Interview with the author of this blog, Robert Stuart, by former BBC and ITV journalist Anna Brees, March 2019
Teaser video for crowdfunding campaign to produce a documentary about Saving Syria’s Children, fronted by actor Keith Allen. A rebuttal of criticisms of this campaign made by The Huffington Post is here. See also Matthew Wright Show discusses Saving Syria’s Children.
Presentation: Media on Trial, 19 October 2017, London. This video has been age restricted by YouTube on the grounds that “it may not be appropriate for a general audience” – alternate copy here. An updated version of this presentation expanding on the links between the BBC Panorama team, ISIS and the White Helmets can be viewed here (also age restricted).
Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims ‘like the walking dead’ – Ten O’Clock News, BBC One, 29 August 2013 (03:02 – 03:19). Alleged casualties appear to begin writhing and moaning on cue of central figure. See Tableau of male alleged casualties.
Alleged victim Ahmed Darwish appears to nod in response to instruction before turning to address the camera.
Alleged eye witness Abu Youssef, interviewed in a video uploaded to YouTube less than a week after the alleged attack. Youssef’s words at this point have been translated as “The first bomb hit a residential area, the second one a student centre”. (See also Conflicting accounts of time of “napalm bomb” and The Napalm d’Or?).
Alleged napalm victim appears entirely unscathed – see Woman in black dress (end of article).
Unidentified male appears to be alerting BBC cameraman Darren Conway to an emotive scene – see Saving Syria’s Children: The Director’s Cut?.
Insight: Saving Syria’s Children – The Worst Case Of Fake News?, 15 February 2017
Presentation for Frome Stop War, 1 March 2016.
Date and time of the alleged incident
Panorama team embedded with Islamic State partner group
Panorama team films ISIS vehicle and its occupants
BBC falsely claimed victim “died on his way to hospital in Turkey”
Former BBC employee: Saving Syria’s Children was “stage managed”
The Demotix photographs
Conflicting accounts of first victim and other discrepancies in accounts by Dr Saleyha Ahsan, Dr Rola Hallam and Ian Pannell
Alleged injuries of baby and his father
Plausibility of injuries and demeanour of alleged victims
HOSPEX injury simulation techniques
Unidentified western male filmed at Atareb hospital
Second unidentified European at Atareb Hospital
Woman in black dress
Munitions allegedly used in the attack
FSA commander attests attack did not take place
Identification of participant in hospital footage
Dr Rola Hallam and Hand in Hand for Syria
Atareb: “a basic hospital funded by handouts”
Regular Atareb Hospital staff absent on day of alleged attack
Violations Documentation Center in Syria
Videos on the ‘Free Halab’ blog
Misleading and manipulative editing
Victim who “fought to be allowed into hospital” had already been treated
Senior White Helmets present at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013
Mughira Al Sharif
BBC Worldwide blocks You Tube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’
Former UK ambassador: BBC “exaggerated” and reshot scenes
Substitution of footage – BBC Newsnight 29 August 2014
Apparent breaches of Geneva Convention by Dr Saleyha Ahsan
Original BBC reports
Complaints correspondence with BBC
BBC Reports on Aftermath of Syrian School Attack Were Largely Staged – Radio Sputnik interview
Did The BBC Lie?
Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP
Freedom of Information request
Bias and lack of analysis in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’
Other reports and commentary
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 (from 03:02 – 03:19) 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 moaning in unison.
Asi begins to stagger and lurch; the boy in the black vest suddenly pitches onto his side, briefly looking up again in the same direction as the others before ultimately slumping onto his front; 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 before pulling up a chair.  As the camera pulls back a boy in a yellow ‘Super-9’ t-shirt (Lutfi Arsi) rises from an odd sprawling position, flailing his head and torso and rolling his eyes as a team of medics sweeps in. The medic to the right of screen immediately begins attending to Said Ali’s foot, without examining it, while Asi, apparently distracted from his distress, looms over and gazes at the procedure. Some images from the sequence are reproduced below. 
This scene and other questionable aspects of 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 postscript 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 report by RT – which led to an investigation by Ofcom – and this report by OffGuardian; my opinion on the matter is outlined here). My 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 Hallam’s words. My correspondence with the BBC continued. Some of the main points which arose, or have arisen subsequently, are as follows.
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 occurred “around midday”; the HRW report links to a further report by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria – a regularly cited BBC source -which claims (p4) the attack took place at 2.00pm and directly quotes activist Mustapha Haid as saying he first heard rumours of a “chemical attack” at “3 in the afternoon”. Haid then “immediately” went to Atareb Hospital to film the alleged victims.
‘Saving Syria’s Children’ reporter Ian Pannell stated in BBC Complaints correspondence that the attack happened “at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day”. When questioned about the time of the incident, Pannell’s sole BBC colleague on the programme, cameraman, director and producer Darren Conway, responded “I would say it was around, I don’t know, between three and five, something like that”. (It appears that Conway was giving his assessment of when the alleged victims arrived at Atareb Hospital, where he filmed them, which would put his account at further variance with Pannell’s as Atareb is several miles away from the scene of the alleged attack). Video of Conway’s interview at The Frontline Club, London, in which this apparent contradiction arose remains unpublished. The Frontline’s justification for this change in its usual policy appears unpersuasive.
