The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police was personally responsible for the disastrous decision to complain about a documentary exposing extremism in a Birmingham mosque, an inquiry has been told.
Paul Scott-Lee, head of the region’s force, approved the decision in a conversation with another senior officer, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard.
But nobody has been disciplined for the humiliating incident, which led to the force being sued for libel in the High Court and forced to offer a grovelling apology.
Philip Gormley, Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, was quizzed in Westminster by MPs conducting an inquiry into the way forces work with the media.
He was asked about the Channel 4 documentary Dispatches: Undercover Mosque, broadcast in January 2007, which showed preachers and teachers making disparaging comments about non-Muslims and women.
One of the mosques featured was Green Lane in Small Heath, Birmingham.
Instead of prosecuting the preachers, West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service issued a press release accusing programme makers of distorting comments, and reported Channel 4 to TV watchdog Ofcom for “heavily editing” the words of imams to give them more sinister meaning.
But Ofcom dismissed the complaint, while Channel 4 and documentary-makers Hardcash Productions successfully sued for libel.
Mr Gormley told MPs the Chief Constable, who has announced plans to step down next year after seven years, was responsible for the decision.
He said: “He was involved in the conversation that came to that determination. The senior investigating officer at the time, in terms of the officer in overall control, was the assistant chief constable. It was at that level.”
Conservative MP James Clappison asked him: “So the assistant chief constable referred it to the chief constable, and the chief constable agreed? To refer it to Ofcom?”
Mr Gormley replied: “Yes."
Asked whether anyone had been disciplined, he said: “No, nobody has been.”
Black Country MP David Winnick (Lab Walsall North) said there was surprise in the West Midlands police had criticised the documentary-makers instead of congratulating them.
He said: “Many people, Mr Gormley, are very surprised in the West Midlands a programme that exposed extremism in a mosque, and it would be the same if it exposed it in synagogues or churches, should have been the subject of such fierce criticism from the police.
“Instead of congratulating programme makers and what had been done in exposing hate merchants, the television company came under fire. What possible explanation can the West Midlands Police give?”
Mr Gormley said: “We got it wrong. We’ve apologised. Judgements were made in good faith [but] there was no justification for the assertions made.”
The committee heard evidence from Shami Chakrabarti, Director of pressure group Liberty, who warned that police giving “off the record” briefings to journalists about arrests was damaging public confidence in the police.