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Reports

Original BBC reports

Other reports and commentary

Some of the analysis in these reports has been superceded. I do not agree with every interpretation contained in them.

Complaints correspondence with BBC

Detailed correspondence between the BBC and myself (and latterly another complainant) is logged here.

Introduction

On 29 August 2013, as the UK House of Commons vote on possible military intervention in Syria was underway [1], BBC News at Ten broadcast a report by Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway which claimed that a Syrian fighter jet had dropped an incendiary bomb containing a “napalm-type” substance – possibly thermite – on the playground of an Aleppo school.

The report contained harrowing scenes of teenage boys and young men, their skin apparently in tatters, racing into what the report describes as “a basic hospital funded by handouts” to be treated for burns. In one particularly disturbing scene a tableau of young men writhe, drool and groan, seemingly in great distress.

On further viewings, however, this scene in particular is strikingly odd. The young men are initially quiet and static. The central figure (Mohammed Asi) looks directly into the camera for several moments before raising his arm, at which point the group instantly becomes animated and starts groaning in unison.

Asi begins to stagger and lurch, the boy in the black vest suddenly pitches onto his side, the boy in red (Anas Said Ali) raises his head and peers quizzically around while the boy in the white shirt rises effortlessly to his feet. [2] As the camera pulls back a boy in a yellow ‘Super-9′ t-shirt (Lutfi Arsi) rises from the floor, flailing his head and torso and rolling his eyes as a team of medics sweeps in. Some images from the sequence are reproduced below. [3]

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This and other questionable elements in this brief report prompted my first letter to the BBC on 4 October 2013.

While I was completing this letter, on 30 September 2013, the BBC broadcast a follow-up news report shortly prior to the transmission of the Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children the same evening.

Comparing the 29 August and 30 September reports a discrepancy in the soundtrack was apparent. In the first, Dr Rola Hallam (her face covered by a mask) had referred to “napalm”, in the second she said “chemical weapon”. I commented on this in the PS to my letter. The audio editing was subsequently discussed by former UK ambassador and blogger Craig Murray here and here. [4] Speculation on this point has since been widespread (see for example this RT report). My own concern remains on the evidence of wider fabrication in the hospital scenes.

The BBC’s initial response of 2 December 2013 dealt largely with the editing of Dr Rola Hallam’s words. My correspondence with the BBC has continued. Some of the main points which have arisen are as follows.

Date and time of the alleged incident

Fuller details here.

According to the BBC’s reports the alleged attack took place on Monday 26 August 2013. [5]

Accounts of the time of the alleged bombing span a range of six hours. A Human Rights Watch report states (p12) that the attack on the school occurred “around midday”; a report by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, a regularly cited source by the BBC, says (p4) it took place at 2.00pm and directly quotes an activist who claims he first heard “rumours” of the event at 3.00pm; ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ reporter Ian Pannell has categorically stated that the attack happened “at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day” while his colleague, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ cameraman, director and producer Darren Conway, has suggested that the alleged victims he filmed at Atareb Hospital (around six miles from the school’s location) began arriving “between 3 and 5″. Video of the event at which Conway made this statement has yet to be published – see footnote 2 here. Another alleged eyewitness claims the attack may have occurred as late as 6pm.

A series of eighteen photographs showing two alleged victims originally appeared on the photo journalism website Demotix dated 25 August 2013. Demotix later amended the date of the photographs to 26 August. When the images were dated 25 August, Ian Pannell denied that they featured victims from his report [6]; after the date had been changed, the BBC acknowledged that they did. (More here). 

Conflicting accounts of first victims

At 31 minutes in Saving Syria’s Children Dr Saleyha Ahsan is shown attending to the first alleged victim – a baby, accompanied by his father. Ian Pannell’s narration at this point states “no-one’s quite sure what’s happened.” Only subsequently do the “dozens” of other alleged victims begin to arrive. This sequence of events is portrayed in several other accounts, including others given by Dr Ahsan.

However in an interview with Australian broadcaster ABC on 27 November 2013 Dr Ahsan gives an entirely contradictory account (from 02:38):

“It was quite a quiet day and I was beginning to think ‘ooh gosh I’ve really got my timing wrong ‘cause what’s the point in me being here if I’m not going to be helping out?’ and then suddenly, standing to my left I just saw this rather strange vision I ju…  I I felt as if I was having an out of body experience because I couldn’t quite work out what I was seeing, there was a boy, covered in this strange white dust, had wide staring eyes, his clothes were hanging off him, and he had this huge laceration on the side of his face, and his skin looked like it had areas of burn, and he was saying in a very calm voice ‘where shall I go okhty?’ which means sister in Arabic…”

In this version, the baby and his father do not feature at all. Instead Dr Ahsan states “it was quite a quiet day” prior to the arrival of the person she now claims was the first victim – a boy covered in “strange white dust”, who had a “huge laceration on the side of his face” and who spoke to her, asking her where he should go. This clear and vivid account is entirely irreconcilable with what viewers saw in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

On the website of the charity The Phoenix Foundation, launched in January 2015, Dr Ahsan writes:

The sound of an ambulance siren and then the screams first of all from a baby and then young girls – that I still hear as I write this – alerted me that something disastrous had happened.