Another alleged eyewitness claims the attack occurred sometime between 5.30pm and 6.00pm. A contemporary Turkish article (translated here) quotes a Syrian doctor “who came to Turkey together with the wounded” as stating:
“At 6 pm yesterday evening, warplanes fired a missile and then sprayed a phosphorus bomb.”
Fuller details here.
Scrutiny of scenes in Saving Syria’s Children reveal that reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway were embedded with jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham which, according to Human Rights Watch, had three weeks earlier worked alongside Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as one of “the key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executors” of an attack in which at least 190 civilians were killed.
A 2013 Foundation for Defense of Democracies report states that a “leading figure” in Ahrar al-Sham, Abu Khalid al-Suri – real name Mohamed Bahaiah – had been identified by Spanish investigators as “one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers”.
The proximity of Conway and Panorama reporter Ian Pannell to the ISIS vehicle and its armed occupants at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 contrasts markedly with an ostensibly tense scene shot earlier the same day in which the two-man BBC team passes through an ISIS checkpoint in apparent fear for their lives.
In complaints correspondence the BBC claimed that alleged teenage victim Lutfi Arsi “died on his way to hospital in Turkey”. However, in a gallery of images accompanying a contemporary report on the website of Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet, Arsi is pictured arriving in an ambulance at Reyhanli State Hospital, Turkey.
The below testimony is discussed in this interview with former BBC and ITV journalist Anna Brees.
In April 2020 a former BBC employee provided the following statement regarding the 2013 Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children:
As soon as I saw Saving Syria’s Children I knew it was stage managed, far to many red flags shown in the piece throughout. It was obvious to me that the casualties had been dressed up using CASSIM [casualty simulation] CASSIM is used to simulate visible injuries used for Moulage training. It wasn’t even well done and very amateurish, it was over dramatised, the alleged casualties did not show the correct signs/symptoms of individuals, who had been caught up in a chemical attack nor that of individuals suffering from the effects of chemical burns or that of those subjected to the blast/detonation/spread of the alleged detonation of a large munitions.
It also struck me that none of the doctors/medical staff in the report were wearing PPE, which would be standard if there really was a suspected chemical attack.
Although I’d left the BBC by then I spoke with various contacts I had contact with and told them I was appalled at what I’d just seen. I got generic responses, ums and ahs mostly. I was shocked by the lack of accountability and integrity shown by a main stream media organisation.
I also showed the report to medical Professionals including a dermatologist. They all responded similarly that it was ludicrous, burns victims don’t would not behave in the way that was shown, plus the treatment being shown for the management of burns was incorrect, and the doctor shown in the interview would have known this, yet at no time was she directing/advising anyone in the correct procedures. Even within a conflict zone the basics would have been available.
I knew Ian Pannell some years prior. He was an exceptional journalist, a good guy who stated the facts. But the agenda is driven by producers and editors, especially foreign desk editors and department heads. In my experience there is also influence from outside from the civil service.
However it came about, I found it pretty disgraceful. It was evident there was an agenda. Tugging at the heartstrings is one thing, but news gathering should not be stage managed. It’s known that Ian Pannell left the BBC some time afterwards, which is sometimes what happens after a bad story, however it’s unknown as to whether this was the case and may have been a longer term career move.
Another red flag was the emblems for designated terrorist organisations on the vehicles*. I [was] observing ISIS and other group elements in Syria during that time and they were prevalent in that area. So why was it possible for the BBC team to be filming in that location at that exact time, it wasn’t coincidental.
A lot of things do not ring true about that report and there are a lot of questions to be asked of the BBC. But as ever to save face amongst those that digest the news from the media, I’d say they will never raise their hands and admit or acknowledge that the event was stage managed.
* As discussed above, a vehicle in Ian Pannell’s convoy in the programme bore the logo of ISIS-linked jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham. An ambulance filmed at close quarters by the BBC bringing the alleged casualties to Atareb Hospital displayed the ISIS emblem in its rear window.
Fuller details here.
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 (see page 2 of download available at this link).
- Update, 18 November 2015: oddly, the images are currently once more dated 25 August 2013 on the Demotix site – see this dated and timed screengrab.
- Update: as of 22 January 2016 the Demotix images are being hosted on the website of Corbis Images and are once again dated 26 August 2013.
- Update: On 2 May 2016 “the best Corbis imagery” was transferred to the website Getty Images. The images at issue here were not transferred to Getty; however screengrabs from the original Demotix posting (dated 25 August) are here and downloads of the full set are in the appendix at the bottom of this page.
Note: Although I was initially interested in the discrepancy in the dates between the Demotix uploads and the BBC’s narrative, I am now reasonably satisfied that this was likely due to an error on the part of the photographer, Amer Alfaj, when uploading his images to Demotix – I made a test upload to Demotix when it was in operation and this was entirely possible. The interest in the images for me now lies in Ian Pannell’s denial that they featured victims from his report (see section 1 of BBC Audience Services’ response of 18 February 2014, which Pannell authored) when the Director of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit subsequently stated, in a letter of 19 May 2014, “It is my opinion that at least some of the individuals photographed by Mr Alfaj at the Bab al-Hawa hospital were also filmed by the BBC”. Furthermore, one of the alleged victims featured in Pannell’s BBC reports is readily identifiable by his distinctive injury pattern in Alfaj’s Bab al-Hawa photographs (“Victim A” – see here), rendering Pannell’s apparent inability to recognise this individual all the more curious.
