'I feel panic': Making sense of Didsbury's mosque attack

Plus, a very local weather forecast

Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s briefing. We have an update on this weekend’s attack on a mosque in Didsbury, some great recommendations for things to do this week and a beautiful Home of the Week in Oldham.

Our weekend read was a fascinating story about a woman who left a fundamentalist sect in Brazil and has found a new life in Manchester. Last week Mill members read about our meeting with Sir Richard Leese on the day after he announced he was standing down as Manchester’s council leader.

We also sent them a report from Langley, an area once called “the ghost estate” by the MEN. And we published a piece by our youngest-ever writer: Faith Mitchell, age 15, wrote about her tough upbringing and her hopes for the future. Not to mention our interview with local weatherman Martin Miles, whose forecast for this week you can read below. If you’re not a member yet, join up now to read those stories and get all our journalism in your inbox.

This week’s weather ☁

Our forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says: “After the hot weather and lovely sunshine last week, our weather will be much more representative of September this week. We will encounter some rain, although the middle of the week is set to be pleasant.”

  • Monday: Dominated by cloudy skies and patchy rain at times. Temperatures will be subdued, peaking no higher than 17°C.

  • Tuesday: Further patchy rain, mainly during the morning. Highs of 18°C.

  • Wednesday: Drier and brighter day. Highs of 19°C. 

  • Thursday: Pleasant once more. Expect a lot of clouds, although sun will break out occasionally. Highs of 20°C. 

  • Friday: Likely to bring us change. Highs of 18°C. 

For the full forecast, please visit Manchester Weather. And read our interview with Martin from last week.

The big story: Fire at Didsbury Mosque

Top line: At 11.49pm on Friday night, Didsbury Mosque was subjected to an arson attack. Neighbours extinguished the flames within minutes, meaning that it left only limited damage. Greater Manchester Police say they are treating the incident as a hate crime and investigations are ongoing.

From the ground: Our writer Mollie Simpson visited the mosque this morning and spoke to its admin officer Tracey Pook:

“You can still smell the fire actually,” Tracey tells me. We’re standing by solid wood doors, where the smell of smoke still lingers in the air. She shows me CCTV footage of the event: a man in a hooded jacket walks up to the door from Barlow Moor Road with a canister in his hand. He lights a fire, shields his face as walks away. Less than a minute later, the footage shows two girls walking past, who call for help. Four neighbours then appear and put the fire out with their coats. “I was very angry because you don't attack anybody's house of worship,” Tracey says. “You just don't do it. And it does feel it felt personal to us all.”

A history of threats: Mosque leaders have received online threats to burn down and “level off” the mosque for a few years now. Abdul Gader Fakah, premises officer, told Mollie: “I feel panic. Horrible. I hear before there is some people who [want to] attack the mosque, attack people. But to happen to your place, it's different, you know?”

Context: In the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing, Didsbury Mosque attracted attention after it emerged that bomber Salman Abedi and his family had worshipped there.

  • In December 2016, preacher Mustafa Graf was recorded saying “Jihad for the sake of Allah is the source of pride and dignity for this nation." The speech came during the Syrian government's siege of Aleppo. An investigation found that no offences were committed.

  • In 2017 English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson visited the mosque and confronted worshippers. He was escorted from the building.

‘No-go area’: The website MailOnline received widespread ridicule in June when it published an article that alleged Didsbury was a “no-go area for white people”, mentioning Didsbury Mosque.

The response: On Saturday, worshippers were “moved to tears” after more than 100 people held a vigil in solidarity, organised by Greater Manchester Stand Up to Racism and attended by members of the Jewish and Christian communities. Tracey told us: “Look, all the goodness that's coming out of it. I think the community got us through because of the kindness of them coming forwards.”

Deputy leader of Manchester City, Luthfur Rahman OBE, said:

Manchester has consistently shown that we are a city which stands together and will not allow extremists to divide us. I commend the neighbours who raised the alarm —  they, not the cowards responsible for this arson, are the true spirit of this city.

Fears of a repeat: Tracey told us: “At the moment we're all just like more vigilant and more aware of, are they gonna come back? We've had these threats for a couple of years, now one's been attempted. If they're not caught are they going to try and come back and finish what they started?”

🕵️‍♂️ Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass us some information, please email joshi@manchestermill.co.uk, mollie@manchestermill.co.uk or dani@manchestermill.co.uk. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.

Home of the week

This charming 2-bed house near Oldham was built around 1868, and has a beautiful wood front door and original features. It’s on the market for £299,995.

Other local news in brief

  • A man is in serious but stable condition after being stabbed at Parklife festival over the weekend. The 22-year-old is understood to have approached security with a knife wound to his leg. The music festival at Heaton Park saw around 160,000 people attend. Read more.

  • Communities secretary Robert Jenrick says the key to tackling regional inequality lies in further devolution powers and the creation of more mayors. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Jenrick pledged to “widen and deepen” devolution. “He praised Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor, and [Andy] Burnham for effective use of devolved powers to improve their conurbations.” Read more.

  • The World Black Pudding Throwing Championships returned to Ramsbottom at the weekend after a 2-year absence. Competitors from across the country flocked to try their luck and dislodge giant Yorkshire puddings from a 20ft-high plinth. “It is a lot harder than it looks as you are only allowed to use an under-arm technique,” one person said. Read more.