Previous accounts made no mention of an ambulance siren heralding the baby’s arrival. Moreover, the reference to the screams of “young girls” immediately following those of the baby appears to contradict ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, in which the first alleged victims to arrive after the baby are adolescent males. In fact only one young female alleged victim (Siham Kanbari) appears in the entire Atareb hospital sequence. [7] [8]

Grinning “victim”

This information was submitted to the BBC by email on 5 November 2014. Fuller details here.

The image below is from a sequence originally transmitted in the BBC News report of  29 August 2013. [9] The slim boy in the black vest at the right of the picture, allegedly the victim of a “napalm-type substance”, is looking into the camera and grinning broadly.

The same boy appears at 31:56 in Saving Syria’s Children, moments later, running into the hospital with his jeans lowered and again at 35:15 exclaiming “cover me” while allegedly being treated for his injuries by Dr Saleyha Ahsan. (See further images here).

Compare the boy’s demeanour below with that of Kim Phuc the napalm bombing survivor known from a famous Vietnam War photograph who has said “napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine”.

If this boy’s injuries are not genuine then presumably those of the others arriving in the pick up truck with him – at least – are also fabricated. These include Mohammed Asi, of whom Ian Pannell has provided this image purporting to show him “two weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey” and Anas Said Ali, whom the BBC claims died “a few days later in hospital in Turkey”. [10]

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Alleged injuries of baby and his father

Fuller details here.

The baby featured from 31 minutes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ does not appear to have suffered “severe burns” as claimed in the narration, and certainly not the 80% burns claimed by Dr Hallam which, as the high percentage indicates, would cover the majority of the infant’s body. Rather, he appears unscathed and in no unusual degree of distress (click images below to enlarge).

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At 31:18 Dr Ahsan’s advises “this baby needs to be picked up” and the child is robustly handled by Dr Ahan and the supposed father. If the baby had suffered severe burns covering up to 80% of his body this would seem extremely inappropriate and reckless.

Subsequent accounts of the infant’s injuries range from “nasty scolds [sic] on his legs” (Dr Ahsan) to Dr Hallam’s “80% burns” (elsewhere “full-body burns”).

Ian Pannell’s BBC News article states that the baby’s father “was also burnt and sat helplessly on a stretcher clutching his son”. Dr Hallam states here (from 22:17) that he “also had a burnt face” and here that he “had head burns”. However the child’s supposed father (seen over Dr Ahsan’s left shoulder at 31:16 and again holding the baby at 31:31) is animated, vocal and appears unscathed. [11]

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The baby’s alleged father (right), who according to Dr Hallam “also had a burnt face” https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/baby-and-his-father/

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The baby’s alleged father, speaking and gesturing animatedly to someone off-screen. According to Ian Pannell he “was also burnt and sat helplessly on a stretcher clutching his son”

Plausibility of injuries and demeanour of alleged victims

A practicing doctor has offered this opinion of the alleged injuries presented  in ‘Saving Syria’s Children':

I have watched the panorama BBC documentary. Makes for interesting viewing but I think the scene of the school children coming in with the burns was an act.

I worked on trauma and orthopaedics last year for four months, so I have worked with burns victims first hand. These victims displayed what appeared to be “less painful” burns. They were able to sit down, be touched by others even talk. This is not how a severe burn victim would present. Most victims:

  • would be screaming the place down in agony. Even after treatment and with all sorts of pain drugs they still hurt and still scream.
  • Many burns victims cannot even focus enough to follow instructions such as sit down and wait because of pain. This young boy, I found very odd (I don’t think it is cultural thing as pain is pain and it can drive a person mad).
  • would have difficulties with their airways, almost immidiatley, hence in the UK many are intubated and treated in ITU. This shows them able to speak and breathing very well no obvious signs of respiratory distress like coughing, shallow breathing etc. In such an attack the poisons are inhaled.
  • They say they douse them in water (wouldn’t the high spray of the hose cause more problems to burnt skin).
  • when they came to the hospital they have evidence of this white powder on their skin but not evident burn blisters which fill with fluid with in minutes. Some are shown with skin hanging off but the flesh beneath is not that convincing it actually looks like more skin.
  • The walk is very odd. why??
  • The other concern in burns is their fluid status as they will be losing large amounts of fluid through their burns. The cannula is essential to resuscitate them. Im not sure what A and E that doctor worked in but I have not worked in A and e this year and I have placed I think almost 6 cannulas in peoples feet. [12] Any access is essential in burns, a standard training skill!
  • If the poison was dropped from above (a plane) their hair would have been lost and patches would be evident. Many still had a full heads.

The doctor’s opinion is congruent with that of former UK ambassador Craig Murray who, in a 31 March 2014 email regarding the nomination of Ian Pannell and the “Chemical School Attack” report for One World Media awards, wrote: “having personally been in my career in rather similar conflict situations, I was struck by the strange absence of panic and screaming both by patients and surrounding family – I have seen people in that sort of pain and situation and they are not that quiet and stoic, in any culture.”

Most of the alleged victims presented in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’  are notably calm and quiet. Some mill around in the hospital and its yard.

