‘Wrong to demonise vulnerable Abu Hamza,’ says Finsbury Park vicar
Pen pal of terrorist insists there are no exceptions to treating those with disabilities with respect
08 February, 2019 — By Calum Fraser
ABU Hamza is “vulnerable” and should not be “demonised”, according to a church leader who has struck up a pen pal relationship with the firebrand cleric.
Stephen Coles, a vicar at the St Thomas The Apostle church in Islington, has been exchanging letters with the former Finsbury Park Mosque imam Hamza, who is now serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison in the United States for a string of terrorist-related offences.
Mr Coles believes the public perception of Hamza as a demonic “hook-handed” terrorist, stoked by the tabloid media, stops people understanding who he is and how extremist ideas can take hold of someone.
He said: “I think the danger of demonisation is it turns people into a different species. You can detach yourself from them and say ‘people like me would never do something like that’.
“Well, that is very dangerous. We don’t know what we would do under certain circumstances. I think it is important that someone like Hamza is not just a terrorist.”
Hamza, 60, has registered an appeal against his incarceration in Colorado, where he is held in solitary confinement.
The letters between Mr Coles and Hamza have come to light in US court filings.
Mr Coles said: “He is, believe it or not, vulnerable. Nobody has ever looked into the psychological damage of him having both of his hands blown off and losing the sight in one of his eyes. Nobody asks that question.
“The Sun caricatures him all the time as ‘Captain Hook’. My line is that if you think that people with disabilities should be treated with respect, there are no exceptions. But disability lobby groups have never objected that he is called ‘Captain Hook’ and is demonised in that way. I think you must treat everyone as a human being.”
The pair first met on the Sunday after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Mr Coles said: “Hamza started sounding off after 9/11. I decided the time had come where I had to see him. He was having an impact on people in the area and it was a tense time.”
Hamza was arrested by police and held on remand in Belmarsh Prison as the US tried to extradite him to face terrorism charges.
St Thomas the Apostle Church in Islington
After being vetted by MI6, Mr Coles was granted access to visit Hamza in Belmarsh between 2004 and 2012. Mr Coles, who is
openly gay, would go in for two hours and sit down one-to-one in a small cell.
“Who knows why one does things, subconsciously,” Mr Coles said. “I think part of my motivation is that he has to come to terms with the fact that one of the only people taking him seriously is a Christian, a priest and gay.
“He has to get used to treating me as a human being, rather than making big generalisations about homosexuals. I am probably one of the only people he knows who is openly gay.”
The Finsbury Park Mosque has distanced itself from Abu Hamza in recent years and is now under new leadership.