Reporting The Ricin Case

Last week Kamel Bourgass was jailed for 17 years for plotting to spread ricin on the streets of London. He’d been earlier convicted of the murder of a policeman, Detective Constable Stephen Oake, during a raid to a arrest him back in 2003.
The trial had taken place in camera, and so it was only on last Wednesday, when he’d been convicted that reporting restrictions were lifted. Why exactly were reporting restrictions placed on the trial? It wasn’t in case Al Qaeda caught wind of what was happening, it’s because Bourgass had already been convicted of the murder that took place while he was being arrested. If that had been reported, then it would have prejudiced the following case(s).
He was convicted of attempting to spread ricin, including “smearing it on car door handles in the Holloway Road area of north London”.
Fair enough. A pretty nasty terror attack averted.
Last Wednesday evening, the BBC reported the case in detail on the main ten o’clock bulletin, and pretty much repeated the same Mark Easton report on Newsnight, although covering it in slightly more depth this time. A version of this report can be found here, along with a link to the video.
It all made quite a scare story. Indeed it seems to have been a long term Al Qaeda plan if everything was to be believed.
David Blunkett, then Home Secretary said: “It is absolutely certain that al-Qaeda were planning and preparing for co-ordinated attacks. We were very close indeed to disaster. We were actually much calmer and much more reassuring to the public than we felt ourselves.”
But is it all as straightforward as it seems?
Why were four co-defendents of Bourgass acquitted? Lack of evidence seems to be the reason.
And is ricin a good poison for a terrorist to use? The BBC’s own site suggests that it’s very easy to make but is actually quite hard to ingest needing to either be injected into the bloodstream, put in an aerosol spray at close quarters or put into food or water. (Incidentally, it’s really not hard to find out how to make ricin if you want to do something so stupid)
So is there really evidence to suggest such a largescale plot as was reported?
Following this case, we next get the Met Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair pushing for ID cards following the case. This comes at a time in an election campaign where only the Labour Party have got ID cards in their manifesto. Not really a time, then, for cards to be talked about by an “independent” person. Here’s a link to his interview on Breakfast With Frost.
But what I don’t understand is that surely we’re being peddled a myth about Al Qaeda and what the true limits of what it’s really capable of. I mean, I saw the Adam Curtis documentary series, The Power of Nightmares that pretty much refuted much of the accepted wisdom of the power and influence of Osama Bin Ladin.
Indeed Adam Curtis spoke after receiving an award for The Power of Nightmares at the Broadcasting Guild Awards on Friday.
“The extrapolation from the very tiny bit of evidence that was reported in court to the reports we did on the Six O’Clock News and other bulletins was not in any way justified,” he said.
“As someone who had been in the court room and watched the trial collapse, I could not understand how you could take that very limited evidence and extrapolate from that a story of a threat as ghastly as September 11.
“In the post-Hutton era I think that raises very serious questions. I could not understand how the facts could be used to stand up such an interpretation and frightening portrayal. I was baffled and astonished.”
As a coda to this, last night were the BAFTA television awards, and The Power of Nightmares won the factual series award. What we saw on television was Curtis and a couple of others come up onto the stage, say exactly two words, “Thank you,” and then get off. It seems that what we saw was severely edited (the awards were once again not live).
Today’s Media Guardian reports that his speech criticising media coverage of this very case, was cut by the BBC:

Mr Curtis, a senior producer in the BBC’s news and current affairs department, said reports of an “al-Qaida plot to poison Britain” that could have consequences “equal or greater to 9/11” were “massively exaggerated or a complete fantasy”.

But apparently it was nothing to do with politics! A BBC spokesperson “denied it was politically motivated, and said it was one of a number of edits made to the awards because of timing.”
Oh. Right.
(Incidentally, I thought the overall coverage of the BAFTAs was poor. The direction was shoddy, with cutaways to celebrities in the crowd who were often the only ones *not* laughing at the jokes – nothing like a sour Alistair MacGowan. And then major categories, including, disgracefully, the Richard Dimbleby award to Jon Snow, were chopped down into an “earlier this evening” segment. They did find time for the “Best Soap Opera” award. And finally, many of the factual categories didn’t get the clips package before they were awarded, so we had the sight of host, Graham Norton, rushing over to the lectern after the thank yous had been made, to let us know we were going to see a clip of the winner at least. It all came over very poorly on screen.)
See also here and here . Finally this is definitely worth a read.