  • From 33:05 – 33:46 Lutfi Arsi (in the yellow ‘Super 9′ t-shirt) calmly inspects his fellow alleged victims, helpfully directs a member of staff towards them, ambles to the back of the room, pulls up a chair and takes a seat.
  • In the same sequence note the exaggerated swaying and lurching of the man in the white t-shirt at the back of the room; identifiable by the three black marks on his t-shirt, this is the supposed teacher who some time later (judging by the addition of bandages to his arm) provides a relaxed and cogent interview (partially translated here). [13]
  • At 36:52 Anas Said Ali speaks, incongruously, in English (“I’m so bad, so bad”) .
  • At 38:13, allegedly suffering 86% burns, Lutfi Arsi sits up to peer inquisitively at the camera.

Compare the demeanour of these alleged victims with this film of napalm bombing survivor Kim Phuc.

The “victims” presented in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ appear to have retained their eyebrows, despite white cream suggesting treatment for facial burns. Note in particular the undamaged eyebrows of the alleged teacher and those of Siham Kanbari “a few weeks after the attacks in hospital”.

In her decision of 26 September 2014 the BBC Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser cites the opinion of a “consultant plastic surgeon with training and experience in the presentation, prognosis and outcome of traumatic burns injuries”.

More (non-BBC) footage of the alleged victims presented in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is on the “Free Halab” blog.

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Ahmed Darwish. Note appearance of hands (click to enlarge) https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/ahmed-darwish/

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Lutfi Arsi. A practicing doctor with trauma and orthopaedic experience comments: “Some are shown with skin hanging off but the flesh beneath is not that convincing it actually looks like more skin” (click to enlarge) https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/lutfi-arsi/

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Alleged teacher (white t-shirt with black marks) swaying and lurching from 33:38 to 33:46 in Panorama prior to giving relaxed and cogent interview below. https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/teacher-at-college/

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Alleged teacher interviewed here http://youtu.be/za_PByVBkJ4?t=40s. Black marks on t-shirt identify him as the swaying figure seen from 33:38 to 33:46 in Panorama (above)

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Alleged teacher. Note undamaged eyebrows.

HOSPEX “macro simulation” techniques

Fuller details here.

In a BBC Newsnight report of 11 August 2014 Dr Saleyha Ahsan, one of the two British doctors featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, described “how British Army medical services prepare for deployment using HOSPEX” (Hospital Exercises), a “macro-simulation replicating exactly the conditions medics will face in the field”. Dr Ahsan states:

“The principle behind ‘macro simulation’ is that it’s as close to reality as possible. Actors and make-up artists mimic even the most severe of injuries”.

The level of expertise in fabricating injuries and emergency situations demonstrated in this report would appear to be more than adequate to account for the hospital scenes in Saving Syria’s Children. In the report Dr Ahsan states that the officer in charge of the operation, Brigadier Kevin Beaton, was her squadron commander in Bosnia and inspired her to study medicine.

Compare the first image below, featuring a “simulated burns casualty played by a professional actor” and published in an article about the Army Medical Services Training Centre (AMSTC) near York, where HOSPEX exercises are held, with the subsequent image of Victim X from the BBC Ten O’Clock News report of 29 August 2013:

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Image from 2008 Army Medic article about the AMSTC facility near York

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‘Victim X’ from BBC Ten O’Clock News 29 August 2013

As noted below, it may be significant that Atareb hospital staff were attending a battle first aid training course in Turkey on the date of the alleged napalm bomb attack.

Identity of western male filmed at Atareb hospital

western male in a grey shirt and spectacles appears at 2:06 in the BBC News report of 30 September 2013. He is carrying a camera and demonstrates evident concern that the BBC’s interview with Dr Rola Hallam is recorded without interruption, extending his arm to prevent others getting into shot.

The presence of this person is perplexing, as at no point in its correspondence with me has the BBC suggested that the Panorama crew in Syria at that time consisted of anyone other than reporter Ian Pannell, cameraman/producer Darren Conway and fixer/translator Mughira Al Sharif (search “Sharif”), plus presumably local drivers/minders.

In an appeal review request of 28 December 2014 another complainant directly asked the BBC to identify the man in the images below. In its rejection of this request the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee ignored this question, along with several other potentially significant points.

Update: The editor of Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, Tom Giles, has commented here.

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Two women wearing identical clothes

Fuller details here.

A woman wearing a black dress with a distinctive gold design rushes through Atareb hospital gates at around 36 minutes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ with a man claiming to be her father (they appear of similar age). Dr Ahsan has stated that this woman was waiting outside to be evacuated to a hospital on the Turkish border.

In other footage from Atareb hospital, shot after nightfall, a younger woman is seen wearing an identical dress and blue headscarf. This woman claims that she and other alleged victims are students in “Orm Alkubra academy”, all of whom are younger than 18 (see transcript at footnote 4 here). A medic in the video notes that while the majority of alleged victims required transfer to other hospitals, “especially in Turkey”, the young woman, with only 20% burns, was “among the lucky ones”.  [14] [15]

It is abundantly plain that the two women are separate individuals: not only is the age difference readily apparent, the young woman in the non-BBC footage explicitly states that she is a student under the age of 18, while the woman who features in Panorama is entirely implausible in this role. Further, Dr Ahsan states that the woman seen in Panorama (in daylight) was waiting to be evacuated to a Turkish border hospital, whereas the medic in the non-BBC footage (shot after dark) explicitly states that this was not necessary for the younger woman. The question therefore arises as to why these two different women should apparently have shared the same clothing.

