A final appeal to BBC Trust re: Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

Full correspondence with BBC listed here

The following appeal to the BBC Trust Unit was made separately by another complainant on 29 December 2014, with a brief addendum submitted 3 January 2015 (also reproduced below). The complainant, like myself, has been corresponding with the BBC on this matter since October 2013. 

The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee rejected the complainant’s appeal at its January 2015 meeting. The ESC’s decision, which represents the final stage in the BBC complaints process, was published on 26 February 2015. 

I have embedded several links and added two brief notes in green for clarity and further information. 

Leanne Buckle,
Senior Editorial Complaints Advisor,
BBC Trust Unit,
180 Great Portland Street,

29th December 2014

Ref: 2944005

RE: Panorama: Saving Syria’s Children, BBC 1, 30 September 2013

Dear Ms. Buckle,

Thank you for your letter dated 21st November.

I request that the decision not to place my appeal before the board of Trustees be reviewed, for reasons which I will set out below.

1. An eye witness appeared to be reading from a prepared text

I note from your letter that my question regarding the following discrepancies between the responses received by myself and Robert Stuart has not been addressed.

From the response by BBC Audience Services to Mr. Stuart of 2nd December 2013

“He was speaking a language he is unfamiliar with (English) while being interviewed on TV (something he is also unfamiliar with) and attempted to be formal when he started talking, apparently feeling he should “address” the UN and the world about what is happening around him.

However, Mr. Tregear writes in his response to me of 1st September 2014

“The extract used in the programme was just part of a longer interview during which the contributor addressed the camera directly on a number of occasions as well as talking to the reporting asking questions. At this point he was asked what his message was to the UN and he turned and spoke directly to the camera. There is indication that he is reading from a prepared text”.

You then state in your response to me of 21st November 2014

The Adviser noted the IEA’s conclusion, which was formed on the basis of a viewing of the entire interview, including sections which had not been broadcast. The IEA considered that the man who it was alleged had been reading from a cue card in his plea to the UN, was in fact responding to a direct question from the reporter who asked him towards the end of the three minute interview, “What is your message to the outside world?”. She therefore considered it was wholly credible that he would start his answer, “Dear United nations.”

It would appear that the BBC’s story has changed from suggesting that Abdullatif’s addressing of the UN was spontaneous, to stating that he was asked directly what his message was to the UN, to stating that he was in fact asked to address “the outside world”.

Clearly all three explanations cannot be true. Again, I ask that you provide the source of the information in each case and explain this contradiction.

2. “Scenes in the hospital purporting to depict victims were staged”

Firstly I find the IEA’s references to what is presumably extra footage unavailable to the viewer (the “unedited rushes” which “supplied some wider context which helped explain some of the sequences which the complainant had highlighted as problematic”) to be almost entirely meaningless, not least as I have no way of evaluating this apparent footage or information. As I pointed out in my appeal, reference to such material in no way constitutes evidence or indeed transparency, a point which has not been addressed. Please could you also explain specifically which “sequences which the complainant had highlighted as problematic” are being referred to and exactly what is meant by a “wider context” in each case?

Secondly, the IEA’s statements “…rather than directing events itself” and “the cameraman appeared to have no control over what was happening in the scenes he was filming” are a misrepresentation of my argument. I have not suggested that Ian Pannell and Darren Conway were directing or controlling the events, rather that they were presumably complicit in the production of propaganda by dint of filming and presenting as authentic staged sequences arranged by unknown parties presumably connected with the Syrian military opposition.

3. The nature and severity of the injuries of some of the victims seemed to be fabricated

The IEA refers to my inclusion of evidence from “an (unnamed) “practicing medical doctor” – the pointed inclusion of “unnamed” insinuates that this is a significant omission on my part, however I note that the “consultant plastic surgeon” quoted in order to dispute my arguments is not named.

Furthermore, I wish to bring your attention to the ‘HOSPEX’ medical simulation techniques detailed in this Newsnight report of 11th August 2014 by Dr Saleyha Ahsan, one of the doctors featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC5LlHeUjZ4.

