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Monday, June 05, 2006 

What to believe?

The reporting on the terrorist raid in Forest Green has not been the police's finest hour, nor has it been the media's. While you expect some confusion and initially wrong details, the press and police have been spouting crap from the minute that the 250 police officers smashed their way in at 4am on Friday morning.

Gradually the police and Scotland Yard have been lowering our expectations that a viable bomb, poison or weapon will be found. This morning the Guardian reported that "confidence among officials was waning" and a "senior police source" had said:

"The public may have to get used to this sort of incident, with the police having to be safe rather than sorry."

Now this evening the Assistant Commisioner is telling us:
Police had "no choice" but to raid a house in east London after being told a chemical device might be found there

True, but that doesn't really make up for all the speculation that has circulated since the event. Both the Daily Mail and Times ran on Saturday with the story that the police were looking for a "suicide vest", that would either pump out a deadly poison, or that would have poison inside it that would be released when the person set off his explosives. The BBC had a police officer deny it later in the day. Yesterday the Sunday Express cleared the front page for the banner headline "ANTHRAX TERROR BOMB HUNT", while the News of the Screws, the paper of choice for cops to leak to, had the "exclusive" that the police were looking for an "explosive device designed to spray out deadly cyanide".
They also had a photo of the shot suspect looking very menacing in black and white, along with the claim that one of the brothers had tried to grab the gun, which with its safety catch off, somehow managed to shoot one of the men. This has been categorically denied by the men's lawyers. Along with this, the News of the Screws (proprietor:R. Murdoch), unbelievably shoehorns in a reference to the television TV series 24 (made by 20th Century Fox: proprietor:R. Murdoch) currently showing on Sky (proprietor:R. Murdoch) claiming that the plot was for the device to be set off in a "enclosed and busy shopping centre", which mirrors a similar conspiracy in the current series. The whole Screws article screams of a hatchet job; they have a "neighbour" claiming that there had been a series of "violent incidents" outside the house in recent years, which seems rather at odds with the testimony of another neighbour in other coverage which said that they had stepped in to stop fights. There's more on this over at Lenin's Tomb.

Why 250 police were needed (the Screws' claims the real figure was nearer 300) is not clear. All they had to was raid one property, although the Guardian reports that the next door neighbours had a rather shocking and violent awakening as well.

Hanif had been asleep when he heard a commotion. He got up as the bedroom door was forced open by police. "I saw a guy with a machine gun pointing and he hit me on the side of the head straight away with the butt. Another man hit me behind my knees, then tied my hands with plasticuffs. I saw blood coming from my head. The guy noticed it and took a bandage out and put it on me."
So that's all right then. They also had their DNA and fingerprints taken for the trouble. It's worth remembering that it took 78 officers for Brian Haw's protest to be "cleaned up"; even more are seemingly required to stand around and do nothing but make up the numbers so that it looks even more dramatic. What we are supposed to believe is that the police's intelligence was both correct and obviously so life threatening that such a raid was required immediately, and in today's climate we have to give the benefit of the doubt. What rankles however is that the supposed intelligence which goes into such raids is not of the same quality which goes out to the newspapers, who have printed such contradictory and sensational stories. If it turns out that there is no such device, or that other "possibility", that it may be elsewhere, then the damage done could be palpable. While these raids may become more common, the police really need to get their stories straight, and the media has to play its role as a "honest" broker better as well.

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