Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) must be punch-drunk. The Islamic group that wishes to build a mega-mosque at the Riverine Centre in West Ham close to the London Olympic stadium – now home of West Ham United Football Club – has endured so many defeats and blows to the head that its judgement has become suspect.
Certainly, like infamous former boxing champion, rapist, law-breaker and Muslim convert Mike Tyson, TJ has shed-loads of money to burn; it has lashed out hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years on court fees, lawyers’ costs, legal expenses and advisers’ bills.
Last month I attended the High Court in The Strand where the group was once again trying to stop Newham Council from closing their illegal temporary Markaz (mosque) called Masjid-e-Ilyas on the West Ham site, and bulldozing the buildings.
But whereas TJ previously had fielded heavyweight teams of top QCs, prominent advisors and excellent professional back-up, this time their lawyers refused to appear in court on their behalf as, they claimed apparently, they hadn’t been given enough time to prepare. Instead TJ sent a lone spokesman to make their case, a pleasant but legally lightweight member of the Islamic group, Moiz-ur-Rahman.
Like a disorientated prize-fighter, Mr Rahman staggered all over the legal canvas of planning applications, regulations, injunctions, enforcement notices and deeds of undertakings without landing a single valid blow on Newham Council. It was embarrassing to watch. The only effective point he made was the non-legal one that the Muslim community would suffer hardship if the Markaz was demolished; he told the court ominously that there is the possibility of the return of street protests by Muslim-run Newham People’s Alliance that we had last seen in 2013.
On the other hand Douglas Edwards QC, Newham Council’s silk, was on his toes and ruthless in punching and jabbing at TJ’s baleful catalogue of criminal offences and unlawful activities at the site. He soon had them on the ropes: they’d blatantly broken binding pledges, breached planning controls and built unauthorised structures. Newham Council had tried to accommodate them but TJ simply ignored planning protocols and carried on their illegal activities regardless.
The decision when it came was inevitable. Judge Walden-Smith told the mosque trustees that they had continued to procrastinate, their activities at the site were unlawful, the mosque had been in breach of planning control from the outset and that breaching an enforcement notice was a criminal offence. Having thereby shredded TJ’s reputation and exposed their dishonesty and lack of probity, she bluntly refused their application to suspend the demolition. It was a knock-out blow.
The Times and the Guardian carried reports, the former under the dramatic if misleading headline “Judge orders demolition of Abbey Mills mosque in Stratford, east London”: in fact the judge had, rather, refused to further delay Newham Council’s right to have the mosque demolished.
Continuing international interest in the mega-mosque issue was confirmed by the full-time attendance in court of a reporter from Pakistan’s The Dawn newspaper, who interviewed me and gave the case detailed and extensive coverage.
TJ are now out for the count as this is the end of the UK’s legal road for the trustees. They can make no more appeals and they have to demolish the illegal mosque buildings and vacate the site.
However, the trustees suddenly surprised the court by announcing that they are moving the fight to Strasbourg: on 5th January they had filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights for a restraining order. Planning lawyers advise that this is unlikely to succeed and the demolition will have to go ahead anyway. Others say the ECtHR is unpredictable.
Whatever, as always, it ain’t over ’til its over.