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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 October 2006, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Equality chief backs veil ruling
Trevor Phillips
Mr Phillips said the veil debate had turned ugly in the last week
The UK's equality watchdog has urged a Muslim teaching assistant to drop her case against the school which suspended her for wearing a veil in class.

A tribunal last week rejected Aishah Azmi's claim of discrimination against Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

Trevor Phillips, head of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, urged her not pursue an appeal.

He said "she would be doing the nation a favour" by dropping the case.

Mrs Azmi lost her employment tribunal case for discrimination and harassment, but was awarded damages for victimisation by Kirklees Council.

'Comply or quit'

Her legal representative said on Friday that she intended to take the case to "a higher court".

Mr Phillips told the BBC on Sunday: "Most people would say, honestly, this is not one where we need to pursue it.

"She would be doing everybody, including herself, a great favour were she to decide either that she were to comply with the requirements for teaching in the classroom or to decide that she didn't want to do that job.

"It's up to her, but I think she would be doing the nation a favour, and we would all feel very warm towards her, if she were to say I understand the issue here and I'm going to take a solution which doesn't involve more working through the courts.

Shahid Malik
Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik said his constituent had 'no real support'

"I would very much support her MP, Shahid Malik. She has made her point."

Mr Malik, the Labour member for Dewsbury, said on Friday that the employment tribunal ruling has been "absolutely spot on".

"I would appeal to Mrs Azmi now just to let this thing go," he said.

"There is no real support for it."

However, Mr Phillips also warned that the debate on Muslim women wearing veils was becoming too polemic.

"I was disconcerted by the turn it took," he said.

"I think what started as a perfectly reasonable and timely discussion about how we deal with aspects of diversity in this society seems to have turned into something quite ugly.

"I, this morning, would not want to be a British Muslim because what should have been a proper conversation between all kinds of British people seems to have turned into a trial of a particular community and that cannot be right.

"My job, I guess, is to be a referee here and say it's time to stop."

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