Leading Muslims hit out at Trevor Phillips’s role in Covid-19 BAME deaths inquiry | World news

The selection of Trevor Phillips to investigate why Covid-19 is killing more Black, Asian and minority ethnic people has sparked a row after leading Muslims criticised his appointment as “insensitive”.

Phillips, the former chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, was asked by Public Health England to provide expert support to an inquiry into why increasing numbers of victims of the coronavirus pandemic are from BAME backgrounds.

Early evidence shows that black people are dying from the virus at almost twice the rate of their proportion of the population, according to analysis of NHS England data for the first 12,600 deaths from the virus in English hospitals. While black people account for 3.4% of the population, they make up 6.4% of the deaths so far.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the umbrella group for leading mosques and other Islamic institutions, said the review into the deaths was urgently needed but have objected to Phillips’s appointment.

They say it is inappropriate that a man recently suspended from the Labour party over allegations of Islamophobia, and who has a history of making controversial remarks about Muslims, should form part of the team leading the inquiry.

Harun Khan, the secretary general of the MCB, said it was “wholly inappropriate to give that responsibility to someone being investigated … The decision is particularly insensitive given that British Muslims overwhelmingly come from BAME communities and so many Muslim doctors have died at the frontline of this pandemic”.

Khan alleged that Phillips has a “consistent record in pushing the divisive narrative of Muslims being apart from the rest of British society”.

“The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BAME communities is a serious issue which has seen many Muslims lose loved ones.” This “sends a clear signal to British Muslims that Public Health England is not taking this matter seriously”, he said.

Phillips’s appointment was also criticised by the Labour MP Naz Shah, who tweeted: “It’s an insult to the memory of the numerous Muslims who have lost their lives, and also an insult to those Muslims who continue to serve on the frontline.”

The Labour party launched its own inquiry, asking Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, to examine why the virus seems to disproportionately affect people from certain minority backgrounds.

Phillips, an anti-racism campaigner, was suspended from Labour pending an investigation into prior statements including a reference he made to UK Muslims being “a nation within a nation”.

At the time he condemned the suspension, which he claimed was a form of political gangsterism from the party under Jeremy Corbyn, whom he had criticised.

Labour backbencher Khalid Mahmood, the longest-serving Muslim MP, criticised Phillips’s suspension.

Phillips, when asked earlier why more BAME people were infected by the virus, urged people “not to rush to judgment”.

Prof Kevin Fenton, PHE’s regional director, London, said: “Trevor Phillips and Prof Richard Webber have been asked to support this critical work as their specialist consultancy has the right skills and experience. We need to move fast to understand why and what can be done about this.”

When contacted, Phillips said he had no comment to make on the subject.

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