Original BBC reports
- Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims ‘like the walking dead’ – Ten O’Clock News, BBC One, 29 August 2013
- Syria: Agony of victims of ‘napalm-like’ school bombing – Ten O’Clock News, BBC One, 30 September 2013
- Panorama – Saving Syria’s Children – BBC One, 30 September 2013 (relevant section commences 30:38). BBC Worldwide has blocked all You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. Please download this copy.
Other reports and commentary
Some of the analysis in these reports has been superceded. I do not agree with every interpretation contained in them.
- Fake BBC Video – Craig Murray, 7 October 2013
- The Theatre of War – Craig Murray, 8 October 2013
- Why was a BBC interview in Syria doctored? – Jonathan Cook, 7 October 2013
- Media hypocrisy and why I write – Jonathan Cook, 8 October 2013
- The Role of the BBC in the Syrian Conflict – “Rinnief”, You Tube, 3 November 2013
- The Truthseeker – Media ‘staged’ Syria Chem Attack – RT, 23 March 2014 Please consider downloading – previous copy posted here was removed March 2015
- Inside the BBC’s Uprising: Hand in Hand for Propaganda – “Rinnief”, You Tube, 3 April 2014
- BBC Propaganda – Craig Murray, 16 October 2014
Complaints correspondence with BBC
Detailed correspondence between the BBC and myself (and latterly another complainant) is logged here.
On 29 August 2013, as the UK House of Commons vote on possible military intervention in Syria was underway , 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.  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. 
This and other questionable elements in this brief report prompted my first letter to the BBC on 4 October 2013.
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.  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. 
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 ; 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.
“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.  
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.  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).
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”. 
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).
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.
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. 
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.  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). 
- 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.
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:
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
A 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.
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”.  
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”.
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
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.
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.  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.
Atareb: “a basic hospital funded by handouts”
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”.  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.” 
Regular Atareb Hospital staff absent on day of alleged attack
A 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
A 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 ; 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 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  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”.  This contradicts the BBC’s account in which the majority of student victims are seen to be adolescent males. 
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’
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 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.
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
- First letter of complaint to the BBC 4 October 2013
- BBC response to first letter of complaint 2 December 2013
- Second letter of complaint to BBC 30 January 2014
- BBC response to second letter of complaint 18 February 2014
- Third letter of complaint to the BBC 17 March 2014
- BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Provisional Finding 23 April 2014
- Comments on BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Provisional Finding 7 May 2014
- BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Final Report 19 May 2014
- Request to BBC Trust for review of Editorial Complaints Unit’s report 11 June 2014
- Urgent submission to BBC Editorial Standards Committee 19 June 2014
- BBC Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser’s decision 8 August 2014
- Final appeal to BBC Trust and summary of grounds of appeal 2 September 2014
- Further submission to BBC Trust 14 September 2014
- BBC Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser’s decision 26 September 2014
- Request for review of Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser’s decision 13 October 2014
- Final decision of BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee (annotated) 6 November 2014 (published 20 January 2015)
Latter stages of correspondence between another complainant and the BBC
- A final appeal to BBC Trust re: Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ 29 December 2014
- Rejection of final appeal to BBC Trust re: Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ 8 January 2015 (published 26 February 2015)
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.
 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”.
 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 .
 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”.
 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’).
 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”.
 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.
… 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.
 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”.
 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”.
 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.