This week’s cartoon is by longtime Miller and Private Eye scribbler Tony Husband.

Our favourite reads

This personal essay from the Paris Review looks back on the 1996 IRA bomb, as well as the writer's — Stockport-born screenwriter Tom Benn — memory of the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017. “All my writing has orbited that bomb and failed to reach it. I feel I know for certain I was there. I know I was happy at my Moss Side nana’s, almost every Saturday, watching Gary Cooper do the right thing when everybody else wouldn’t.”

This FareCity interview with Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s first Walking and Cycling Commissioner, takes a look at his vision for the region. “This is the year when you will see stuff is happening,” Boardman says, making the point that the government is now fully promoting “active travel” schemes across the country. “They’re saying, it’s happening locally so you choose how it’s done and where it needs to be done, but here are your standards, here’s the cash, you’ve got to do this.” 

We enjoyed this piece from The Observer that highlighted the importance of saving moorland bogs and features research by academics at the University of Manchester. “But this vital and delicate part of the ecosystem is disappearing, in many cases having been deliberately drained to graze sheep and shoot grouse, and now the moorland is etched with deep channels through which, each year, hundreds of tonnes of crucially important peat is simply being washed away by the weather.”

In 2005, James, a British soldier turned contractor, and a well-dressed Iraqi called Ahmed — who once lived in Manchester — met in Baghdad International Airport. They are the two protagonists of this gripping long read from Atavist Magazine. “Ahmed, James realized, was an especially well connected businessman, the kind of guy who knew how to get 50 tractors or 10 tons of copper wiring or a meeting with the president. ‘And I also own Iraq’s duty-free rights,’ Ahmed announced.”

Photo of the week

Form an orderly queue please: A horse stands next to a phonebox in Sale, 1979. Photo: Martin O'Neill/Redferns/Getty Images.

Our To Do list

🎭 Theatre | Royal Exchange Theatre is showing ‘Glee & Me’, a dark comedy about 16-year-old Lola, who has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. It’s an ‘unexpectedly optimistic’ portrayal of love and the resilience of the human spirit. Book tickets here.

🖼 Art | Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre is holding an exhibition about the relationships between art and food. “Food can be the catalyst for a whole host of emotions, joy, anger and pleasure,” the event says. More information here.

🎻 Festival | Sheba Arts Festival returns today, and is running until Sunday. Catch the opening ceremony at Manchester Central Library this evening, which includes Iranian Citar music, Cameroonian jazz and Sufi music. Tickets here.

🗣 Talk | On Wednesday, Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society will be at Manchester Cathedral talking about the history of the city during the Industrial Revolution. More information and tickets here.

🎨 Painting | Floating Art Workshop is holding a botanical painting workshop on Saturday in Manchester city centre. It’s for all art levels, and you'll learn how to paint still-life plants. More information and tickets here.

🍷 Food & Drink | The Manchester Food and Drink Festival returns this Thursday. The festival hub, home to an eclectic collection of bars and street food vendors, will be at Cathedral Gardens from this Thursday to Sunday. More info here.

Covid-19 update

  • Case rate: The case rate for Greater Manchester is 336.3, up 6.8% compared to England’s 319.4, which has remained unchanged over the last 7 days. Tameside has the highest infection rate in GM, around 400. Bolton’s rate is the lowest and has risen to the 300-mark.

  • Hospitalisations: As of 7th September, the number of Covid-19 patients in critical care was 50, down from 52 the week before. In the week ending on 5th September, the total number of Covid-19 patients admitted to GM hospitals was 307.

  • Vaccinations: The latest vaccination data from 30th August shows that almost 1.7 million people have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. 92% of over-70s have had two doses, compared to 86% of 50-69s and 56% of 18-49s. That’s 69% of all adults in GM double-jabbed.

Letters to the editor

My sister and my mum have lived in Langley for 30+ years now. ('If I imagined there was some sort of neat ending point, I would be here forever'.) I used to get stressed going to visit because it was really rough with boarded-up houses everywhere. Very depressing and grim. I was living in Eccles at the time which was certainly deprived but Langley was way worse. I say 'was' because it is much better now. Millions of investment has revitalised the community. Not a single empty house to be seen. Lots of new builds as well. It still has plenty of problems but is way better than the ‘90's. Martin, Bolton

I only met Sir Richard Leese once. ('If I imagined there was some sort of neat ending point, I would be here forever'.) I was struck by the arrogance of the man as he lectured me and other disabled people on the finer points of access and equality. I met with him in 2019 to try and persuade him to postpone the building of the £1 million inaccessible Peterloo Memorial, but Sir Richard would have none of it. If you choose to recall all the undoubted good Sir Richard has done for Manchester over the years, also recall that he used his position to commission a memorial with almost no scrutiny, and then disregarded the objections made by disabled people during both the initial consultation period and subsequent planning application. Let’s hope the next Leader of Manchester City Council is willing to work with and listen to disabled people. Brian, Trafford

If you would like to contribute to our profile of Sir Richard Leese, please email joshi@manchestermill.co.uk.