A Note on the Oldham “Trojan Horse” Libel Claim Outcome

From the website of Rahman Lowe Solicitors:

Rahman Lowe Solicitors have represented Mr [Nasim] Ashraf and Mrs [Hafizan] Zaman in their defamation claim against Associated Newspapers Ltd over MailOnline articles, which has been concluded successfully today.

MailOnline published a number of articles which falsely suggested that the couple were involved an Islamist campaign of intimidation to take over Clarksfield primary school in Oldham with the aim of imposing an aggressive and separatist Islamic agenda on the school. They now accept that such allegations are wholly unfounded and have apologised to Mr Ashraf and Mrs Zaman and have agreed to pay substantial damages and costs.

…Zillur Rahman of Rahman Lowe Solicitors and Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers acted for the Claimants in this case. They have also acted for the Claimants in defamation claims against News Group Newspapers (“NGN”), Mirror Group Newspapers (“MGN”), and Telegraph Media Group (“TMG”) which have already concluded with payment of damages and published retractions and apologies for similar articles in The Sun, Daily Telegraph, and Mirror. Claims continue with respect to articles in The Express, The Times, and Sunday Times.

The articles were published on 19 and 20 February 2017, and the story originated with two pieces by Andrew Gilligan in the Sunday Times. The ST headlined one of its articles as “a new ‘Trojan Horse’ plot”, recalling allegations that emerged in March 2014 in relation to schools in Birmingham. The two stories, though, are quite separate, and should not be conflated. The term “Trojan Horse” was given in quote marks because the comparison had been drawn by the school’s headteacher, Trish O’Donnell.

Gilligan’s story was based on a confidential council report produced a couple of weeks earlier, which actually rejected any comparison with the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” claims. This is acknowledged in Gilligan’s reporting, but downplayed in relation to promoting O’Donnell’s view that the situations were comparable.

Ashraf gave an interview to the Guardian in September, in which he said that “he and his wife were accused of being at the centre of the conspiracy after they raised concerns about teaching and safeguarding issues.” According to the article:

Trish O’Donnell, who is on long-term sick leave, complained she was being subjected to “harassment and intimidation” in the form of “aggressive verbal abuse” from people allegedly pushing conservative Muslim values.

…However, the documents stated that while council officers believed Ashraf and his wife Hafizan Zaman were trying to undermine the headteacher, there was no evidence of a Trojan-horse-style plot. They added that Ashraf was not an extremist and “not part of any wider conspiracy”.

This, though, sidesteps the claim as reported by Gilligan that the same documents specifically refer to Ashraf as having been “extremely problematic”. Perhaps the documents were wrong to make this assessment, but if they are going to be cited in his favour then readers surely ought to have been given the full picture. Other specific claims in Gilligan’s report are unaddressed.

Gilligan referred to a 2014 Ofsted report which noted the “strong leadership” of the headmistress; by contrast, the Guardian reported Ashraf’s claim to have been vindicated by a 2017 report that found the school to be inadequate. Both Ofsted reports can be seen here.


Gilligan’s articles are still online, although with a note added stating “This article is the subject of a legal complaint from Mr Nasim Ashraf and Mrs Hafizan Zaman”. For potential liability reasons I am not providing a direct link at this time.

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