In this report, Dr. Ahsan describes how British Army medical services prepare for deployment abroad using HOSPEX (Hospital Exercises), a ’macro simulation’ replicating exactly the conditions medics will face in the field. Dr Ahsan states significantly that “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”.

This clearly casts doubt on the whether the injuries depicted in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ are in fact real, as it appears from Dr. Ahsan’s Newsnight report that employing recognised techniques of faking injuries is entirely possible. Such techniques, whether carried out by British Army medical services personnel or others with HOSPEX or similar training, could quite conceivably have deceived the (unnamed) consultant plastic surgeon quoted by the IEA.

In fact it is noteworthy that there is a direct personal connection between Dr Ahsan and Brigadier Kevin Beaton, the officer “in charge of the whole operation” featured in the Newsnight report, of whom Dr Ahsan states “he was my squadron commander in Bosnia and inspired me to study medicine”.

HOSPEX exercises are held at the Army Medical Services Training Centre (AMSTC) near York http://bja.oxfordjournals.org/content/105/1/9.full#sec-7.

I include the following, strikingly similar images. The first is from this article about the AMSTC in the April 2008 edition of Army Medic http://issuu.com/mckjovic/docs/army_medic/c/slnh7i9, the second is from the BBC Ten O’Clock News of 29th August 2013.



The Army Medic article states that:

The site, which covers over two hectares, contains every department including operating theatres, A+E, ITU, X-ray, Labs and Wards etc, and it can be re-configured in hours to facilitate any medical training exercise, including Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) simulations.

and that:

Realism has to be an essential element of any simulated training package and so the casualties that we put through the facility are as close to the real thing as possible. To that end, we use trained actors and amputees who are actors, who have been dressed and made up by professional casualty simulation (make-up) artists who normally work in the film industry.

Compare also these two images, the first from a 2009 HOSPEX training http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/wRb5zRM_jqO/Frontline+Training+Given+Medics+Before+Their , the second provided to Robert Stuart by the BBC from the rushes of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/bbc-editorial-complaints-unit-provisional-finding-23-april-2014/:


1400114 Appendix 2

It may be of significance that, as is demonstrated by this link https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=607086009313675&set=a.545222288833381.1073741828.539363092752634&type=1, staff from the hospital featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ were “attending a battle first aid training course in Antakia, Turkey” on the date of the alleged napalm bomb attack, possibly indicating that some of the alleged medics filmed for Panorama were not regular staff members there.

4. Burns to the baby’s face appear to have been exaggerated

Firstly, I would like to point out that this section heading again misrepresents my argument; my contention was not that “burns to the baby’s face” were “exaggerated” but rather that in actual fact the baby (and his father) appear to be entirely unscathed.

Secondly, I do not believe that the Adviser’s noting “that in the IEA’s view it was not possible from the rushes to reach any view on the extent of either the baby or the father’s burns, although she was able to discern that the baby was clearly in some distress” in any way constitutes evidence that the baby was injured.

The Adviser refers back to Ian Pannell’s description of the baby’s injuries (“his pink face was blistered and raw”) and to that given by Colin Tregear of the ECU, as follows:

“I have reviewed the rushes and remain of the view that the baby in question had what appeared to be burns on its face. I cannot confirm that the baby definitely suffered burns because I am not an expert in this field. However, if you zoom in on still frames from the programme you will see a round mark on the baby’s forehead and you will see skin which appears to be blistered on its right cheek and towards its ear”

In addition the Adviser now refers to “an objective assessment” by one of the doctors “at the time, as captured on microphone, that the baby had sustained facial burns.”

All three of these accounts stress that the baby’s injuries were restricted to his face, and the ECU’s account makes it clear that the alleged burns were so unapparent that it was necessary to zoom in on still frames in order to discern what still only appeared to be marks and blisters.

This is entirely irreconcilable with the presumably equally “objective assessment” provided “days after the attack” by Dr Rola Hallam, one of the doctors present at the scene, that “The infant was covered in full-body burns, and his dad had head burns”. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/doctor-napalm-attack-syrian-schoolkids-was-apocalyptic-f8C11045350 This article has since been removed from the NBC website, copy viewable here.