On 8 August 2014 BBC Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser Natalie Rose stated (p16) that the two women were “clearly the same individual”.

The older woman (centre) rushes through Atareb hospital gate, accompanied by her “father”. She is perhaps 40.

An identically dressed younger woman features in You Tube video from Atareb hospital, filmed after nightfall on the same day. She explicitly states that she and other alleged victims are students, all under 18 years of age.

FSA commander attests “napalm bombing” did not occur

This information was submitted to the BBC on 13 October 2014.

A team of Syrian investigators which has been researching the alleged attack has been in contact with a former commander of the Al-Tawhid Brigade (a substantial faction in the Free Syrian Army) who was based in Aleppo province in August 2013 and who was in close contact with events in Urm Al-Kubra. The team has provided me with the commander’s name.

The commander attests that the “napalm bomb” story is untrue and that none of the events depicted by the BBC occurred. He has provided this brief declaration (his voice is disguised) which the lead investigator has transcribed as follows:

In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful.

We the fighters of the Free Syrian Army in the North West areas of the City of Aleppo we declare that we were present in this region in August 2013 and we did not meet any air strike with the substance of Napalm on Urum al Kubra or on any other region in the North West Aleppo  countryside and we deny the cheap fabrication of the BBC and of the stations that imitate her because it undermine the credibility of the Free Syrian Army. Saying this we do not hesitate to criminalize the criminal acts of the Assad regime and its murderous extermination of its people. And we have done a field investigation with the help of the delegate of the Free Syrian Red Crescent and this has conducted us to confirm what we are saying : no victims, no traces and no memory with anybody of the alleged air strikes with the substance of Napalm. And may peace be upon you and the mercy of God and His blessings.

The commander has agreed to provide a full statement to the BBC providing that his identity is protected. He is also willing to testify publicly under appropriate international protections. The commander, who is now attached to another faction allied to the Free Syrian Army, has offered to provide BBC journalists with safe transit from Antakya, Turkey to Urm Al-Kubra to interview witnesses assembled by the Syrian team and conduct their own investigation.

A July 2014 telephone conversation between two members of the Syrian investigative team, transcribed here, provides an account from another local resident who also affirms that the alleged napalm bomb attack did not occur.

Identification of participant in hospital footage

Fuller details here. This information was submitted to the BBC on 2 September 2014 and 13 October 2014

A 51 year old Dutch-Armenian woman (first two images below) contacted me through Facebook in June 2014 to request that I remove a screengrab from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ which I had posted on the site, claiming that she was in it and that she did not wish others to see it.

Although the woman was not featured in the particular image I had posted, I interpreted her words as possibly meaning she had been photographed or filmed at the hospital featured in Panorama (Atareb) on the day of the alleged attack. The woman did not respond to my requests for clarification.

Some weeks later I came across this video taken at Atareb hospital on 26 August 2013 in which at 20:36 a woman is briefly seen having white cream applied to her face and hands (third image below). The resemblance between this person and the woman who contacted me is extremely striking and they would indeed appear to be one and the same.

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The woman’s Facebook page demonstrates that she has travelled between Syria and the Netherlands, where she resides. There is a gap in her Facebook posts in the weeks around 26 August 2013.

Dr Rola Hallam and Hand in Hand for Syria

Dr Rola Hallam, who is featured throughout ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, is described as “a British doctor visiting for the charity Hand in Hand for Syria”.

On 30 August 2013, the day after the first BBC report on the alleged attack, Dr Hallam appeared on Newsnight expressing her disappointment at parliament’s rejection of a military strike against Syria.

Dr Hallam’s father is Dr. Mousa al-Kurdi. [16] According to a February 2013 article written Dr Hallam’s colleague, Dr Saleyha Ahsan, Dr al-Kurdi is “involved politically with the Syrian National Council”.  In an Al Jazeera interview Dr al-Kurdi proclaims the Syrian National Council to be the “representative of all Syrians” and relates how, following his address to the Friends of Syria summit in Istanbul in 2012 (attended by Hillary Clinton), he told Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu “You’re not doing enough” and demanded of Professor Davutoğlu and several other foreign ministers, including Victoria Nuland of the US State Department, “either you defend us or you arm the Syrian Free Army to defend us – you have the choice”.

At a Save the Children event in November 2013 Dr Hallam stated that her father “is certainly not a member of the Syrian National Council; he is a gynaecologist, who like most Syrians has taken an interest in what’s happening in his country”. 

Dr Hallam is a member of the charity Hand in Hand for Syria’s executive team. Hand in Hand’s original three-star logo is plainly based on the flag adopted by the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Council. In 2014 the charity removed the stars from its logo.

Until July 2014 the Facebook banner of Hand in Hand’s co-founder, Faddy Sahloul, read WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES. The image was removed shortly after this comment on an article in The Guardian newspaper was made.

Further questions about the financial affairs and political affiliations of Hand in Hand for Syria have been raised by Dr Declan Hayes of the University of Southampton (here and here). Dr Hayes’ research has been submitted to the police and the Charity Commission.

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The Facebook banner of Hand in Hand for Syria founder Faddy Sahloul, deleted July 2014

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Original logo of Hand in Hand for Syria bearing the three stars of the Free Syrian Army/Syrian National Council flag

Atareb: “a basic hospital funded by handouts”

In June 2014 Hand in Hand for Syria launched a fundraising campaign which identified the hospital featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ as Atareb Hospital, Aleppo. 

