was jus­ti­fied. I tried to calmly rea­son with them but was shouted down.

‘My cour­ses were of­ten dis­rupted in this way. Two or three would of­ten come to my classes and rant about dif­fer­ent things like how the ac­tions of sui­cide bombers were jus­ti­fied. There was noth­ing I could do.’

Yet in a grotesque irony, it was the chap­lain, not the ex­trem­ists, who ended up be­ing pun­ished.

Of all the el­e­ments of his as­ton­ish­ing story, it is per­haps the ap­par­ent will­ing­ness of the prison au­thor­i­ties to read­ily ac­cept the al­le­ga­tions and dis­miss Mr Song with­out first seek-

‘Some of the in­mates spoke with such ha­tred about Bri­tain, it was fright­en­ing’ ‘They’d scream in my face. I only walked in ar­eas where there was CCTV’

ing his ver­sion of events, that is the most trou­bling.

He be­lieves the most cur­sory ex­am­i­na­tion of the ‘ev­i­dence’ would have found the claims base­less and says he was de­nied a face-to-face meet­ing to de­fend him­self. Although com­mon sense even­tu­ally pre­vailed, it is a won­der he now wants to re­turn.

‘ Some of the in­mates spoke with such ha­tred about Bri­tain, the Gov­ern­ment, the mil­i­tary. It was fright­en­ing,’ Mr Song said.

That he be­came in­ured to the out­bursts is a mea­sure of just how ‘crazy the sit­u­a­tion be­came in­side Brix­ton’. He said: ‘Grad­u­ally, many of the Chris­tian vol­un­teer chap­lains were in­tim­i­dated into leav­ing un­til I was one of only a few re­main­ing.’

Be­fore em­i­grat­ing to Bri­tain, Mr Song, now 49, was a de­tec­tive in the South Korean cap­i­tal Seoul. He be­came a born-again Chris­tian with a ‘burn­ing de­sire’ to help those on so­ci­ety’s mar­gins, such as the home­less, drug ad­dicts, and pros­ti­tutes, and for many years he ran a shel­ter in a Brix­ton vicarage.

Pas­tor Paul, as he was known, be­came a pop­u­lar, fa­mil­iar and re­spected lo­cal fig­ure. Out­go­ing and brim­ming with en­thu­si­asm, he made friends eas­ily. He is an evan­ge­list but, as he pointed out, so too was Je­sus. ‘ It doesn’t make me an ex­trem­ist,’ he laughed. The 43,000 peo­ple who signed a pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing his re­in­state­ment af­ter his dis­missal would agree.

Af­ter the Church of Eng­land sold off the vicarage-turned-hos­tel he used to run, he de­cided to de­vote more time to vol­un­tary work in Brix­ton Prison.

Re­lat­ing to in­mates, some of them highly dan­ger­ous, came nat­u­rally. ‘I think my time in the po­lice helped,’ he said. His pop­u­lar­ity spread and his cour­ses were over­sub­scribed, at­tended by up to 80 pris­on­ers.

They met in the large mul­ti­faith chapel, built in the 1850s when em­brac­ing Chris­tian­ity was deemed es­sen­tial to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. ‘I was happy that ev­ery­one used the chapel and I al­ways got on with peo­ple from all re­li­gions,’ Mr Song re­called. ‘ In the early days there was never any trou­ble.’

He turned many in­mates’ lives around. ‘There was one, very dan­ger­ous, who sliced open a man from top to bot­tom and was fond of say­ing he was go­ing to fin­ish him off when he got out. I helped him find God. He be­came a new man.’

There were three full- time chap­lains – one Catholic, one Mus­lim and one Angli­can, the Rev­erend Phil Chad­der, who led the chap­laincy. But in 2015, Mr Chad­der moved on, cre­at­ing a power vac­uum that would later have sig­nif­i­cant reper­cus­sions for Mr Song.

He de­scribed the in­tim­i­dat­ing sit­u­a­tion in­side the prison at the time: ‘Pris­on­ers told me of other in­mates who were punched, roughed up, and threat­ened by Mus­lim gang­sters who told them to con­vert to Is­lam for their own pro­tec­tion. They also said that if they re­fused they would make sure they didn’t re­ceive the good qual­ity food,

the ha­lal meat, for in­stance, that was served ev­ery Fri­day.

‘They also tried to con­vert me. They’d scream in my face, Ara­bic things such as “Al­lahu Ak­bar” – Al­lah is great­est. They’d also crit­i­cise Chris­tian­ity, com­par­ing it un­favourably to Is­lam.

‘One day I was walking through a sec­tion of a wing hous­ing many of the Mus­lim pris­on­ers when one of them came at me from be­hind and hit me hard on the back. They were all laugh­ing call­ing me a “Chinky” and “Crazy Chris­tian”. It was very fright­en­ing and, from then on, I was very con­scious of walking only where I knew there was CCTV.’

Fol­low­ing i mam Mo­hammed Yusuf Ahmed’s ap­point­ment, Mr Song’s role be­came more pre­car­i­ous still. Court doc­u­ments state Mr Song was r un­ning t he Al­pha cour­ses, pop­u­lar in churches across the coun­try, un­til 2013. He sub­se­quently cre­ated his own course, ap­proved by Mr Chad­der. But then ‘the imam’s dis­crim­i­na­tory agenda be­came clear from the out­set,’ Mr Song said. ‘He be­gan scru­ti­n­is­ing the ma­te­rial for each of our cour­ses, say­ing it was “too rad­i­cal” and that the Chris­tian views ex­pressed were “ex­treme”.