Conflicting accounts of first victim and other discrepancies in accounts by Dr Saleyha Ahsan, Dr Rola Hallam and Ian Pannell
See also Dr Saleyha Ahsan: contradictions in accounts of alleged incendiary bomb attack, Ian Pannell: contradictions in accounts of Aleppo school bomb attack and New, inconsistent, “napalm bomb” account goes viral
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 make no mention of an ambulance siren heralding the baby’s arrival (including, most notably, Dr Ahsan’s “quiet day” ABC interview). 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.  
These and a number of further inconsistencies between Dr Ahsan’s accounts of the alleged events of 26 August 2013, and between Dr Ahsan’s accounts and those of others present, have been compiled with full references here. A number of contradictions in accounts given by Ian Pannell are gathered here.
A further complaint (see here and here) regarding apparent breaches of the Geneva Convention by Dr Ahsan in Libya in 2011 has been lodged with the BBC and copied to Amnesty International’s Libya Team.
Update: at the 2017 Women in the World Summit in New York Dr Rola Hallam gave an emotive account of the alleged events of 26 August 2013 which is at variance in several significant respects with the BBC’s screened footage and other prior accounts, including Dr Hallam’s own – see New, inconsistent, “napalm bomb” account goes viral.
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, apparently 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”. 
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 (elsewhere “full-body 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 appear 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%”or “full-body” burns.
A BBC News article by Ian Pannell 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 the infant’s father “also had a burnt face” and here that he “had head burns”. However the 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. 
A GMC registered 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.
Ahmed Darwish appears to await instruction before turning to address the camera
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.”
Craig Murray has more recently commented on his blog: “Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.”
A commenter below the blog post added:
Further sceptical comment by medical professionals, including former UK and US military personnel, plus observations by lay people is collated in this update to my crowd funding appeal. (Scroll down to section titled “Medical opinion stacked against Saving Syria’s Children”) and also reproduced below.
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.
Lutfi Arsi in the hospital courtyard at 32:29 in Saving Syria’s Children
- 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. (See images below) 
- At 36:52 Anas Said Ali speaks, incongruously, in English (“I’m so bad, so bad”) .
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 in footage shot on the day of the attack 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”. This opinion does not explicitly take into account the possible use of sophisticated injury simulation programmes such as HOSPEX, discussed immediately below.
Alleged teacher (note white t-shirt with black marks) swaying and lurching bizarrely from 33:38 to 33:46 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children prior to giving relaxed and cogent interview (see further images below and http://bit.ly/1FcaK3Q).
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:
The company which provided the highly sophisticated injury simulations featured in the Newsnight report is Trauma FX, which proudly claims to be “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.
In addition to providing clients with “Casualty Role Play Actors & Amputee Actors” and “SIMWOUNDS” (“practical, realistic” wound effects), TraumaFX is specialist “in simulating CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear] injuries and conditions”.
The company, which is based in Thirsk, North Yorkshire – just over 20 miles from the Army Medical Services Training Centre (AMSTC) at Strensall, near York, where HOSPEX exercises are conducted – also creates “SIMBODIES” – “life like dead bodies and body parts designed and produced to appear extremely realistic, heavily weighted and ideal for use in CSI, disaster victim identification and mortuary training exercises.”
Some of the highly realistic “SIMBODIES” and body parts created by TraumaFX
Further examples of Trauma FX’s impressive work can be viewed on the company’s Facebook page.
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 ducks out of sight as he realises that he is in shot with the BBC’s interview with Dr Rola Hallam. Elsewhere in the BBC’s footage he can be seen communicating by walky-talky.
The presence of this person is perplexing, as at no point in its correspondence 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, 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 angrily here, speculating that the man may be a BBC News safety advisor.
Update: Further scrutiny of footage from the events of 26 August 2013 has revealed several other figures holding or using walkie-talkies – see Who are these men?.
Update: The male in the grey shirt and spectacles seems to be the same person who can be seen accompanying Ian Pannell at 42 seconds in this earlier BBC News report (see screencap below). This would appear to endorse Tom Giles’ speculation that the man may be a BBC News safety adviser however it may not explain why he would be carrying a camera nor his concern, during an alleged mass casualty situation, to avoid interrupting a filmed interview with Dr Rola Hallam.
Update April 2020: The man discussed above has been identified by a former BBC employee as a member of the BBC High Risk Team. I am withholding his name on this blog.
At 21 seconds in the below You Tube video (higher quality source copy here) shot outside Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 a white male can be glimpsed snatching a piece of patterned fabric from the back of a pickup truck. Moments later a hand – perhaps belonging to the same man – is seen flicking a dark sheet over an unseen object in the truck.
