In November 2013, an anonymous document turned up on the desk of the then Birmingham City Council leader, Sir Albert Bore.
The document was a photocopy of a letter, that allegedly was part of a correspondence between Muslims in Birmingham and Bradford conspiring to “take over local schools” and run them according to “strict Islamic principles.”
The letter was accompanied by a note from an anonymous person claiming that they found the document in their boss’s office. The documents outlined a five-stage strategy called “Operation Trojan Horse,” hence the name.
Of course, the documents proved to be a hoax – a malicious deception, the reason why? Nobody knows exactly, but New York Times journalists Hamza Syed and Brian Reed spent months trying to figure it out, culminating in an eight-hour-long serial podcast series – The Trojan Horse Affair.
In 2014, the letter was leaked to the press, who had a field day. As many have ruminated, the ease of acceptance of the letter by media and Government alike, speaks more of the perception of British Muslims than anything else.
Michael Gove, who was Education Secretary at the time, used the hoax as a justification to legally enforce the Prevent strategy, and promote “British values” which are still mandatory policies in schools today.
A study by the Open Society Foundation had previously called the strategy “deeply flawed,” for violating the right against discrimination, the right to freedom of expression, and targeting ‘pre-criminality’.”
Dominating mainstream headlines for over two years, most people from the wider community accept that the plans were a hoax, after no “plot” for taking over schools was found following investigations by Birmingham City Council, Bradford Council, and the Government.
Despite this, many people lost their jobs, governing positions, and standing in the community. In 2015, the Department for Education (DfE) banned Tahir Alam, the former chair governor of Park View high school in Alum Rock Birmingham, and fourteen other educators, from teaching for life.
Mr Alam who had volunteered at the school for almost two decades remains forbidden from teaching following a failed appeal. Despite the impact the hoax had on his career, family life, and ability to give charity, Mr Alam remains committed to receiving closure and is going to proceed with legal action in revoking his permanent ban in due course.
Closer to home in Bradford, a man known in the community for his outstanding dedication to improving the life chances of young people found himself linked to the Trojan Horse affair.
Faisal Khan, a husband, father, and former Respect Party Councillor who sat on the board of Governors at Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College and acted as the chair of governors at Carlton Bolling College was and still is deeply passionate about improving the education of his children, and all children in Bradford.
When news of the Trojan Horse affair began to stir, he was singled out as the Bradford link to the hoax in Birmingham, being accused of promoting sex segregation in classes, on school trips, and after school activities.
Despite around a dozen people sitting on the board of governors at Carlton Bolling, including an ex-Lord Mayor, the IT management specialist was the subject of public scrutiny for his perceived involvement with the hoax – allegedly for being seen attending a training session with Parkview chair of governors, Mr Alam.
In April of 2014, Mr Khan was sacked as a governor of Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College after an Ofsted inspection said governors were “increasingly undermining the capacity of senior leaders”.
Mr Khan said: “In January 2014, before the letter was released publicly, strange things were happening at Laisterdyke. You could see games being played. We were pushed back and saw that the local council sided with the principal at the time, rather than address the issues.
“After mulling it over, I concluded that I want an independent investigation. We got a petition of around 1600 signatures which meant that it had to be heard in a meeting. It went to a sub-committee who tried to bury it, but when public interest increased, they agreed to an investigation.”
Mr Khan argues that the investigation was not “independent” and that his evidence of 100+ pages, was not included in the pack at the hearing. “When it is a white middle-class guy from the local authority talking, it is taken as evidence, when it is someone who is brown, it is ignored. We can protest as much as we want but our voices are not credible.”
After news of the Trojan Horse Operation made its way onto newsstands in the summer of 2014, Mr Khan, along with the other dozen governors were kicked from the board at Carlton Bolling.
The reasons given for Mr Faisal Khan’s ousting at Carlton Bolling were because of “poor leadership” as a governor. A report by Ofsted said, “the college does not protect students from the possible risks posed by extremism well enough.” Mr Khan believes he was singled out “aggressively in response to the expression of views contrary to his own” in meetings.
Bradford Council, who was in charge of Carlton Bolling before it became an academy in 2019, has previously strongly denied that Mr Khan was sacked because of Operation Trojan Horse and that it is false to equate his situation to that in Birmingham, although Mr Khan staunchly disagrees and believes it is because of the implications of the hoax and his standing as a Respect Party member.
Mr Khan added: “There were many things that they noticed by Ofsted that were false. They took staff failing to upload a policy onto the website as the governors failing to safeguard, which is completely false. Many other things were false, but the complaints I made were swallowed up by the system, and that was it.
“As governors, we put our all into improving the school. We were democratically elected, and you have the belief that you will be working in a fair system and about improving educational attainment for everybody. When this is not the case, it hurts.”
Unlike Mr Alam, Mr Khan was not barred from volunteering as a school governor, but his name being involved in the hoax has meant that he has lost out on opportunities to volunteer and help within his community. He may not have lost an income but the emotional and mental impact it continues to have on him to this day, cannot be understated.
However, the IT specialist does believe that the Trojan Horse scandal did have a financial impact on his brother, Asif Khan (a former behavioural support officer at Carlton Bolling), who allegedly lost his job due to an “HR issue”.
Mr Asif Khan alleges that his removal from the school was due to breaking a “social media policy” for uploading images promoting Palestine but the Council did not have at the time.
Both brothers believe that Mr Asif Khan was removed from the school not because of the posts on social media but because of the link between himself, and his brother, whose name began appearing linked to the hoax in the media.
They allege that Carlton Bolling didn’t want the brother of the man named in the affair to be working at the school and fabricated a justification for his dismissal. Mr Asif Khan mentioned that the Council only produced a social media policy for educators and people working in schools eight months after his initial suspension.
Prior to Mr Faisal Khan’s removal at Laisterdyke and Carlton Bolling, and Mr Asif Khan’s sacking at the latter, both brothers seemed to have had a good reputation within the community and also with young people in the area.
When Mr Asif Khan was suspended, hundreds of students turned out to protest against it, and a social media page campaigning for his return was set up. In 2017, three years after the hoax, Mr Faisal Khan was commended by West Yorkshire Police when he restored calm and order after a protest broke out over the death of Mohammed Yassar Yaqbub.
Also, testifying on the incredible work done by Faisal for the community and his drive and commitment to giving opportunities to young people in the area is Ibrar Ali, a community activist and youth worker from Bradford Moor. He said: “Faisal throughout the twenty-five years I’ve known him, is completely enthusiastic about improving academic achievement for children.
“It doesn’t matter the background or socio-economic background of the children, he believes that every child, given the right environment, has the ability to achieve at their highest ability.
“Over the past fifteen years, there has been incidents where local kids have started having issues with each other. Faisal organised mediation sessions to stop violence from breaking out. Faisal is such a nice guy, so honest, and upfront, people tend to listen. He is a real treasure for us here in Bradford Moor.”
Mr Alam or Mr Khan have not yet received as much an apology. While Mr Alam is reconsidering legal action to remove his lifelong ban in due course, Bradford’s Faisal Khan is hoping to get closure from this horrific affair.
Asian Standard has reached out to Bradford Council for a comment. Please check back regularly for updates.