Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman has apologised after CCTV footage obtained by The Huffington Post UK appeared to contradict her claim that she was "ushered out of the door" of a London mosque on the weekend.
The South London Islamic Centre, where Newman claims she was turned away despite turning up wearing a headscarf, says surveillance video shows the reporter arriving at the mosque, being directed by a male congregant, but leaving alone through the courtyard.
Newman sparked a social media firestorm after tweeting she was "ushered onto the street" during 'Visit My Mosque Day' which the mosque said provoked threatening voicemails which it has reported to police.
But the mosque, which initially apologised, claims Newman's story is "not correct" and Newman has now apologised for any "misunderstanding".
It later emerged Newman had actually gone to the wrong location, and her Channel 4 colleagues were waiting for her 15 minutes away at a mosque that was taking part in the open day.
The CCTV clips show the journalist entering the mosque and beginning to take off her shoes while having a very brief conversation with a congregant in the lobby. The man gestures several times to the left, pointing her in a specific direction. She puts her shoe back on, and leaves alone, walking through the courtyard. The entire encounter lasts just seconds.
The man the journalist spoke to inside, who has been identified by the mosque, claims he misunderstood Newman and directed her to the church next door. The man was not a member of the mosque's management or religious leadership, and none of the Islamic centre's committee claim to have seen Newman arrive or leave.
Watch the CCTV clip below
Although she briefly returns to the courtyard, and paces around outside the mosque on the street, she does not appear to speak to anyone else within the mosque's property, only stopping to speak to a few passing members of the public, well outside the mosque's confines.
"We can see [from the CCTV] that she arrived and that she came into the lobby by the shoe racks and started to take off one shoes," Aslam Ijaz, the mosque's chair of trustees and a founding member of Lambeth Interfaith, told HuffPost UK.
"The prayers had already started and you can see a couple people rushing past her but most people are already inside. The gentleman who you see in the video is obviously pointing in the direction of the church, which is what he thought she wanted to go to."
Ijaz admitted there may have been a misunderstanding of the man's stated intention in directing Newman to the church. "Maybe she misunderstood, but he is clearly trying to direct her," he said. "You can see she turns to leave herself, she looks a little confused and then she comes back into the courtyard again, and you can see her twice coming back to outside the mosque and standing on the pavement."
The timestamp on the video shown by the mosque to HuffPost UK appears to match Newman's tweets on Sunday.
Well I just visited Streatham mosque for #VisitMyMosque day and was surprised to find myself ushered out of the door...— Cathy Newman (@cathynewman) February 1, 2015
I was respectfully dressed, head covering and no shoes but a man ushered me back onto the street. I said I was there for #VisitMyMosque mf— Cathy Newman (@cathynewman) February 1, 2015
But it made no difference— Cathy Newman (@cathynewman) February 1, 2015
The footage does not show anyone attempting to guide or "usher" Newman out of the mosque or "onto the street", as she wrote in her tweets. "I was really surprised that she would say she was ushered out of the mosque, being a journalist I was surprised she would use that description, it was misrepresented. Now there's this impression we don't like women. She said something that was not correct," Ijaz said.
Later, Newman can be seen speaking to two people on the street outside the mosque, one a member of the public who the mosque has not identified and who does not enter the mosque. The other is a local cafe owner who claims he came over to ask if she needed assistance, and is seen gesturing her across the road. He claims he was giving Newman directions, the Hyderi Centre is a fifteen-minute walk away, or a bus ride from a stop across from the mosque.
Although the time stamp of the CCTV indicates that Newman was still to send her tweets, neither man came from inside the mosque, making it impossible for them to "usher" Newman out, as she describes. She is last seen crossing the road, away from the mosque.
Ijaz later apologised to Newman for her experience, fearing she had been insulted by an uncouth congregant, but said he had not viewed the CCTV footage at the time.
Since the story was picked up by national press, the mosque claims has received two threatening voicemails, which it has reported to the police, and a litany of online abuse, but Ijaz said he took particular affront at the accusation the mosque was anti-women. Newman told the Guardian she believed it must have been a men-only mosque, and was not made aware of this, but Ijaz said that is not the case.
"We were the first mosque in the area to have a prayer section for women, both ladies and gentleman are welcome here and it wouldn't be unusual at all to see a woman here," he said.
"I am known for my interfaith work, whenever there is an event with churches, temples, synagogues, I am there. We have open days here at the mosque, and ladies and gentleman are both invited to attend."
Newman, who has made it clear in subsequent tweets that she wishes to draw a line under the incident, would not expand on why she claimed she had been 'ushered out' of the mosque, but told HuffPost UK: “As the primary purpose of Visit My Mosque day was to increase understanding of Islam, I was horrified to hear the Mosque I visited in error has had death threats.
"I’m sorry for any misunderstanding there has been. I would be happy to pay a private visit to South London Islamic Centre once again.”
"It's not something I would expect from a journalist from Channel 4, it doesn't make sense," another congregant told HuffPost UK, adding that Islam as a religion prioritised hospitality.
When queried as to why the mosque had declined to take part in Visit My Mosque Day, Ijaz said: "We were only informed about this initiative [Visit My Mosque Day] on Friday and it's too short notice for us. There wasn't anyone to man it. Next time we have a gathering here, I would love to have Cathy here."
Outside the mosque, which is indeed next to a church, there is a banner inviting visitors in to receive a free Koran. The mosque's secretary, who said he was uncomfortable giving his name, told HuffPost UK that the mosque had up to 1,000 congregants on a Friday, and several hundred at other times. He added that although there were many regulars, it would not be unusual for worshippers to see visitors they did not recognise. "We often have school visits, teachers here, it wouldn't have been something that would have fazed anyone."