Dr Hallam confirmed her contemporary assessment some weeks later when she stated here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-C9PDOSp7g&feature=youtu.be&t=22m15s that the baby had “80% burns”.

Please explain how it can be possible that – in addition to myself and others in the Panorama audience – neither Ian Pannell, Colin Tregear of the ECU nor the doctor at the time whose “objective assessment” the Adviser now cites, were able to discern that the baby was suffering from “full body”, or “80%” burns.

In fact the Adviser now concedes that, “Whilst relative to the more severe presentation of the burns of subsequent arrivals at the hospital, the baby’s burns might appear less serious.”

At 38:17 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ Dr Ahsan states “they’re all 50 and above – he’s 86”. The suggestion is that the patient with 86% burns (Lutfi Arsi) is at the extreme end of the spectrum. Dr Ahsan provided a similar assessment on Australian Radio on 27th November 2013 http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/religionandethicsreport/new-document/5120070: “What I dealt with in Syria were up to 40 very severely burned people with up to 70 to 80 percent burns, second to third degree, and the younger you are the worse chances you have of surviving.”

Dr Ahsan’s two statements clearly indicate that the “subsequent arrivals at the hospital” which the Adviser refers to were in fact for the most part no more severely burned, and in most cases (i.e. those with 50% to 79% burns) were less severely burned than the baby, who according to Dr Hallam, speaking just “days after the attack”, had suffered “full body” burns, confirming her contemporary assessment some weeks later by referring to the infant’s “80% burns”.

Please can you explain why the baby’s burns should “appear less serious” when, as demonstrated by Drs Ahsan and Hallam’s own testimony, he was in fact one of the most seriously burned victims that they allegedly treated that day, and indeed, according to Dr Ahsan’s prognosis “the younger you are the worse chances you have of surviving”, must certainly have died of his injuries?

5. The affiliations between one of the doctors, her charity, and the Syrian Opposition Movement were not scrutinized

Again, this misrepresents my argument, namely that the affiliations of both doctors, their charity and the Syrian opposition were neither scrutinised nor made explicit to the viewer. Furthermore the integrity of both doctors has been called into question by their differing accounts of Dr Hallam’s father’s political involvement.

Secondly, according to the Adviser, sections of commentary from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ “helped signpost for the audience Dr Rola Hallam’s personal interest in the conflict (beyond her medical role)”. The quotes provided by the Adviser do not bear out this claim, and I therefore believe that the audience was indeed misled:

  • “Rola’s family is from Syria and she lived here as a child” – this neutral statement gives no indication of Dr Hallam’s allegiances. It could be said equally of someone who supports the Syrian government and someone who supports the opposition.
  • “By travelling with the doctors I’m hoping to see the humanitarian crisis through their eyes – but we can only film their work in rebel held areas” – again this is not an explicit statement that Drs Hallam, Ahsan, or those filmed working at the Hand in Hand hospital are opposition supporters, much less that Hand in Hand for Syria itself is firmly allied with the militarised Syrian opposition.
  • “Dr Hallam refers to Syria in the possessive” – as might someone on either side of the political divide.
  • “..the last couple of years the focus has been so much on trauma and war injuries that actually everything else has gotten forgotten. And now, we found ourselves like two and a half years down the road, our whole healthcare system has been destroyed – the “we” and “our” seem most naturally to refer to the Syrian nation state (especially “our whole healthcare system”) and so if anything would suggest loyalty to the Assad government. The regretful reference to the trauma and suffering of the last couple of years does not indicate any partisanship.

The Adviser states:

“The fact that the founder of the charity had pledged that President Assad should be made to account for his actions and that the charity was founded by members of the Syrian diaspora, did not in the Adviser’s view provide any information that the charity was “indisputably allied” to the militarised opposition” as the complainant had alleged.”