A campaign page dated 10 June 2014 (since deleted) on Hand in Hand for Syria’s website stated that Atareb Hospital opened in May 2013 as a small A&E unit and that (my italics):

“The hospital’s funding comes from a European donor which supports global emergency response. This funding reaches Hand in Hand for Syria via an INGO partner. Although that funding is still very much in place, after one year our agreement with our INGO partner has come to an end – and the funding has to come through a partner.”

This makes clear that funding for Atareb Hospital – “from a European donor”, “via an INGO partner” – was secured prior to Ian Pannell’s description (03:17) of it as “a basic hospital funded by handouts”. [17] Indeed, images on the Atareb Facebook page posted before 26 August 2013, the day of the “napalm bomb”, depict a relatively well-equipped facility, including a kidney dialysis machine and surgical and x-ray facilities. (Please note there are some highly distressing images on the Atareb Facebook page).

The campaign page states that Atareb “now offers 68 beds and a wide range of services – from maternity and neo-natal facilities to many outpatient departments, three excellent operating theatres and a laboratory”. Elsewhere, Atareb is described as “One of the country’s most sophisticated remaining hospitals” with operating costs, according to Dr Hallam,  of “between $60,000 and $70,000 a month”. Atareb’s current facilities are further indicated in the campaign materials.

The Syrian team investigating the alleged napalm bomb has produced this report which provides further information on the connections between Hand in Hand for Syria and Atareb Hospital, which the report claims “is facing very serious problems of administration, honesty, transparency and professionalism.” [18]

Regular Atareb Hospital staff absent on day of alleged attack

post on Atareb Hospital’s Facebook page shows that on 26 August 2013, the date of the alleged attack, hospital staff were “attending a battle first aid training course in Antakia, Turkey”. This may indicate that some of the medics filmed by the Panorama team were not regular Atareb staff members.

Violations Documentation Center in Syria

report by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (as noted above, a regularly cited source in BBC news and analysis) links to a list of 41 alleged victims of the attack. Several of the names are identifiable as those ascribed to individuals featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, however their date of death in all cases is given as 26 August 2013.

While this reflects the Panorama account in respect of Lutfi Arsi (Loutfee Asee on the list), whom the BBC claims “died on his way to hospital in Turkey”, it contradicts it in respect of Anas Sayyed Ali (Anas al-Sayed Ali), whom the BBC claims “died a few days later in hospital in Turkey” and whom Dr Ahsan states (p15) died “two weeks later”; Ahmed Darwish (Ahmad Darwish), who was filmed by Panorama “a few weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey”; Siham Kanbari (Siham Qandaree), also filmed later in the same hospital and whom Dr Ahsan has stated died on 20 October [19]; and Mohammed Asi (Muhammad Assi) who is pictured in an image provided by BBC Audience Services “two weeks after the attack in hospital in Turkey”.

The list omits Mohammed Kenas who according to Panorama “died on the way to hospital in Turkey”. [20]

The list includes a Muhammad Abdullatif, age 15. Mohammed Abdullatif is the name of the adult eyewitness who appears in the 29 August 2013 BBC News report (02:54) and in this non-BBC footage of the same “interview”.

Videos on the ‘Free Halab’ blog

The collection of videos of the alleged events of 26 August 2013 assembled by the “Free Halab” blog poses further questions as to the veracity of the BBC’s account.

For example, the opposition fighter speaking in this film [21] shot at Atareb Hospital on the day of the alleged incident, refers to “seven martyrs and about 50 wounded from the religious college for women and girls”[22] This contradicts the BBC’s account in which the majority of student victims are seen to be adolescent males. [23]

Misleading and manipulative editing

The hospital scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and associated BBC News reports are extensively and misleadingly edited. Some examples are:

  • At 02:08 in the 29 August 2013 BBC News report Mohammed Asi is shown climbing down from a truck, accompanied by Dr Ahsan’s words “more coming? More? More?” However Asi had already been shown walking into the hospital from 01:44.
  • At 34:08 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ the narration states “within minutes the hospital is overwhelmed” over footage of Lutfi Arsi being carried into the hospital. However this is Arsi’s third appearance in the programme, having previously been seen at 32:26 and from 33:05 – 33:44.
  • Victim X is shown arriving in the hospital yard at 35:35 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, heralded by Dr Ahsan’s words “I think there’s more coming, I think there’s more coming”, despite his having previously seen being “treated” inside the hospital from 34:36 – 34:55.
  • A woman exclaims “yama yama yama” as she enters the hospital at 34:02; the same audio clip is also used over footage of Victim Y entering the hospital at 31:44.

On 23 April 2014 BBC Complaints Director Colin Tregear wrote:

…the programme-makers felt they were justified in using footage out of chronological order “to show the mayhem and the mood of what was happening around”. I am satisfied that the editing would not have affected the audience’s overall impression of what took place.

Bias and lack of analysis in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

On 2 July 2014 Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria, lodged a complaint about ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ invoking sections of the BBC Editorial Guidelines which relate to Accuracy, Impartiality, Fairness, Conflicts of Interest and Accountability. Ms Dirgham’s complaint has been rejected by the BBC as untimely.

