OffGuardian post: Saving Syria’s Children – The Worst Case Of Fake News?

The website OffGuardian has posted my recent discussion of Saving Syria’s Children with Mike Robinson and Patrick Henningsen of UK Column.

Saving Syria’s Children – The Worst Case Of Fake News?

Mike Robinson, Patrick Henningsen and campaigner Robert Stuart take a look at what is quite possibly the worst example of mainstream media fake news in history – the BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children.

Update: YouTube has removed the account hosting the video, alternate copy here.

BBC falsely claimed incendiary bomb victim “died on his way to hospital in Turkey”

Update: I have assumed below that all of the alleged victims who were transported from Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 were taken to Reyhanli State Hospital for treatment. However a November 2020 Human Rights Watch report indicates that the alleged victims were taken to more than one hospital in Turkey (see extract below), meaning that it is possible that Lutfi Arsi may have died en route from Reyhanli to another Turkish hospital:

“Ill-equipped to treat the effects of incendiary weapons, the doctors transferred Muhammed and other severely injured students to Turkish hospitals after a few hours.[233] Muhammed recalled riding in an ambulance for about 30 to 45 minutes to the Turkish border and waiting an hour or two at the crossing. An ambulance finally arrived to take Muhammed and the other students to border tents for first aid and then on to hospitals in Turkey. Muhammed was transported to Defne Hospital in Antakya. [234]

Images have emerged which contradict the BBC’s claim that a teenage victim of an alleged 2013 Aleppo incendiary bomb attack died before reaching hospital in Turkey.

In a gallery of 19 images [Update 2020: link unavailable – Wayback Machine capture here] accompanying a contemporary report on the website of Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet alleged victim Lutfi Arsi is pictured arriving in an ambulance at Reyhanli State Hospital, Turkey. [1]

Alleged incendiary bomb victim Lutfi Arsi (left) arriving at Reyhanli State Hospital, Turkey on the evening of Monday 26th August 2013. The BBC has stated that Arsi “died on his way to hospital in Turkey”.

Alleged incendiary bomb victim Lutfi Arsi.

Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s 29 August 2013 report of an alleged Syrian air force attack  on a school playground was broadcast on the BBC Ten o’Clock News as parliament voted on whether to launch military strikes on Damascus. OffGuardian observes:

As it happens the motion for intervention was unexpectedly defeated by a narrow majority. If this had not happened the BBC’s footage would unquestionably have served as very timely and useful PR in support of the coming war against Assad.

Fourteen year old Lutfi Arsi, wearing a yellow ‘Super 9’ t-shirt, featured prominently in Pannell and Conway’s report as one of a group of young male victims which begins writhing and groaning in unison, apparently in response to a cue given by the central figure:

In the related BBC Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children, broadcast a month later on 30 September 2013, Arsi is seen being carried into Atareb Hospital, Aleppo by two men (34:05). However in a chronologically later scene (32:26) he is filmed walking around in the hospital yard without any apparent difficulty.

Lutfi Arsi appears at several points in Saving Syria’s Children.

Notably, while the bandages applied to his legs and the white cream on his chest would appear to suggest Arsi had sustained burns in those areas, the boy’s t-shirt and jeans are largely intact upon his arrival at Atareb Hospital.

That the boy in the Hürriyet images is the same person who featured in the BBC’s broadcasts is clear from a comparison of the pattern of alleged injuries:

Lutfi Arsi at 37:52 in Saving Syria’s Children (left) and arriving at Reyhanli State Hospital, Turkey later the same day.

In a response to a complaint alleging fabrication in Pannell and Conway’s report, on 2 December 2013 BBC Complaints wrote:

The other adolescent who kneels up and looks into the camera wearing a t-shirt that reads “Super-9” is fourteen-year-old Luffi Arsi [sic] who was in the playground when the bomb landed. He died on his way to hospital in Turkey.

Ian Pannell’s narration in Saving Syria’s Children states (42:19):

With appalling injuries and limited medical care some of the teenagers didn’t survive: Mohammed Kenas, 14 years old. He died on the way to hospital in Turkey. Anas Said Ali, 18. He’d been waiting to pick up his little sister from school. And 14 year old Lutfi Arsi, who was in the playground when the bomb landed. Three of the ten children who died.

The BBC’s position would therefore appear to be that both Arsi and Kenas died en route to Turkey. However, it is conceivable that BBC Complaints confused Kenas with Arsi in its response. It is incumbent upon the BBC to provide clarification.

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray recently indicated that sources within the BBC had revealed to him that Pannell and Conway’s report had “exaggerated” the severity of the incident and that some scenes had been “filmed again”.