In fact, the words on the Facebook Banner of Hand in Hand for Syria’s co-founder Faddy Sahloul (see below)


– go far beyond pledging that “President Assad should be made to account for his actions”. They are shockingly belligerent and bloodthirsty and express a disdain for human life utterly divergent from what one would expect of a humanitarian charity and moreover are in stark contrast with Hand in Hand for Syria’s Charity Commission classification (http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityFramework.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=1145862&SubsidiaryNumber=0) as an organisation concerned with “the advancement of health or saving of lives”.

The sentiments expressed by Mr Sahloul are redolent of the pronouncements of extremists such as Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric with close links to the Muslim Brotherhood who, as noted by Susan Dirgham in her complaint to the BBC (http://australiansforreconciliationinsyria.org/complaint-to-the-bbc-regarding-panoramas-saving-syrias-children/) regarding ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, stated on Al-Jazeera in 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e-J2977xB4:

“Those who are working with the authority (regime), we must fight them all, whether they are members of the military, civilians, (Islamic) scholars or ignorants”.

I note from the Charity Commission website: http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithoutPartB.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=1145862&SubsidiaryNumber=0 that Hand in Hand for Syria has yet to submit its annual return and that its accounts are overdue. Rather than, in effect, promoting this organisation through ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, the BBC has a duty to launch an investigation into its activities, political affiliations and financial affairs. The research of Dr. Declan Hayes should serve as the starting point for such an investigation. http://www.taigs.com/Hand-in_Glove.pdf

I also request that the following points be taken into account:

1. Grinning “victim”

The image below from BBC One Ten O’Clock News, 29th August 2013, quite clearly shows one of the alleged victims of the “napalm-type substance” (the boy in the black vest to the right of the picture) looking directly at the camera and grinning broadly.


crop6crop6 crop6https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/crop6.png

The incongruity of this image is stark and speaks for itself.

Please compare the boy’s demeanour with that of Kim Phuc and other children in the image below. Kim Phuc is the napalm bombing survivor known from this famous Vietnam War photograph who has said “napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napalm)


The same boy in the black vest appears at 31:56 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, moments after climbing down from the truck, 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 (please see https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/boy-in-black-vest/)

As Mr. Stuart correctly notes in his blog:

“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”.

I ask that you address this evidence. As an absolute minimum this will involve presenting the frames in question from the original broadcast, which will of necessity be clearer still than those which I provide here, to the Trustees.

2. Conflicting accounts of time of “napalm bomb”

As documented on Robert Stuart’s blog: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/conflicting-accounts-of-time-of-napalm-bomb/, accounts of the time of the alleged attack conflict to a great degree, spanning a range of six hours from “around midday” up to 6pm.

Ian Pannell has stated categorically that “The attack [on the school in Urm al-Kubra] happened on the 26th of August at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day”.

However Human Rights Watch reported in its November 2013 Memorandum to Convention on Conventional Weapons Delegates ‘Syria’s Use of Incendiary Weapons’ that the attack took place “around midday”. http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/Arms_SyriaIncendiary_Nov13_Final_0.pdf

You state in your letter of 21st November 2014, in relation to another investigation into the alleged napalm bomb, that the IEA has “interviewed and corresponded with a representative from Human Rights Watch”, presumably indicating that you consider this organisation to be a reputable and reliable source.

Another most startling contradiction appears to be between Ian Pannell and Darren Conway themselves. When questioned on 15th October 2014, Darren Conway clearly suggested that the alleged victims of the attack began to arrive at Atareb Hospital “between 3 and 5”. The discrepancy between Conway’s account and that of his colleague Ian Pannell is all the greater when one considers that Urm al-Kubra is roughly six miles away from Atareb. How could the victims of an attack which took place at 5.30pm (according to Ian Pannell) begin arriving at a hospital approximately six miles away “between 3 and 5”?

Mr Stuart notes other contradictions relating to the time of the alleged incident on his blog. Please address the matter of these widely conflicting accounts. An obvious starting point would be to consult the metadata of Darren Conway’s footage of the day.