The man appears to be European, is wearing a microphone headset and seems to be in military garb:
The presence of a militarily attired westerner at the Aleppo hospital to which alleged victims of the alleged Urm al-Kubra napalm attack were transported would appear highly incongruous.
From 2:38 to 2:44 in Ian Pannell and Darren Conway’s BBC Ten O’Clock News report of 29 August 2013 a group of four people, including a woman in a black dress with a distinctive gold flower pattern, rushes through Atareb Hospital gate, interrupting an interview with Dr Rola Hallam.
Darren Conway’s footage featuring a woman in a distinctive black dress, also shown in Saving Syria’s Children (36 minutes).
A longer version of the sequence appears at 36 minutes in Saving Syria’s Children, immediately followed by a brief “flashback” shot of the woman’s arrival at Atareb Hospital, in which she is seen being stretchered on a mattress out of the back of an ambulance by five men, apparently screaming in agony.
In marked contrast to her apparent condition upon arrival , video footage shot at Urm al-Kubra on the day of the alleged incendiary attack shows the woman walking calmly and unaided towards the ambulance (Video A, 7 – 12s). After presumably entering via the two steps at the vehicle’s side entrance, she then appears seated upright (Video B, 7 – 11s) as she embarks upon the short (approximately 13 km) journey to Atareb Hospital, where she was filmed by Conway.
The woman in the black and gold dress, who was presented as an incendiary bomb victim in the BBC News report of 29 August 2013, walks towards ambulance calmly and unaided, prior to taking an upright seat.
Enlargements from the same sequence
There can be no doubt that Video A and Video B both relate to the same alleged events reported by the BBC and that the woman entering the ambulance in Video A is the same person who is carried out of it in the BBC’s footage.
Video A was posted on 26 August 2013, the day of the alleged attack; Video B was posted two days later. Scrutiny of the ambulance in Videos A and B makes it clear that it is the same one filmed by Conway. Moreover, the two military figures who accompany the woman into the ambulance are clearly identifiable as being present in the BBC’s footage  :
(Left) Man in combat fatigues with rolled up sleeves and trousers accompanies woman in black dress into ambulance at 9s in Video A; (Right) Same man, identifiable by camouflage pattern on clothing, helps to carry the woman out of the ambulance upon her arrival at Atareb Hospital at 36:39 in Saving Syria’s Children.
(Left) Man in combat fatigues, cap, dark body vest and carrying weapon boards ambulance at 8s in Video B and at 40s in Video A; (Right) Same man assists in carrying woman from ambulance at 36:43 in Saving Syria’s Children.
Both men board the ambulance on its right side; both are initially in the rear with the woman in the black dress before the man with rolled up sleeves and trousers climbs out and gets into the front passenger seat (Video A, 36s). Upon arrival at Atareb Hospital both men exit the ambulance on its right hand side and both assist in carrying the woman in the black dress out through the tailgate.
Video B, 11s
Saving Syria’s Children 36:34
See also “Napalm bomb” school located
Reports of the munition type used in the alleged attack vary considerably.
In his original BBC News report of 29 August 2013 Ian Pannell stated:
We don’t know for sure what was in the bomb, but the injuries and debris suggests something like napalm or thermite.
Dr Saleyha Ahsan, one of the British medics featured in Saving Syria’s Children, has written:
Peter Bouckaert, of Human Rights Watch, believes the weapon was a ZAB incendiary device. It contains a jellied fuel which “adheres to the skin increasing the level of injury … it’s a nasty weapon.”
In a report for CNN Dr Ahsan states:
“The descriptions were “fire falling like rain, just falling like rain”, erm and and er “plumes of flames” and then “balls of flames falling out of the sky”
The Daily Mail cites a report in which Mary Wareham of the arms division of Human Rights Watch indicates:
the bomb weighed 1,100lbs and contained a fuel similar to napalm.
In this video Wareham elaborates:
a fixed wing jet aircraft dropped a 500kg unitary bomb containing some kind of jellied fuel-like substance similar to napalm.
A tweet put out by Reuters the day after the alleged incident refers to “phosphorus bombs and napalm”:
“At 6 pm yesterday evening, warplanes fired a missile and then sprayed a phosphorus bomb.”
Below are a number of images from the two alleged incendiary attack locations, taken from several videos and still images. Some readers may be better placed than I to assess which, if any, of the above claims are consistent with the munitions remnants pictured.
Note that in Video D – uploaded to You Tube a day after the alleged incendiary attack – the munition casing is handled freely (see first gallery below) and that in Video A – apparently shot on the day of the attack itself – one of those present has no qualms about standing on a munition casing in his bare feet (see second gallery below).
Images of munition remnants at bombed building, Video A.
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 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:
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.
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 to conduct their own investigation.
A July 2014 telephone conversation between two members of the Syrian investigative team, transcribed here, provides an account from a local resident who also affirms that the alleged napalm bomb attack did not occur.
This information was submitted to the BBC on 2 September 2014 and 13 October 2014. Fuller details here. See also Have journos (and filmmakers) passed up the Beatles of all scoops?.
Update May 2020: I have emailed the woman directly to ask her about her involvement in the events of 26 August 2013.