In assessing the authenticity of the alleged injuries in the report note the link between British doctor and ex-army captain Saleyha Ahsan, who was filmed treating the victims, and HOSPEX (“Hospital Exercises”) training exercises, which are run by the British military and involve highly sophisticated injury simulation. A year after Saving Syria’s Children aired, Dr Ahsan presented a BBC Newsnight segment on HOSPEX “macro-simulation” in which she stated:

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 company which provided the injury simulations featured in the Newsnight report, Trauma FX, promotes itself as the “UK’s leading provider of realistic casualty simulation”. TraumaFX’s website states that it “support(s) various military forces internationally” and “can easily travel international as we are a mobile team and can work in any location”. The company has “over 10 years experience” of supporting UK military training exercises and specialises “in simulating CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear] injuries and conditions”.


[1] A number of  other alleged victims from Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s 29 August 2013 BBC News report, the related Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children and associated third party footage available on you Tube also appear in the Hürriyet images (the Hürriyet images are first left in all instances below):

Ahmed Darwish
Mohammed Asi
Unidentified girl featured in non-BBC footage from Atareb Hospital, Aleppo, 26/8/13 (briefly discussed in the notes here
Unidentified adolescent male featured in the BBC’s reports, notably the “tableau” scene
Ridwan Qambari/Kanbari identified by the BBC as father of alleged female victim Siham Qambari/Kanbari (presumably also pictured on gurney)
Unidentfied adolescent male who appears to be grinning broadly in the BBC’s footage
Unidentified male who appears at various points in Saving Syria’s Children
Possibly the supposed teacher who appears in Saving Syria’s Children, swaying and lurching bizarrely, and in associated non-BBC footage

Former UK ambassador: BBC “exaggerated” and reshot Syria scenes



In a 27 January 2017 talk for the Edinburgh Scottish National Party Club former UK ambassador Craig Murray appears to reveal that contacts within the BBC have admitted to him that events featured in Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s 29 August 2013 BBC News report about an incendiary attack on a Syrian school were “exaggerated” and that some parts were “filmed again”.

The relevant portion of the talk commences at 57:37:

I think there’s been an awful lot on the BBC that’s simply been deliberate propaganda and when they had the debate on bombing Syria – the idea that bombing Syria would help stop people dying – in the run up to that debate you remember we were having almost every BBC news bulletin was full of stories of the Syrian government forces killing civilians, whereas our own bombs never do, apparently, and I think that push for war by the BBC was really very worrying.

There was one particular thing that I blogged about myself [1] and on which other people have done a lot of work where I just happened to notice that on two different news bulletins, a female – an item the BBC had done about a chemical weapons attack on a school in Syria, it was extremely emotive, on two different news bulletins the doctor speaking had said different things, ostensibly the same sentence, ostensibly filmed at exactly the same time, but with different words in it, one said “napalm” and one said “chemical weapons” and her mouth was hidden by her doctor’s mask so you couldn’t actually see her lips move, it was kind of voice over going on and yet it appeared to be a “breaking news” news item of everything happening before you almost live – and dug down into that quite a lot and the footage was used again on a Panorama programme the BBC did [2], which was very much, undoubtedly it was designed to stoke an emotive appeal to British military intervention in Syria, that was the purpose of it and it became plain that there just were a number of things in that video that weren’t right.

Now I have friends in the BBC and in Panorama itself in fact and what I’m told happened, which I think I believe is the truth – I mean there’s some people who believe that the whole thing was, the entire thing was a setup, that the whole bombings and things never happened at all and the whole thing was just set up with actors – I don’t think that is true I think what happened was that they were filming when something had happened, they rather exaggerated how bad the incident was and bits of it they filmed again because they didn’t get it clearly or it wasn’t exactly as they wanted and it seems to me that there’s a line here that’s been crossed because if you’re doing something that’s supposed to be news and you’ve got someone bringing in someone on a stretcher you can’t say “right, sorry, can we have another take?” and get them to bring him in on the stretcher again and that’s what was happening, so no matter how real the incident on which the thing was based what we were seeing was a fictionalised account posing as real life and that, to me the BBC has been crossing that kind of line quite regularly in its coverage in Syria. [3]

In discussion of the same incident in a blog post of 9 March 2016 Mr Murray stated:

Let me pin my colours to the mast and say that I am absolutely convinced that the BBC did deliberately and knowingly fake evidence of chemical attacks.

In a March 2014 email [4] to One World Media, when Ian Pannell and the “Chemical School Attack” report were nominated for awards, Mr Murray wrote:

I am obliged to say, 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.


[1] The relevant posts are:

[2] Saving Syria’s Children, broadcast 30 September 2013 (relevant section commences 30:38). For analysis of the scenes of alleged incendiary bomb victims and wider investigation of the alleged events featured in the programme and in associated BBC reports see the home page of this blog and this presentation on You Tube.

[3] Further concerns about Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s Syria coverage are noted here.

[4] Mr Murray has previously granted me permission to publish his email online. The extract above is now copied on the home page of this blog.