Judge set to make ruling on interim injunction barring LGBT teaching protesters
A judge is set to reconsider an order barring protesters objecting to the teaching of LGBT lessons demonstrating outside a Birmingham primary school.
Bosses at Birmingham City Council took High Court action after weeks of protests at Anderton Park Primary School against the teaching of certain aspects of relationship education.
Following an initial hearing in London, a judge imposed an interim order with an exclusion zone barring protesters from outside the school gates on May 31 – while children were on half-term holidays.
The order was made against three individuals, the protest’s main organisers Shakeel Afsar and Amir Ahmed, and parent Rosina Afsar, as well as “persons unknown”.
However, as protesters were given no warning of the council’s application, a new hearing got under way at the High Court in Birmingham on Monday to hear their views.
The school’s head teacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson has been in court along with about 30 of the protest supporters.
She previously branded the protests “toxic and nasty” and has allegedly received threats since protests began.
Mr Afsar has denounced the making of threats.
He has repeatedly claimed the “peaceful protests”, often featuring a megaphone, are being held because the school’s head has not properly consulted with parents about their concerns the relationships teaching is not “age appropriate”.
Mr Afsar has also claimed the school’s teaching of particular relationship education materials is “over-emphasising a gay ethos”.
Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said she has met with parents who have had concerns.
The interim order had barred protesters from gathering or encouraging others to gather outside or near the school, distributing leaflets and from making offensive comments about staff on social media.
The fresh hearing was set to examine the separate issues of whether the interim injunction should stay in place in its current form, ahead of considering a full trial of the issues surrounding the injunction.
Mr Justice Mark Warby QC set a date for that trial, estimated to take two to three days, to be held between July 22 and July 31.
Turning to the interim injunction, which he will rule on later on Monday, the judge then asked for legal submissions from both the council and named defendants.
Barrister Jonathan Manning, setting out the reasons for the local authority seeking its interim injunction, said: “The aim was not to prevent people expressing strongly held views about issues of equality and education in schools.
“It is to protect the school, by virtue of small number of roads around it, from behaviour which on any basis it is submitted is unacceptable and intolerable”.
He added it was “no part” of the council’s case that the “defendants’ views were unacceptable to be aired”, but that demonstrations had got “totally out of hand”.
Mr Manning said the “urgency” and “the risk of further escalating conduct” had forced the local authority to act quickly – and not give the usual three days’ notice to defendants that an injunction was being sought.
The council’s barrister said there had been talk in literature of a “national protest” outside the school, leading to the education chiefs closing early on the last day before the May half-term.
Mr Manning pointed out, as a result, that protesters “brought forward” their protest on the last day of school on May 24, to “coincide” with the earlier hometime for children.
He added that counter-protesters putting up placards in support of the LGBT community at the school “had eggs thrown at them”.
Mr Manning said Ms Hewitt-Clarkson had described the protests, in her witness statement, as being “volatile, aggressive and intimidating behaviour by Mr Afsar and his colleagues”.
He added it had therefore been “a combination of matters that led to a no-notice application”.
Mr Manning said there had been some remarks around the protests, claiming people at the school were “paedophiles” and had “a paedophile agenda”.
The defendants’ barrister John Randall QC, responding, claimed some of the evidence before the judge was full of “selective highlights” from the council’s witnesses.
He added: “We are told by claimants’ witnesses that police officers attended ‘almost daily’, ‘on numerous occasions’, ‘on most days’.
“Yet there has not been a single arrest for any public order offence, let alone for any form of assault, and that is no coincidence.”
He added: “The picture painted initially – and the evidence now before you is, in my submission, a misleading and seriously exaggerated picture which crucially suggests that the demonstrations or protests, call it what you will, have crossed the line into non-lawful demonstration.
“Whereas in practice it would require a snowflake sensitivity to regard these as terrifying or threatening demonstrations.”
The hearing continues.