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 Atareb hospital on 26 August 2013, the day of the alleged attack. The woman did not respond to my requests for clarification. The woman’s Facebook page reveals that in 2012 she travelled between Syria and the Netherlands, where she resides. There is a gap in her Facebook posts in the weeks around 26 August 2013.
Some weeks after she had contacted me I came across this You Tube video shot 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.
Update, April 2016: Further images of the woman who contacted me are currently viewable on the Facebook account of one of her relatives. Two are reproduced below. The first is dated 10 January 2015 and tagged “in Netherlands”. The second is dated 22 October 2014 but appears to have been taken some years earlier. I have cropped the woman’s relative out of both images. Compare with the woman from the You Tube video.
Update, July 2018: Further images of the woman from Facebook, such as the one on the left below, bear a striking resemblance to the woman present at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013.
Dr Rola Hallam, who features 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 passionately advocates for the Syrian National Council’s recognition as the “sole 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.
The UK Charity Commission’s website states that Hand in Hand for Syria exists for “the advancement of health or saving lives”. 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. Mr Sahloul’s bloodthirsty sentiments were “liked” on Facebook by Hand in Hand’s other co-founder, Fadi Al-Dairi. Mr Sahloul and Mr Al-Dairi are listed as Trustees of Hand in Hand for Syria on the Charity Commission website. The image was removed shortly after it was commented on publicly.
A nurse seen treating the alleged incendiary bomb victims alongside Drs Rola Hallam and Saleyha Ahsan in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was subsequently photographed at Atareb Hospital wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic and ostensibly tending to the injuries of a child “rebel” combatant. The web article which hosts the photograph overtly celebrates the fifteen year old’s supposed battle prowess. (See footnote , as well as here and here for further details).
In September 2015 I formally raised a number of the above concerns with the Charity Commission. The Commission found that Hand in Hand’s use of the Syrian opposition flag as its logo and its co-founder Faddy Sahloul’s posting on Facebook of “a political statement that potentially promoted violence against the Assad regime” were “historical issues that have since been addressed by the trustees”. The images of the Hand in Hand nurse apparently treating a child fighter were not considered “sufficient verifiable evidence to substantiate… …concerns” that Hand in Hand for Syria “is celebrating or supporting violence”.
In March 2016 I submitted a further complaint including the below images of Atareb Hospital employee Iessa Obied (brother of Atareb Hospital’s Medical Director Abdulrahman Obied) posing with a shocking array of armaments; in some of the images Obied can be seen wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic. The Commission found that these images “do not raise sufficient regulatory concern“. Other images on social media show Obied associating with an employee of another Syrian hospital (Bab al-Hawa) who was photographed attending the preparation and launching of a “Hell cannon” improvised mortar.
In the course of my correspondence with the BBC regarding ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, the Director of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit, Colin Tregear, stated (my italics):
“I think it was implicit that the charity was working in an area of Syria controlled by the opposition and would therefore be likely to share its aims and objectives (as opposed to supporting the Syrian government).” BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Provisional Finding, 23 April 2014 (see p10 of download).
Further information and correspondence with Charity Commission re: Hand in Hand for Syria:
- UK charity which shares Syrian opposition “aims and objectives” benefits from Alan Kurdi tragedy – 9 September 2015
- Concerns about Hand in Hand for Syria raised with Charity Commission – 16 September 2015
- Charity Commission: opposition logo and murderous slogan are “historical issues” for Syria charity – 7 February 2016
- Hand in Hand for Syria hospital staff member poses with cornucopia of armaments – 23 March 2016
- Ex-Reuters freelancer, published in Mail and Telegraph, pictured with “Hell cannon” – 16 May 2016
- Charity Commission: images of Hand in Hand for Syria worker brandishing weapons “do not raise sufficient regulatory concern” – 11 June 2016
- Regulator rejects complaint about ‘charity worker’ who allegedly posed with weapons (report by UK voluntary sector journal Third Sector) – 14 June 2016
- Hand in Hand for Syria attempts to distance itself from worker who posed with weapons – 18 July 2016
Further questions about the financial affairs and political affiliations of Hand in Hand for Syria have been raised in this dossier compiled by peace activist Dr Declan Hayes. Two You Tube videos: Inside the BBC’s Uprising: Hand in Hand for Propaganda and WANTED: Evidence Hand in Hand for Syria is Really in the Business of Saving Lives also pose questions about Hand in Hand for Syria’s ethics and motivations.
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 attack 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.” 
Update: in this June 2014 article a Dr. Atassi, “a British physician who worked in the hospital” states: “A year ago, the project rapidly expanded after a major European NGO agreed to fund it, at around $150,000 a month.”
Update: In his 2016 book Today We Drop Bombs, Tomorrow We Build Bridges: How Foreign Aid became a Casualty of War, Peter Gill reveals: “The Hand in Hand hospital at Atareb was funded by the the British medical charity Merlin but faced a crisis when Merlin became part of – was essentially taken over by – Save the Children in 2014. Save the Children gave Hand in Hand notice it would not be extending its support for the hospital beyond the middle of the year. ‘It was a painful decision to make,’ one of their managers told me, ‘because of course we’d all seen the Panorama documentary.'” (See extended extract on Google Books here).
