Martin Wainwright

Leeds (Britain): The British Muslim teacher who refused to remove her veil in a primary school when male colleagues were present lost her discrimination test case on Thursday but won £1,100 for victimisation in the way the dispute was handled.

An employment tribunal also amended its judgment at the last minute to rebuke British Government Ministers, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, for commenting on the highly controversial issue last week, while it was still sub judice.

The core of Aishah Azmi's case direct and indirect discrimination on religious grounds was dismissed by the tribunal in Leeds, in the north of England, along with her claim that she had suffered harassment. Her lawyers announced an immediate appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and moves to take the issue to the European Court of Justice.

Ms Azmi (23), who was suspended in September from Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, near Leeds, said she was also considering complaints against the Prime Minister and other members of the Government for alleged breaches of the ministerial code of conduct.

Support for school

Ms Azmi was sent home within a month of starting work last September at Headfield, a school with a large majority of British Asian pupils, where she was a classroom assistant in maths and literacy lessons for children aged between 10 and 12.

The school initially agreed she could wear the veil when a man was present, but the agreement broke down after three weeks when one of the male staff objected to her face being covered while teaching.

The local Kirklees Education Board welcomed the main verdicts as the right decision on a difficult balance between the ``rights of local children to the best quality education possible and Ms Azmi's desire to express her cultural beliefs by wearing a veil in class''. In a statement, the council revealed that monitors had watched Ms Azmi's teaching and children's responses for an agreed period before the decision to ask her to remove the covering was taken.

Headfield has offered to reinstate Ms Azmi provided she removes her veil while teaching. But she made it clear on Thursday she would be concentrating on further legal moves. Outside the school this week, there was virtually unanimous support for the school's stand, from British Asian parents as much as white ones. Pupils from all communities were also vociferous about some of their friends having problems understanding Ms Azmi when she was veiled.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006