BBC Worldwide blocks You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

Fuller details here, here and here.

At the start of July 2014 BBC Worldwide began blocking You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, including the copy I had been linking to in my correspondence with the BBC and that referenced by Susan Dirgham in her complaint to the BBC.

I began substituting links in my blog to correspond with an alternative You Tube copy of the programme. On 20 July this too was blocked. (On 23 July it was removed by the channel owner). Notably, part 1 of a version originally shown on Australian television and which included excerpts from the hospital scenes was blocked sometime after 20 July, while part 3 – which features no Panorama footage – remains available.

The final existing You Tube copy of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was blocked by BBC Worldwide between 25 and 28 July 2014. Dozens of other Panorama programmes remain freely available on the site.

The UK BBC iPlayer version of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ expired on 30 September 2014 (17 October with BSL). This copy adheres to the timings in this blog and can be downloaded here. A somewhat higher quality copy is here.

On 1 August 2014 BBC Worldwide provided this response to questions about the You Tube blockings.

mphill cropped

At least four full-length You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria Children’ have been blocked by BBC Worldwide since the start of July 2014.

BBC Newsnight 29 August 2014

Fuller details here.

This edition of BBC2’s Newsnight was devoted to the consequences of the UK Commons vote on intervention in Syria exactly one year previously. It included footage of the “napalm bomb” incident accompanied by the narration “by chance, just as MPs voted, these images of a chemical [sic] attack were shown for the first time”.

A subsequent broadcast on the BBC News Channel some hours later substituted the “napalm bomb” images with footage from an alleged chemical attack on Saraqeb, Northern Syria on 29 April 2013, originally broadcast in a BBC News report of 16 May 2013. The images were not identified and the substitution was not acknowledged. The narration continued to inform viewers that the substituted images had been “shown for the first time” on the evening of 29 August 2013. This matter is now the subject of a fresh complaint to the BBC.

Complaints correspondence with BBC

Latter stages of correspondence between another complainant and the BBC

Notes

[1] Hansard reports the two Commons votes on Syria on Thursday 29 August 2013: Division No. 69 (9:59pm) on the Labour amendment and Division No. 70 (10:17pm) on the government motion.

The Daily Telegraph’s live reporting of the day’s events notes between 22:15 and 22:30:

As MPs vote, the BBC is playing a report into a horrific incendiary weapon strike on a school near Alleppo. Many children have been badly burnt.

[2] In its initial response the BBC stated that that boy in the white shirt “appears relatively unscathed”. The same boy appears at 01:17 in this non-BBC video from the day, calmly walking downstairs accompanied by the caption “These are not performing actors”.

[3] Note that the left hand curtain at the back of the room has been pulled back from its previous position (see below and images 6 – 10 here).

Picture8

[4] Craig Murray has more recently commented on the matter here.

[5] In an article for Foreign Policy Dr Saleyha Ahsan, one of the British doctors featured in Saving Syria’s Children, gave the date of the alleged attack as 27 August, a highly surprising error for a journalist to make, especially considering her statement that “out of all the war zones I have ever been to, today has been by far the worst”.

In a 3 October 2013 article Dr Ahsan wrote “This month, Dr. Hallam and I found ourselves in a school that had been hit by a napalm-like bomb”. This seems intended to suggest that Doctors Ahsan and Hallam were present at the school as it was allegedly being attacked, rather than at the hospital treating the alleged victims; “this month” is also odd as Dr Ahsan claims elsewhere to have visited the school two days after the attack, i.e. on Wednesday 28 August .

[6] Note that the Demotix images had been prominently used to illustrate the “napalm bomb” incident in contemporary UK and international media reports.

[7] Dr Ahsan now gives Siham (or “Seham”) Kanbari’s age as 16, whereas previously both she and Ian Pannell had stated she was 18.

[8] A display at The Phoenix Foundation’s launch stated “A French class was taking place just as the bomb was dropped”. Ian Pannell states that Siham Kanbari “had been in a maths class when the blast ripped through the window”.

[9] The screengrab is from BBC Two’s Newsnight of 29 August 2014. Issues surrounding this programme are discussed here.

[10] On page 15 of this Human Rights Watch report Dr Ahsan claims that Anas Said Ali died “two weeks later”.

[11] The female nurse who appears alongside Dr Saleyha Ahsan at 31:17 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ also features in an image on this site dated 17 June 2014, apparently treating a 15 year old Free Syrian Army fighter at Atareb Hospital. The logo of Hand in Hand for Syria is just visible on the nurse’s white tunic, raising further questions for this UK registered charity (see section above ‘Dr Rola Hallam and Hand in Hand for Syria’).

baby2??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

[12] The reference is to 37:37 in Saving Syria’s Children where Dr Saleyha Ahsan attempts to insert a cannula into Mohammed Kenas‘ foot, stating “As you can see there’s nothing coming up for me to put a cannula in”.

Picture1

“Im not sure what A and E that doctor worked in but I have not worked in A and e this year and I have placed I think almost 6 cannulas in peoples feet. Any access is essential in burns, a standard training skill!” – practicing doctor on the efforts of Dr Saleyha Ahsan to insert a cannula at 37:37 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

[13] On 18 July 2014 BBC News published a short “retrospective” on the “napalm bomb”. From 32 – 40 seconds the background figures in the hospital, including Lutfi Arsi and the alleged teacher, are heavily blurred.