Update: This web page (archived here) gives information about Atareb Hospital’s connections with Hand in Hand for Syria and Orient for Human Relief. This Twitter thread states that “Orient Charity was founded by a Syrian businessman Ghassan Aboud living in UAE” who “also owns Orient News, which is pro-regime change and has no problem with operating in Al Qaeda held Idlib.”
A post previously available on Atareb Hospital’s Facebook page (the account is now deleted) shows that on the day of the alleged attack, several members of the hospital’s staff, including its “medical director” Abdulrahman Obied, were “attending a battle first aid training course in Antakia, Turkey”.* This circumstance may indicate that at least some of the medics filmed by the BBC Panorama team at Atareb on 26 August 2013 were not regular hospital staff members.
*A detailed discussion demonstrating this can be found at footnote 6 in this article.
A report by the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (a regularly cited BBC source) 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”.
Update July 2018: Further references to some of the alleged victims can be found on the website of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. See search results for Orm Al-Kubra and click through to results for 26 August 2013 and subsequent dates. I will analyse this data in due course.
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. (Update: the Free Halab blog has been marked private, however a mirror site exists here).
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. 
A number of videos from Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 are also compiled here.
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.
In a contemporary BBC World Service report Ian Pannell states (at 3:06) “Fathers and mothers, desperate for help, fought to be allowed into the hospital, cursing their president Bashar al-Assad”.
However the cries and rants heard at this point are those of the alleged father and mother of the woman in the black dress seen at 2:37 in the BBC Ten O’Clock News report of 29 August 2013 (compare audio).
On 23 April 2014 the BBC explained (pp 6 & 7) that in this sequence the woman had already been treated inside the hospital with white burns cream. She then “went back outside” (to be evacuated to a Turkish or border hospital according to Dr Saleyha Ahsan) prior to rushing back through the hospital gate (at 36 minutes in Saving Syria’s Children) with her family to declaim Assad to the BBC camera.
To say that the family was at this point fighting “to be allowed into the hospital” is therefore false. Furthermore, none of the alleged victims in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ are seen fighting “to be allowed into the hospital” – they are carried or walk inside, entirely unimpeded.
In his BBC web article of 30 September 2013 Pannell repeats the claim that “Fathers and mothers” “fought to be allowed into the hospital” but here substitutes the phrase “desperate for help” with “desperate for news”.
A medic in a blue V-neck tunic appears at various points in the BBC’s footage from Atareb Hospital on the day of the alleged attack:
The medic, still wearing the same blue tunic, provides a seven minute interview for the Aleppo News Network the next day , during which he appears to demonstrate barely concealed amusement (from 12:58 to 13.00 and, more markedly, from 17:22 to 17:29 – see sequence below). This seems highly incongruous in someone who had supposedly spent the previous day tending to, according to Dr Ahsan, “up to 40 severely burned people with up to 70 to 80 percent burns, second to third degree”.
An Arabic speaking correspondent has further observed of the medic’s interview:
The so called MD with his neat and clean overhaul [sic] said that they were listening through a walky talky to the pilot conversation with the command center (ask any army veteran to tell you how impossible this was).
Update: the medic has been linked to the White Helmets – see Saving Syria’s Children: the White Helmets connection (Part II) and section immediately below.
Above: medic (third from right) in Atarab White Helmets Facebook post, 20 November 2014.
Scrutiny of sequences in Saving Syria’s Children reveals that senior members of the White Helmets, including the organisation’s Deputy Director Mounir Mustafa, were present at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013. See here and here for full details.
See also The Napalm d’Or?
Mughira Al Sharif is credited as “Fixer/Translator” on ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. He can be glimpsed at various points in the programme, most distinctly at the wheel of the car which takes Ian Pannell through an ISIS checkpoint (at 10:33).
A 2011 article tells how Sharif helped to found the Syrian Revolution Istanbul Committee and reports his aim as being “to help bring down the Syrian regime”.
Sharif’s Instagram site contains numerous images demonstrating his fervent support for armed opposition forces in Syria, including one in which he proudly bears the standard of the Idlib Martyrs Brigade. Several images jocosely celebrate the involvement of children in the conflict, with captions such as “the youngest revolutionary”. 
An image in which Sharif poses with “some friends” in the armed opposition was posted on Monday 26 August 2013, the day of the alleged napalm bomb attack. Notably, Sharif was clearly not so traumatised at witnessing dozens of allegedly injured and dying children and teenagers at Atarab hospital that he felt any qualms about posting another celebratory image of child fighters the next day.
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 one of a version originally shown on Australian television and which included excerpts from the hospital scenes was blocked sometime after 20 July, while part three – 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.
The BBC’s Intellectual Property Department has confirmed (March 2019) that videos containing over 30 seconds of footage from the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children are automatically blocked from YouTube.
However it has not explained why Saving Syria’s Children – referred to as “the Programme” – has been singled out for this special treatment when countless other Panorama editions are available in their entirety on the platform.
BBC IP Legal’s statement came into response to a challenge by former BBC and ITV journalist Anna Brees whose short video about Saving Syria’s Children was removed from YouTube within a few minutes of being uploaded, accompanied by the statement “This video contains content from BBC Studios who has blocked it on copyright grounds”.
