Leicester disorder: Independent inquiry launches to rival contested government review

The government has named the panellists who will lead its controversial review into last year’s unrest in Leicester, just as a rival alternative inquiry launches with backing from the Muslim community.

Leicester hit the headlines last September over the tensions among the city’s Hindu and Muslim populations.  

UK security sources recently revealed that troubles in the region were escalated by Indian political activists associated with Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist party.

The government announced a review into last year’s incident, but Muslim organisations and community leaders slammed the decision to make Lord Ian Austin, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Israel, the review chair. Many groups accused him of making divisive and Islamophobic comments in the past.

A press conference this week launched the alternative review backed by SOAS.  

The “Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Violence in Leicester during August and September 2022” will be chaired by Juan E Méndez, a human-rights lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Méndez said the call for an independent inquiry arose from local communities in Leicester.

He pledged a full investigation into the unrest’s underlying causes and community rifts. He stated the inquiry will examine the roles of civic groups, social media, and independent actors in inflaming tensions.

The inquiry’s first report is due in May or June next year.

India’s interference in other countries hit the headlines this week again when Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was credible evidence that India orchestrated the murder of a Sikh leader in Canada.

Government panel ‘does not inspire confidence’

The government’s review was commissioned by Secretary of State for Communities Michael Gove, who himself has been accused of Islamophobia.

The panellists named by Gove this week to conduct the government’s review have drawn widespread criticism.

“Deeply concerning that the Government’s review will be conducted by a panel that does not inspire the confidence of local Muslim communities,” said the MCB.

“A missed opportunity to engage in earnest, strengthen social cohesion locally,” it added.

The panellists are:

  1. Dr Samir Shah CBE: a former Commissioner for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, former chair of the independent race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust and member of the Holocaust Commission.
  1. Professor Hilary Pilkington: Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester and Fellow of the UK Academy of Social Sciences. She coordinated the H2020 DARE (Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality) project. Her research includes the study of youth participation, activism, stigmatisation and extremism in the UK.
  1. Dr Shaaz Mahboob: Head of Digital Development NHS England and trustee of British Muslims for Secular Democracy for 10 years until 2018, including its Vice Chair for several years.

Lord Austin said it was vital the review was comprehensive and even-handed.

We’ve got a diverse team on the panel,” he said. “We’re coming to this with a completely open mind – no preconditions, no preconceptions at all.

“We understand we need to come to Leicester, listen to local people and we’ve got to earn their trust and confidence.”

The panel is expected to publish the findings of the review next year.

Muslim advocacy group MEND said: “On the day that Canada’s Prime Minister announced to Parliament that Indian Agency’s involved in murder of Sikh Canadian Citizen in Canada, British Government announced it would continue with flawed investigation in to Leicester’s Hindutva violence.”

“With international Hindutva networks causing violence across the globe, the stakes are too high for the government to conduct another agenda-led review in to this serious issue.

“Until the Government responds to this call, MEND and much of Leicester’s Muslim orgs will continue our boycott of the Austin review. We are tentatively supporting the independent review announced by SOAS, where we hope more academic rigour will be applied.”


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