[14] Note also this section* of the transcription of the younger woman‘s words in this video :

… while escaping they called us to return to the school as the war-plane has not finished bombing yet .. they were sure that it will bomb again .. and then the war-plane bombed us .. I did not hear any sound but all what I saw is people burning .. I got burnt and so my friends .. we did not know what happened and why .. a war-plane bombed us and bodies in flames all over the place .. I felt like it is the judgement day.

The sections italicised and underlined above are strikingly similar to the words “told” to Richard Engel by a female witness, as reported in this (subsequently deleted) NBC article (note in particular the reference to “Judgement Day”):

A girl who witnessed the attack told NBC News’ Richard Engel that the plane attacked the school twice.

“As we were going inside the classroom, it hit again. I didn’t hear anything. We just saw people burning,” said the student, who was not identified. “My classmates were burning. It felt like Judgment Day.”

Note further the reference to the plane attacking the school twice; the BBC and Human Rights Watch (p13) claim there was one strike on a residential building followed by a second on the school (as indeed does the young woman in the translation above).

* taken from the fuller transcription at footnote 4 here.

[15] After the younger woman in the black dress and blue scarf has finished speaking another young woman appears in this video (at 02:30). She appears unscathed.

[16] Until at least October 2013 the Deputy Commander of the Free Syrian Army was identified as a Colonel Malik al-Kurdi.

[17] On 30 September 2013 Ian Pannell describes Atareb as as a “field hospital”. Dr Hallam also refers to Atareb as a “field hospital” at 38:04 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

[18] The team’s second report detailing local insurgent factions is here.

[19] The BBC now states that Siham Kanbari died on 19 October.

[20] This Human Rights Watch report, which uses the Violations Documentation Center information as the basis for a list of deaths from the “Urm al-Kubra Attack”, states (p20) that “A witness told Human Rights Watch that one of the dead was identified as Mohamad Feda Khenass, 15 years old”.

[21] At some point prior to 8 April 2015 the You Tube channel (“Aleppo and Idleb”) which hosted this video was terminated. Please refer to this copy.

[22] I understand that other videos in the collection contain similar references to a religious teaching centre specifically for females. It is questionable whether it would be likely or indeed permissible for a male teacher to be engaged at a girls’ religious school. The BBC’s reports also feature a male headmaster, named by Dr Ahsan as Mohammed Abu Omar. Both men’s attire would seem to be incongruously casual for staff of a “religious college”.

[23] Other elements in the “Free Halab” videos warrant further scrutiny, for example the plausibility of the claim which I understand is made by the medic interviewed here that he was able to listen to the conversation between the pilot of the MIG and his command centre via a walky-talky.

17 responses to “About

  1. Widewater

    I see you are now quoting a “practicing doctor” – yet they remain completely anonymous, without explanation.
    Would you care to explain this anonymity?
    How about a credited recording or video of them making these assertions ? Might that not be more convincing than an anonymous quote ?
    Please address this point.

    • Widewater

      Hi,
      I see there’s no response to my query as yet.

      I’m surprised that, as you are demanding forensic clarity from the BBC, you would not recognise this anonymity as an issue; even if you were only to clearly state the qualifications and experience of said medic, even if for some reason you are not willing to name them.

      Its tempting to throw in the fact that even Harold Shipman was a practicing medic. Its a pretty broad term.
      You should also consider that they are talking about the effects of fire burns, I would presume the reaction to chemical burns could be different, and varied according to the chemical.

      While I wait (hopefully) for a response, I’ll ask you to ponder also this point:
      have you considered just how many people would have had to be sworn to secrecy, and have agreed to partake in such a deceit, for it to work ?
      If you really think about it it would require a very high number.
      All the participants (“actors” as you prefer) ; doctors, nurses, production team, editors, producers etc etc etc. That is one hell of a lot of people to trust the whole reputation of the BBC on. Don’t you think ?? Just one of those would have to break ranks.

      The usual approach to any covert conspiracy, is: the less people that know, the better.
      In that case, this would be a pretty strange way to risk the whole integrity of the BBC. Think about it.

      I also see my original query is “awaiting moderation”, and I suspect may never appear.

      I do think, that if you want your investigation to be taken seriously, it is essential to be open to question and willing to answer points. Presumably you are after “the truth” ?
      I can see no abuse or profanity in my points that should make them unsuitable for posting. If you only want to publish comments in agreement, its no longer an open debate.

      It is well known that if people are determined to reach a certain conclusion, without always keeping open the chance that they are wrong, they can easily make the facts fit and ignore contrary evidence.

      In this particular case, the consequences of you being wrong can be very serious.

      Your real target is the BBC, and believe me that’s not an organisation that I am full of unqualified praise for, by any means.
      But consider what you what you might be achieving – IF YOU ARE WRONG::

      Not only are you dishonouring the terrible suffering of the victims (and by extension, 1000s of other civilian victims) and challenging hugely what integrity the BBC does have.

      You are also campaigning fiercely to discredit an aid charity, run by brave and compassionate people, which has provided essential humanitarian and medical help in Syria, and which at present is struggling to keep open the only “proper” hospital in an area under daily slaughter, serving 500,000 people.
      Whether or not they have empathy with the Syrian revolution or not is not the main point, their main empathy is with the suffering. They go to the areas they go, because that is where help is most needed, and because the Regime controls all official aid, and 90% ends up in government areas. Maybe you think that’s okay.