3. Identification of participant in “napalm bomb” footage

From evidence provided here by Robert Stuart: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/identification-of-possible-participant-in-the-napalm-bomb-event/, I note that he was contacted in June of this year by a woman asking him to remove an image from ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ from a Facebook post of his, as she apparently believed she was featured in it. It would appear from the images below that this same woman also appears in this video of the alleged “napalm bomb attack” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-sBqj_2pRo&feature=youtu.be&t=20m33s (the first two images are from the Facebook account of the woman who contacted Mr Stuart, the third from the afore-mentioned video).

Picture105705 Picture12

As Mr. Stuart asks, “Why would a resident of the Netherlands apparently become a victim of an air strike on Urm Al-Kubra, Aleppo?”. An entirely reasonable conclusion, especially given the weight of other documented evidence, would be that she is an actress or volunteer playing the role of a “napalm bomb” victim. This again casts grave doubts over the entirety of the programme.

I understand that Mr Stuart’s offer to provide the BBC with the identity of this vital witness has been rejected. Please can you explain this decision, as I believe the BBC’s duty to investigate this matter is clear.

4. FSA commander attests “napalm bombing” did not occur

Please also address the crucial evidence provided here by Robert Stuart: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/request-for-review-of-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-of-26-september-2014/, which details the declaration of a former commander of the Al-Tawhid Brigade, a substantial faction in the Free Syrian Army:

“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”.

Mr Stuart states: “The commander is willing to provide a full statement to the BBC providing that his identity will be protected. He is also willing to testify publicly under appropriate international protections”. I believe that both of these offers of information from a crucial witness have once again been rejected by the BBC. Please can you explain why this should be so.

5. Mughira Al Sharif, Fixer/Translator of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’


Mughira Al Sharif (driving) as he appears in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

As noted by Susan Dirgham in her letter to the BBC of 2nd July 2014: http://australiansforreconciliationinsyria.org/complaint-to-the-bbc-regarding-panoramas-saving-syrias-children/, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ Fixer/Translator Al Mughira Al Sharif is a fervent supporter of the armed opposition in Syria, whose reported aim is to “help bring down the Syrian regime”: http://www.rferl.mobi/a/syrian_opposition_abroad_still_fears_regime/24431450.html

Ms. Dirgham writes:

“As a supporter of the militarized opposition, Mr Al Sharif may be in a better position to guarantee the safety of Ian Pannell and Darren Conway; however, his loyalties as a BBC employer [sic] seriously breach Section 15 of the Editorial Guidelines related to conflict of interest. His pivotal role in the making of “Saving Syria’s Children” would jeopardise any likelihood that the report can be an impartial and accurate view of events in Syria.

As further outlined in Section 15, ‘there must be no doubt over the integrity and objectivity of the editorial team’. However, there is serious doubt raised over the objectivity of this report’s editorial team when it not only denies viewers full-disclosure of the relevant credentials of significant contributors and the BBC fixer/interpreter, but also presents the war in Syria solely through the eyes of contributors who support the militarized opposition and are possibly closely linked with factions of them”.

I support Ms Dirgham’s view that Mr Al Sharif’s involvement in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ breaches BBC Editorial Guidelines.

Further abundant and deeply shocking evidence of the grossly inappropriate nature of Mr Al Sharif’s participation in the programme can be found on his Instagram site http://instagram.com/mughira1503/, which contains images of Mr Al Sharif posing with armed opposition fighters, including one in which he proudly bears the standard of the Idlib Martyrs Brigade, gloating images of weaponry with captions such as “the oldest friends of the opposition” and, most appalling of all, images explicitly celebrating the armed involvement of children in the conflict in Syria with captions like “the youngest revolutionary” and “the formation of the special battalion”. Other of Mr Sharif’s images depict the political exploitation of infants.

The inclusion of someone with Mr Al Sharif’s fanatical allegiances and repellent sensibilities in the production of a programme with the title ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is, to say the very least, grotesquely ironic.

As many of the pertinent images on Al Sharif’s Instagram site pre-date the making of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ it cannot be argued that his bloodlust is a subsequent development.