BBC IP Legal’s full response to Anna Brees is here.
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 were “exaggerated” and that some parts were “filmed again”:
“…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… …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…”
Further details here.
“Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.”
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 separate complaint to the BBC. (Links to correspondence above).
Update July 2015: the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit has acknowledged that the substitution of footage represents a breach of BBC editorial standards for accuracy. (See BBC website here for published decision).
Update September 2015: an appeal requesting consideration of outstanding concerns about BBC editorial policy and practice has been rejected by the BBC Trust.
Summary note: while the issues at stake in this separate thread of correspondence with the BBC ultimately do not directly bear upon the matter of fabrication in Saving Syria’s Children, some interesting points of BBC policy have been revealed, notably in these statements by BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Director Colin Tregear:
You have been given an explanation as to why the footage was changed; there is no reason why the audience should be made aware that any such editing has taken place; and BBC News is under no obligation to tell you the source of the substituted images which were broadcast. BBC: “no reason why” audience should be told footage was changed; BBC News “under no obligation” to reveal source of substituted images
In response to your comment about the paragraph in my email which you found “astonishing”, I can only say the point I was making was that there is no formal policy which obliges BBC News to inform viewers that footage has been changed or to confirm when asked the source of material used. It is a matter for BBC News to decide whether to provide that information. BBC: “no formal policy which obliges BBC News to inform viewers that footage has been changed or to confirm when asked the source of material used”
Update March 2016: The BBC Trust’s final decision on this complaint is here.
- Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims ‘like the walking dead’ – Ten O’Clock News, BBC One, 29 August 2013 (high quality You Tube copy here)
- Syria crisis: Doctor criticises Miliband over MPs’ vote – Dr Rola Hallam, Newsnight, BBC2, 30 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’.
Correspondence between the BBC and myself (and latterly another complainant) is logged here.
In November 2015 I gave this interview to Sputnik Radio.
In December 2015 I handed copies of this letter to then Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn MP and to Emily Thornberry MP.
In January 2016 I submitted a request to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act for material relating to Saving Syria’s Children. This request was rejected. In appealing the BBC’s decision to the Information Commissioner I stated:
I understand the BBC’s reports to have contravened Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states:
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
I believe that the BBC’s rejection of my request represents an obstruction to the pursuit of a prosecution under the covenant, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.
I BELIEVE THAT THE EVIDENCE WHICH I AND OTHERS HAVE GATHERED CLEARLY DEMONSTRATES THAT THE BBC HAS COMMITTED THE GREATEST BETRAYAL OF AUDIENCE TRUST IMAGINABLE BY A NEWS BROADCASTER – THE FABRICATION OF AN ATROCITY FOR THE PURPOSES OF WAR PROPAGANDA. SUCH AN EGREGIOUS TRANSGRESSION IS QUITE POSSIBLY UNIQUE IN THE HISTORY OF BROADCASTING.
I THEREFORE RESPECTFULLY ASK THE TRIBUNAL TO UPHOLD MY FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST OF 14 JANUARY 2016 AND TO INSTRUCT THE BBC TO RELEASE ALL THE DOCUMENTATION REQUESTED FOR THE SCRUTINY OF MYSELF AND OTHER JOURNALISTS.
AS WELL AS IT BEING VERY STRONGLY IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST FOR THIS MATERIAL TO BE ACCESSIBLE, AS OUTLINED ABOVE ITS RELEASE WOULD FACILITATE MYSELF AND OTHERS IN PURSUING RIGHTS OWED UNDER ARTICLE 20 OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS.
Following a hearing on 24 November 2016 my appeal was dismissed by the Tribunal.
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 was rejected by the BBC as untimely.
Some of the analysis, in some of the earlier reports in particular, has been superceded. I do not endorse every interpretation contained in these reports.
- 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 (relevant excerpt here) NB please consider downloading – copies of this material are frequently removed from YouTube.