      A doctor from that hospital returned home recently to find his entire family had been wiped out by a barrel bomb. Having already lost half his birth family in another attack. He was back at work the next day.
      I wonder what he would think of your campaign.
      Would it please you if that hospital closed ?

      It is not a game: make sure that, in your determination to “get” the BBC, you are not playing politics with people’s suffering.
      If one day, you are made to face incontravertible truth that you are wrong, you will have to face yourself in the mirror, and ask if your campaign might have put lives at risk, caused people to not donate to the charity etc. But most of all, you will have to apologise to the victims.
      Don’t let your tunnel vision blind you to the fact you can be wrong. You have managed to make a lot of people believe and spread your conclusions. But if your interest is politics, then you should realise by now that DOESNT automatically make you right.

      I now challenge you to publish and answer my points.
      Lets see if you are really interested in an argued truth, rather than just fuelled by hatred of the BBC.

      And finally – the very morning that Panorama was advertising its update programme, Assad forces “vacuum bombed” a school in Raqqa, on the first day of term.
      Even on its Mid East website page, the BBC made ABSOLUTELY NO MENTION OF THIS. As with many other atrocities. Isn’t this strange behaviour, if as you think, it is a proxy of anti-Assad forces ?
      Here is a video link.
      I would just LOVE it, if you could manage to work out how they faked THIS…

      Yours in expectation.

    • The source who provided the doctor’s quote, and name, requested the anonymity. Quite possibly the doctor herself would be happy to be identified.

  2. Pingback: Dr. Declan Hayes: Hand in Glove

  3. Widewater

    Previous link was wrong

  4. Widewater

    Last try with this video. Don’t know why it wont post.

  5. When you consider that 5 years ago the filthy Brit Intel had already warned the French that they were starting action to topple Dr Assad, according to French ex Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, what would you expect from the filthy Brit mouthpiece..

  6. Roger

    This is about engineering World War 3 so that way we can have a global government/ army as a “solution” so that it “never happens again”. Create the Problem secretly, manipulate the Reaction thru propaganda organs like the BBC so you can get the desired Solution- more power and money. The BBC, totally controlled by the globalists (on record) and one of its mouth pieces, is simply doing its part. It is doing what it is told. Lying, lying, lying.

  7. Eck Marshall

    Surely you dont expect the TRUTH from BBC about Syria ???

    HELL they could not even tell the truth about the Scottish referendum.

  8. My computer says this page cannot be saved when I hit the save button (before choosing what format to save in. Is there any way you can republish this whole thing in a way that it can be saved by us?

  9. Widewater

    The burns victims

    The IEA showed the footage from the Panorama programme to a consultant plastic surgeon in his rooms at a leading London teaching hospital. She asked the doctor if he could talk her through what the images showed, what in his opinion might have caused the injuries and what his prognosis would be from what he saw regarding the severity of the injuries and the likely outcome.

    The doctor remarked on this image of Ahmed Darwish:

    Picture1

    He said the blister on the boy’s right cheek was a first degree burn which would heal without the need for any skin graft. His hands were entirely different. He said it was a classic presentation of a severe burn where the skin detaches itself from dermis beneath and slides off as it dies. He said it would need extensive grafts. The IEA put it to the doctor that there had been an allegation that they weren’t real hands but were prostheses. The doctor said it was the perspective which made them appear larger, and that he saw nothing to suggest that the burns weren’t genuine.

    He then commented on this image (which the complainant had alleged was unconvincing because it appeared to show more skin underneath):

    Picture2

    The doctor considered that the victim would be unlikely to survive, he said the telltale sign was the skin pattern on the boy’s back: the white patches were not new skin but areas of full thickness burn, where the skin had literally been cooked through by the intense heat. He had trained with a doctor who had treated napalm victims in Vietnam. He said the presentation was consistent with the victim having been burnt by a napalm type substance which produced deep burns which kept on burning, the fuel for which was difficult to remove. It explained the random areas of burns on the victims, only affecting where the substance had stuck.

    The doctor was asked to comment on why the victims appeared to be in relatively little pain given the supposed severity of their injuries. He said that the worse (i.e. the deeper) the burn the less it tended to hurt, because the nerves had all died. The most painful burns were often the most superficial. With serious burns such as these a doctor could predict a patient would not survive although the patient might be walking and talking at the time. The doctor had himself seen a woman walk into a burns unit, chat to him about what had caused the burns on her legs, and subsequently die as a direct result of the burns she had received.

    The doctor advised that skin is what keeps the fluid in our bodies and once the skin has been burnt off the fluid leaks out and victims can die within 24 hours, but can nevertheless still function in the early stages.

    The doctor concluded that he was wholly convinced that the footage was genuine. The doctor took the view, from a review of the footage, that most of the severely burnt patients he saw in the Panorama footage would have died due to their injuries even if they had been taken to a leading European burns unit. He considered that the doctors shown in the Panorama had done everything correctly within the context of what was available and he saw nothing that suggested to him that anything was staged or exaggerated.

  10. Widewater

    I think I will take the above over the testimony of an anonymous doctor with 4 months on A&E, Mr Stuart.

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