The sixth image below, in which Mr Sharif happily poses with “some friends” in the armed opposition, was posted on Monday 26th August 2013, the day of the alleged napalm bomb attack. It is very striking indeed that Mr Al Sharif was not so traumatised at witnessing dozens of allegedly injured and dying children and teenagers at Atarab hospital that he felt any qualms about posting one of his celebratory images of child fighters the very next day, Tuesday 27 August 2013 (second image below).

Picture14http://instagram.com/p/tk5ZP4GVwZ/ 30 September 2014

Picture15http://instagram.com/p/dhg4o4GV5a/ 27 August 2013 (please see proof of date below)


Picture17http://instagram.com/p/Zhk-5lmV-7/ 20 May 2013

Picture18http://instagram.com/p/P7mz8fGV06/ 23 September 2012

Picture19http://instagram.com/p/ORXKcOmVxB/ 13 August 2012

Picture20http://instagram.com/p/deU3M3GV3H/ 26 August 2013 (please see proof of date below)


Picture22http://instagram.com/p/nObpuemV7t/ 25 April 2014

Picture23http://instagram.com/p/s5CqnCmVwE/ 13 September 2014 “The oldest friends of the opposition”

Picture24http://instagram.com/p/skzb1KGVyf/ 5 September 2014

Picture25http://instagram.com/p/siVrWUmV8L/ 4 September 2014

Picture26http://instagram.com/p/ZV4rfSGV4n/ 15 May 2013

Picture27http://instagram.com/p/spsX68GVx9/ 7 September 2014

Picture28http://instagram.com/p/Oy5vKuGVwJ/ 26 August 2012

Picture29http://instagram.com/p/esHwMuGVwn/ 25 September 2013

Picture30http://instagram.com/p/Pl0cS-GV-6/ 15 September 2012 “Wedding dear friend commander Abu Hassan Istanbul # # # Syria Freedom Follow”

Picture31http://instagram.com/p/h6U9k_mV4o/ 14 December 2013 “In Rihaniyya with Abu Omar ‘s oldest and one of the dearest friends of the revolution. # reyhanlı”

Picture32http://instagram.com/p/nQwV2gmV5N/ 26 April 2014

Picture33http://instagram.com/p/OQ8LjFmV1Y/ 13 August 2012

Picture34http://instagram.com/p/iwoplqGVyK/ 4 January 2014

Picture35http://instagram.com/p/OeBXrtGV6k/ 18 August 2012

6. Dr Saleyha Ahsan

Please consider whether the participation of Dr Saleyha Ahsan in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ breaches BBC Editorial Guidelines in relation to “integrity and objectivity” in the light of the following images, taken in Libya in 2011, presently viewable on one of Dr Ahsan’s Facebook accounts: https://www.facebook.com/saleyha.ahsan.5

In the first two images below, the male at the far right in the grey top is clearly an adolescent. The third image features an even smaller child surrounded by men brandishing automatic weapons. Unsurprisingly, this child does not appear comfortable. In all three images, Dr Ahsan’s pleasure is apparent.

The involvement of a person so evidently delighted to countenance the presence of children among armed groups in a programme supposedly concerned with ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ can only be described as sickeningly ironic.

The fourth and fifth images below, presumably taken by Dr Ahsan herself, would clearly seem to feature a prisoner and as such may contravene provisions of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions which, respectively, protect prisoners of war against “insults and public curiosity” and stipulate that those who “in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in the case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a party to the conflict or occupying power of which they are not nationals” are entitled “in all circumstances, to respect for their persons” and to be protected from violence, threats, insults and public curiosity.

Note that:

The US Government used this to justify its decision in 2004 not to allow photographs to be published of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The detainees, it said, were either prisoners of war or protected persons under the Fourth Convention. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1547121/Parading-prisoners-broke-international-law.html

The remainder of the images, just a small selection of many similar pictures currently available on Dr Ahsan’s Facebook page, demonstrate the doctor’s clear enthusiasm for armed insurgency.












