He spent four years in prison for his Islamist beliefs, but now he's free to teach

15th October 2010 at 01:00

A teacher who was jailed in Egypt for membership of a banned Islamist group has been allowed to return to the classroom despite failing to disclose his conviction when applying for a job.

Ian Nisbet, a British Muslim convert, was imprisoned for four years in Egypt for being a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that wants Muslim countries to become one Islamic state. The group is outlawed in Egypt but is legal in the UK.

Following his release in 2006, Mr Nisbet returned to the UK and later applied for a job at Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham, east London.

He did not disclose his imprisonment on his Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, leading the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) to charge him with unprofessional conduct.

The GTC said Mr Nisbet's behaviour had been wrong, but "comprehensible" and concluded that it would be inappropriate to punish him.

When he was released from prison in Egypt, Mr Nisbet said he had been imprisoned by a "brutal and evil" regime.

"We were tortured and electrocuted and we and our families were threatened and we were forced to sign a confession we neither agreed with or sanctioned," Mr Nisbet said at the time.

"We experienced and witnessed and met people who were tortured in the most grotesque and obscene ways for belonging to political opposition parties."

Mr Nisbet had been free for a year before applying for a job at Jo Richardson. At that time he was not a qualified teacher, but was completing his teaching practice as part of a training course.

Mr Nisbet said he had not realised he was obliged to report his prison sentence to the CRB. The GTC hearing acknowledged his evidence that he had told the school when applying for a job.

Panel chairman Robert Gordon said in ordinary circumstances this "serious matter" would lead to punishment.

"However, in the circumstances of this particular case, it has decided that it would not be appropriate to impose any sanction. These were unusual personal circumstances which make Mr Nisbet's behaviour comprehensible, although wrong," he said.

Mr Nisbet submitted a letter in his favour to the tribunal from former school standards minister Stephen Timms. Sadiq Khan, recently appointed shadow attorney-general, represented Mr Nisbet and other British prisoners in 2002 before becoming an MP.

Mr Nisbet successfully argued that details of his experiences in prison should be held in private as part of the GTC case. He was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct, but the panel accepted he did not know he was obliged to provide details of his time in prison.

"The information that he had been in prison would have been regarded by ordinary reasonable people as relevant," the judgment read.

"This was an application for a job at a school. The information was in the public domain and was likely to have become known in the school in due course."

James Brandon, head of research at anti-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, said: "Ideally members of Hizb ut-Tahrir would not be teachers, but it is not an illegal organisation. Teachers, parents and staff have a right to know if people are members of extreme groups like this because of how it will impact on teaching and the school."



Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1953 and members have to live an exclusively political, Islamic way of life. Outside Britain, it has campaigned for an Islamic state. The "party" is active throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, South-East Asia, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Europe, Australasia and the Americas.

Former prime minister Tony Blair promised to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2005, but did not do so.

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