‘He paid scant re­gard to the fact that the cour­ses are main­stream Chris­tian, used by churches through­out the world. He said he wanted to “change the Chris­tian dom­i­na­tion” within the prison.’

Re­luc­tantly, Mr Song agreed to stop run­ning his classes though he con­tin­ued to work with in­di­vid­ual pris­on­ers. ‘The imam said I couldn’t use the chapel and ef­fec­tively took con­trol of it so I held a prayer meet­ing in a large hold­ing 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?’

Fol­low­ing a visit to the jail in Jan­uary 2017, pris­ons in­spec­tor Peter Clarke found high lev­els of vi­o­lence and re­ported that ‘a third of pris­on­ers felt un­safe’. It was also noted that the jail had been with­out a full-time Angli­can chap­lain for 18 months. Mr Clarke said one should be re­cruited ‘with­out de­lay’.

In Au­gust 2017 the imam sent an email to Mr Song warn­ing him not to visit the prison with­out prior per­mis­sion or ‘you will be walked to the gate’. Mr Song thought there had been a mis­un­der­stand­ing. Af­ter all, he had long been so trusted he had his own key.

Seek­ing an­swers, he went to see the imam. He was told he was no longer wel­come and could not ap­peal the de­ci­sion.

He then re­ceived a let­ter from Graham Hor­lock, the prison of­fi­cial in charge of re­duc­ing of­fend­ing, say­ing he had re­ceived al­le­ga­tions that he had called a prisoner a ‘terrorist’, made ref­er­ences to IS and had threat­ened the imam. All this Mr Song ve­he­mently de­nies.

The let­ter went on to say that the de­ci­sion to re­move him was ‘per­ma­nent and with im­me­di­ate ef­fect’ – with the ban com­ing be­fore he had the chance to de­fend him­self.

Mr Song said the imam ‘did not elab­o­rate on which of my views he con­sid­ered ex­treme, though I had only ever spo­ken the Bi­ble’s mes­sage on for­give­ness and grace.

‘His com­ments were deeply hurt­ful, and paid no re­gard to my un­blem­ished record through­out my two decades of ser­vice.’

He said he was aware of other Chris­tian groups that went into Brix­ton and had their cour­ses stopped and this led to Chris­tian vol­un­teers largely be­ing shut out.

Many i nmates made wit­ness state­ments in sup­port of Mr Song. One, Nigel Wil­liams, praised Mr Song’s work, say­ing: ‘Hun­dreds of ex- pris­on­ers have the high­est re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion for Paul and would say that his ac­tions changed their lives for the bet­ter. The pris­on­ers are dev­as­tated by his re­moval.’

He added that while there was a ‘lot of sup­port for Mus­lims’ lit­tle was be­ing done for Chris­tians, adding that vi­o­lent Is­lamist gangs ‘are try­ing to spread their re­li­gion by force’ and rad­i­calise in­mates.

An­other for­mer prisoner, Jeremy Con­lon, said in a wit­ness state­ment: ‘The Mus­lim pris­on­ers cre­ated by far the largest gang that ruled the prison by threat of vi­o­lence. The Mus­lims of­fered con­verts pro­tec­tion. With a short­age of guards this pro­tec­tion be­came in­valu­able.’

Those who didn’t con­vert, said Mr Con­lon, lived in fear. He said it was im­pos­si­ble to ‘speak out about the op­pres­sion with­out fac­ing a gen­uine risk of be­ing at­tacked.’

In de­spair over his sit­u­a­tion, Mr Song turned to the Chris­tian Le­gal Cen­tre, which sought a ju­di­cial re­view of his ban. In May this year, Mr Song agreed to stay the pro­ceed­ings af­ter an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion was promised.

Led by Sara Pen­ning­ton, gover­nor of Elm­ley prison, it said Mr Song should be re­in­stated, af­ter train­ing for deal­ing with a ‘multi-faith com­mu­nity’. She said HMP Brix­ton’s ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion was ‘lim­ited’ and did not follow due process.

Mean­while the imam has been sus­pended over a mat­ter un­re­lated to Mr Song’s case and the prison i s now ad­ver­tis­ing for a new head chap­lain. The imam could not be reached for com­ment.

An­drea Wil­liam of the Chris­tian Le­gal Cen­tre, said: ‘It is won­der­ful to see jus­tice done.’

A Prison Ser­vice spokesman said: ‘There is ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence to sup­port claims re­lat­ing to ex­trem­ist be­hav­iour at HMP Brix­ton.’

Mr Song is now plan­ning to restart his cour­ses. ‘This has been a very dif­fi­cult time,’ he said. ‘Not for a mo­ment did I think that some­thing like this could hap­pen in Eng­land.’

‘Chris­tian cour­ses were stopped – and vol­un­teers shut out’

VIC­TIMISED: Pas­tor Paul Song feared for his safety in jail – be­fore be­ing kicked out

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