Election racism row teacher's school speaks out

A school head has spoken out after one of his teachers was wrongly accused on social media of using a highly offensive racist slur during the West Midlands mayoral elections.

Richard May, executive principal of Stuart Bathurst Catholic High School, in Wednesbury, said Cheryl Bennett's life had been "turned upside down" after receiving death threats.

A subtitled video of Miss Bennett had been shared on TikTok by Akhmed Yakoob, an independent candidate, but West Midlands Police later said there was "no evidence of any racist slurs or language used".

Mr Yakoob said he had now taken the footage down and his campaign team were also investigating the matter.

'Bombarded with abuse'

After failing to secure the West Midlands mayoralty - a battle won on 2 May by Labour's Richard Parker - Mr Yakoob said he intended to stand in the general election.

Miss Bennett had been filmed on a doorbell camera while out canvassing for Labour, and the subtitled footage was shared by Mr Yakoob, who has more than 178,000 followers on TikTok, and other platforms.

The Labour Party carried out its own analysis of the social media video and concluded it had been manipulated.

West Midlands Police have also investigated the matter and said the original audio of the video had been examined closely.

The force said it had offered Miss Bennett support because she had suffered "significant abuse".

The school said it had received more than 800 mostly abusive messages since the video was shared.

Mr May said he had to "wait a few days" until he was able to speak out, but had never doubted his teacher.

He said the school's email and telephone lines had been "bombarded with abuse", which included death threats and calls for Miss Bennett to be sacked.

'Horrified by motives'

Mr May said he did not blame those "falling for the manipulated social media post and the clever juxtaposition of the false captions".

But he said he was "horrified by the motives behind the TikTok post and especially the lack of remorse from the people who created it and shared it to over 800,000 people".

He said there was a "political agenda that is aimed at dividing communities like ours".

Miss Bennett had been unable to leave her home, he said, "because she decided she would like to help a friend and colleague with their political campaign for a couple of hours".

He said the school would now work to restore her confidence and said she had been "blown away by the apologies from parents”.

The school has asked people who shared the footage to "do the right thing" and delete it.

Mr Yakoob told the BBC a group had sent the subtitled video footage to his media team, but he could not say more while his own investigation was ongoing.

“We need to get to the bottom of where it came from, who sent it, how it got sent out,” he said.

“If it has been doctored, then I am [a] victim as well as that poor teacher.”

'Potential misconduct'

He added he hoped his team’s investigation would conclude in “a couple of days” and he would then make a full statement.

Mr Yakoob also denied any lack of remorse on his part, pointing out he had not only removed the footage from his own platforms, but had also asked others who had shared the video to take it down.

“If I didn’t have remorse, why would I go out of my way to get other people, other pages, who’ve got no connection with me, to delete the video?,” he said.

Mr Yakoob is a director with a Birmingham-based firm of solicitors and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority said: “We are aware of the issue having received a number of reports of potential misconduct.

"We are investigating before deciding on any next steps.”

Mr Yakoob said any conversations between himself and the SRA would be confidential.

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