- Inside the BBC’s Uprising: Hand in Hand for Propaganda – “Rinnief”, You Tube, 3 April 2014
- WANTED: Evidence Hand in Hand for Syria is Really in the Business of Saving Lives – “Rinnief”, You Tube, 10 April 2014
- BBC Propaganda – Craig Murray, 16 October 2014
- Is the BBCs Ian Pannell complicit in crude anti-Syrian propaganda? – Road to Somewhere Else, 12 September 2015
- In the age of media manipulation how much can we afford to take on trust? – OffGuardian, 22 September 2015
- More puzzles about BBC’s “Saving Syria’s Children” documentary – OffGuardian, 27 October 2015
- ‘BBC Reports on Aftermath of Syrian School Attack Were Largely Staged’ – Sputnik, 5 November 2015
- VIDEO: Robert Stuart’s presentation on BBC’s “Saving Syria’s Children” – OffGuardian, 8 March 2016
- “Moderate Rebels” Use Yellow Phosphorus on Kurds in Aleppo – Craig Murray, 9 March 2016
- Hand in Hand for propaganda? – OffGuardian, 9 August 2016
- How far will they go to propagandise for war? – OffGuardian, 27 August 2016
- BBC Caught Staging FAKE News Chemical Attack To Drag Britain into Syrian War – TruePublica, 4 December 2016
- Pannell Beaters… – Musical Matters…, 15 January 2017
- Insight: Saving Syria’s Children – The Worst Case Of Fake News? – UK Column, 15 February 2017
- Saving Syria’s Children – The Worst Case Of Fake News? – OffGuardian, 19 February 2017
- ‘Lies, meet Truth…’ – Musical Matters…, 5 March 2017
- Is the BBC still lying over Syria footage? – Jonathan Cook, 8 March 2017
- BBC Panorama As Propaganda? Controversy over Saving Syria’s Children – Tim Hayward, 9 March 2017
- Let’s Call Western Media Coverage of Syria By Its Real Name: Propaganda – Michael Howard, Paste, 26 April 2017 (see post on this blog Paste magazine: BBC Panorama Saving Syria’s Children is “a sham”)
- Evidence of fakery in BBC “Saving Syria’s Children” is now undeniable – OffGuardian, 14 June 2017
- Saving Syria’s Children: Was BBC license fee money used to support an Islamist terror group protection-racket? – Road to Somewhere Else, 25 November 2017
- Is BBC Panorama just a useful propaganda tool? – Morning Star opinion, 14 December 2017
- EXCLUSIVE: One Man’s Quest to Expose ‘Absolutely Historic’ BBC Panorama ‘Fakery’ – Sputnik,29 December 2017
- Did BBC team responsible for faked footage of Syrian chemical attack travel under terrorist protection? – OffGuardian, 6 January 2018
- Five Reasons To Be Absolutely Certain That The Establishment Is Lying About Syria – Caitlin Johnstone, 6 February 2018
- The Medium Is (Not) the Message: Political Indoctrination Through Media Literacy Initiatives – Ed Hannan, Insurge Intelligence, 30 March 2018 (brief reference towards end of article)
- Holding Hope Hospital Accountable: How the Western Public Was Led to Aid Islamist Terrorists in Syria – Steven Sahiounie, 6 June 2018
- Doctor Rola Hallam A Humanitarian Only for Those in Terrorist Controlled Areas of Syria – Syria News, 31 July 2018
- Mordsache Skripal und Giftgas-Lügen in Syrien: Die Rolle Großbritanniens seit 2011 (Teil 6) [Murder case Skripal and poison gas lies in Syria: Britain’s role in 2011 (part 6)] – Jürgen Cain Külbel, RT Deutsch, 26 December 2018. (English translation here).
- Gdansk – Craig Murray, 31 December 2018 (Final paragraph: “Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.”)
- Interview: The Matthew Wright Show, talkRADIO – 3 May 2019
- Keith Allen Thinks The BBC May Have Faked ‘Apocalyptic’ Attack In Syria – Huffington Post, 4 May 2019. I have responded here.
- INTERVIEW: Robert Stuart on Exposing BBC Faux ‘Documentary’ on Syria – 21st Century Wire, 25 May 2019
- Robert Stuart vs the BBC: One Man’s Quest to Expose a Fake BBC Video about Syria – Rick Sterling, American Herald Tribune, 28 May 2015
- How The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville Created Fairytales Of Underground Hospitals In Syria – Moon of Alabama, 13 September 2019
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 child combatant at Atareb Hospital. The site names the child as fifteen year old Mujahid Omar and claims he has spent three years in the “revolutionary movement service”. Hand in Hand for Syria’s logo is 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).
 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.
 The group does not approach the ambulance either from the direction of the school or from that of the apartment building – the locations which the BBC claim were attacked – but from an intermediate point on the opposite side of the road. There appears to be no activity taking place in the environs of the school. For more detail on this see “Napalm bomb” school located.
(Top row) Man in combat fatigues, cap, dark body vest and carrying weapon boards ambulance at 8s in Video B; (Bottom row) Unidentified male in combat fatigues and wearing radio headset, discussed above and in this post.
 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”.
 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. The fighter who speaks in the film also appears at 3:25 in this video hosted by this You Tube channel.
Update, September 2016: As noted in this post the fighter has been identified as Yusuf Zou’a, formerly a commander of the Ansar Brigade and military commander of Jaysh al-Mujahideen (Army of Mujahideen), which is allied to the al-Nusra Front. Zou’a was recently killed in Aleppo. See here, here and here.
 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 discussed above that he was able to listen to the conversation between the pilot of the MIG and his command centre via a walky-talky.
 According to a private translation of the reporter/presenter’s introduction to the Aleppo News Network video.
 The Frontline Club states that it’s highly unusual decision not to publish video of an interview with ‘Saving Syria’s Children’” cameraman, director and producer, Darren Conway, in which Conway contradicted his colleague Ian Pannell over the time of the “napalm bomb”, was made in order “to protect those colleagues whose names were mentioned that work in extremely dangerous locations”. As noted here the only individual named in reference to Conway’s then most recent work, in Syria, was “Mughi”, or Mughira Al Sharif, who is both listed in the credits of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and who, as demonstrated above, openly proclaims pro-opposition sentiments on social media and elsewhere.