UK council apologises after schoolboys reported to police over toy gun remark

A council in the UK has apologised after two schoolboys were reported to police after one of them told a teacher he was getting a toy gun for his birthday.

The brothers, aged five and seven, were at their Bedfordshire school when one of them made the statement, prompting the police to be notified.

Central Bedfordshire Council apologised after admitting the children had been discriminated against. It also agreed to pay the family compensation following the incident in March last year.

The boys' mother, of Indian Hindu heritage, told the BBC the guns were made from plastic and were bright green and orange.

She also said she had been told one of them had been speaking Arabic and spoke about attending a mosque.

However, speaking anonymously, she told the broadcaster none of the family spoke Arabic and that the children did not visit mosques.

The mother added: "I was told they had displayed signs that were worrying in terms of being reasonable indicators of being involved in terrorist activity.

"They had no other reason to believe they had any signs of extremism other than the colour of their skin.

"I understand that [terrorism] is a problem, but this is a rather blunt instrument with which to tackle it."

The children had also been having nightmares since the incident, with the younger one fearing he would be taken away, said the woman.

A spokesman for the council said: "We apologise for how the two boys were treated. We accept that they were discriminated against and have apologised to the family and agreed to pay compensation.

"Following this incident, all schools have been reminded of their safeguarding responsibilities and the importance of following council's guidance.

"Schools are encouraged to deal with incidents at a local level, meaning that only the most serious are escalated."

A spokesman for Bedfordshire Police said: "We were called to reports of concern for safety and two officers attended - this was not in a Prevent capacity but routine police attendance and the officers were only present for a short time.

"We take safeguarding of children very seriously and will always respond to requests for assistance."

Civil rights group Liberty, which represented the family, said the boys were targeted simply because of their skin colour and called on the Government to revoke the counter-radicalisation Prevent strategy.

Debaleena Dasgupta said: "There were absolutely no grounds to believe the children were at risk of radicalisation.

They fell foul of the Prevent duty purely based on the colour of their skin.

"It's encouraging that this LEA (local education authority) recognised the school would never have called the police if a white child had received a toy gun, and has committed to improving its Prevent processes.

"But while the Government continues to compel teachers to view pupils with suspicion, we will continue to see incidents like this. Schools should be places of learning which encourage children to speak openly, not silence them.

"Prevent isn't working. Ministers must learn the lessons of this case and revoke the Prevent duty in schools and subject the wider strategy to a full and independent review.

"To do anything else is to condone ongoing discrimination in our classrooms."

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