The parents of a Muslim child at the centre over a row about a dinner lady who says she was sacked for serving pork to the seven-year-old have spoken out for the first time about the incident.
Speaking exclusively to the Huffington Post UK, the girl’s parents, Zahid and Rumana Darr, claim that there had been repeated accusations against the dinner lady, both by Muslim and vegetarian parents, and that neither they nor their daughter should be blamed for the subsequent sacking.
Dinner lady Alison Waldock has said she accidentally gave Khadija Darr gammon at Queen Edith Primary School in Godwin Way after the youngster pointed to the dish on the lunch menu. But Khadija's parents have challenged Ms Waldock's account of the incident.
"First, Khadija clearly understands the difference between halal and non-halal meat," said Mr Darr. "But, second, she was on packed lunch that day. It simply couldn't have happened [as the dinner lady said it did]."
The Darrs - who have four children, including Khadija, studying at Queen Edith - say they had approached the school on previous occasions over claims that the dinner lady was feeding non-halal meat to the Muslim pupils.
"This time, as a result of the previous discussions, we were asked by the headteacher to come in and discuss the [latest] incident and speak on behalf of the other concerned Muslim parents. That's where the meeting came from. We didn't ask for it. An email about it was sent out to all the parents."
The Darrs also told HuffPost UK that "vegetarian parents [at the school] had complained in the past too, about meat being fed to their children."
In an interview with the Cambridge News on Wednesday, headteacher Caroline Peet confirmed that the incident was “not a one-off” and had been treated seriously “due to the significant number of children involved”.
Mrs Peet told the paper: “We understand from Lunchtime UK that this was not a one-off event and due to the significant number of children involved the company treated the issue with the seriousness it deserved.
“As her employer it was wholly up to Lunchtime UK to decide what appropriate action to take."
The Darrs say they never made a specific complaint about the dinner lady, nor did they ask for her to be sacked. "We just wanted to make sure that it didn't happen again," said Mrs Darr. "I told the school: 'We don't expect you to serve halal to our children, we're happy with the vegetarian option, but if you do serve halal, we want to make sure it is done right.'"
She added: "It was Lunchtime UK who said the dinner lady didn't care about what had happened, who said that she was incompetent."
Lunchtime UK operations director Peter McAleese has said: "Anyone losing their job is regretful.
"But there was a full and transparent procedure that Alison went through - as well as an appeals procedure which she lost."
The story, which was broken by the Sun on Wednesday, promptly went global - and saw national politicians intervene, too. UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who appeared with Ms Waldock on ITV's Daybreak on Thursday morning, said: “I feel desperately sorry for her. If she’d served gammon to a vegetarian would she have been fired? I think not.”
The Darrs claim the Sun reporter who 'broke' the story misrepresented their remarks to him. "Everything I told him that had happened," Mrs Dharr told HuffPost UK, "he didn't include. I never named my child. I don't know where he got her name from." The couple have filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) over the Sun's coverage of the story and their daughter.
Ms Waldock disputes the claims made by the Darrs and the headteacher. "To my knowledge, it's the first time that this incident has happened, where I've served non-halal [or] pork to a Muslim child," she told HuffPost UK. "And that's what I was sacked for."
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