The New York Times and Serial Productions released “The Trojan Horse Affair,” an 8-part podcast investigating a threatening letter delivered to a city councillor’s desk in Birmingham, England and its shocking aftermath. This document allegedly contained Islamic extremists’ plans to infiltrate schools. Start the series from the first episode to learn how a mystery letter unleashed a national scandal and if the government was hiding bombshell information.
Given the code name “Operation Trojan Horse,” the story hit national news in 2014, and people were thrown into a panic. In the following years, several investigations were underway; the country strengthened its counterterrorism efforts, added safety measures in schools, and banned individuals from working in the education system.
Hamza Syed, a journalism student at the time, wondered why simple questions went unanswered, such as who wrote the letter and why. One day in Birmingham, Hamza serendipitously met reporter and “S-Town” host Brian Reed, and they began working together on this podcast. They soon learned that the authorities in charge did not want them snooping around for answers. Fans of investigative podcasts like “Serial” and “S-Town” might enjoy “The Trojan Horse Affair.”
Starting in episode one, Hamza and Brian tracked down Tahir Alam, the “mastermind” named in the letter. He explains he influenced schools in different ways than illustrated and shared that the letter destroyed his life. The second episode details why staff resignations swept the surrounding school districts. Hamza and Brian wonder if the person might have written the letter in retaliation to a “petty personnel dispute.” The journalists met with the first man who saw the Trojan Horse letter and believe they found a critical clue when they heard what resulted from a private, internal investigation that officials hid from the media.
In Part 4, Brian and Hamza interviewed cagey Birmingham politicians and learned new information from a government source. This anonymous letter was not the first of its kind – Birmingham authorities received several letters notifying and alleging extremist operations. Tensions rose in Part 5’s interview with a couple who filed complaints about a school, and Hamza revealed why this story is personal for him. Part 6, titled “Cucumbers and Cooker Bombs,” deep-dives into the government’s investigations of 20 Muslim-majority schools in Birmingham, and the reporters have a tiff.
Brian and Hamza uncovered court documents by Part 7 and found why Birmingham’s authorities disclaimed the Trojan Horse plot. With the help of a school-banned individual, the journalists located one final source, and the three traveled to Perth, Australia.
All 8 episodes of “The Trojan Horse Affair” run under 65 minutes long. Tune into this investigative series wherever you listen to your favorite shows.