See addendum below for more on this point

7. Identity of western male at Atareb Hospital

Please could you confirm the identity of the man in the grey shirt and spectacles who appears at 2:06 minutes in this BBC report by Ian Pannell from 30th September 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-24288698 (left of picture in the still below). Presumably this man is connected with the BBC team; he is Western in appearance, appears to be holding a camera, and shows considerable concern that Dr Hallam’s words should be recorded without interruption. I had previously understood that Ian Pannell and Darren Conway were the only Panorama staff present at Atareb on 26th August 2013.


8. BBC Worldwide blocking Youtube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

As documented by Robert Stuart here: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/ since July 2014 BBC Worldwide has blocked “on copyright grounds” at least four full-length copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ which had been posted on You Tube.

Although BBC Worldwide has refuted that it is “specifically blocking this Panorama and not others” https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/editions-of-panorama-on-you-tube-2nd-august-2014/, this is itself refuted by the fact that on 28th August 2014, almost a month after BBC Worldwide had said its “priority is to protect the newest episodes and work backwards” (email to Mr Stuart, 1st August 2014) and offered him its thanks “for highlighting those episodes of Panorama that are still live on YouTube”, further stating “we will look into removing these as soon as possible” (email to Mr Stuart, 4th August 2014), at least 23 more recent editions of Panorama than ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ remained freely available on You Tube. (See here: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/recent-editions-of-panorama-on-you-tube-28th-august-2014-screengrabs/).

Furthermore, as of 24th December 2014, of the 25 editions of Panorama broadcast subsequent to ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ which as Mr Stuart demonstrated (https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/editions-of-panorama-on-you-tube-2nd-august-2014/) were available on Youtube on 2nd August 2014 (i.e. those from ‘Malala: Shot for Going to School’, broadcast 7th October 2013 to ‘Bedlam Behind Bars’, broadcast 6th July 2014), 18 still remain freely available (see screengrabs here http://wp.me/P4gebB-xi). Please note that I have not checked to see whether any of the seven blocked or removed editions have subsequently been posted by other Youtube accounts. Certainly a considerable number of more recent editions of Panorama than ‘Bedlam Behind Bars’ are presently available on Youtube (see https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bbc+panorama+2014).

As Mr Stuart notes on the home page of his blog (https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/), it is also highly telling that one part of an Australian programme centring on ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ which featured footage from the Panorama programme (specifically the Atareb Hospital scenes) has been blocked on Youtube by BBC Worldwide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2o0POAn_G4) while another part, which features no scenes from the programme, remains available (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag-w-f3BKWA).

It is therefore irrefutable that ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ has been targeted for blocking by BBC Worldwide. Please could you provide a full explanation for this.

9. Videos on the ‘Free Halab’ blog

The opposition fighter speaking in this film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sp_fl0ya2Zk, 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”. You Tube channel subsequently deleted – copy here. This contradicts the BBC’s account in which the majority of student victims are seen to be adolescent males. Robert Stuart has stated that he understands that other videos on the Free Halab blog https://freehalab.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/children-burned-alive-in-napalm-playground-massacre/ contain similar references to the scene of the alleged attack as an institution exclusively for females, however the BBC has ignored his request to translate the videos in order to either verify or discount this. Please explain this decision.

10. Further evidence that two separate alleged victims exchanged clothes

Mr Stuart has provided evidence that two women (one older, one younger) who were filmed separately at Atareb Hospital on 26th August 2013 are seen to be wearing an identical dress and headscarf. (See http://bit.ly/16GapbZ). The highly distinctive design of the clothing can leave little doubt that it is the same in both instances.

The older woman (first image below) appears in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ at around 36 minutes, firstly at the hospital gate with her supposed father (who in fact appears to be of similar age to his “daughter”) and then moments later, in a chronologically earlier sequence, being stretchered into the hospital. The younger woman (second image below) appears in this Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRuiJyIts-w shot inside Atareb Hospital on the same day but some time later, as can readily be judged from the darkness outside the window.

In a letter to Mr Stuart of 8th August 2014 http://bit.ly/1pn7FpK BBC Senior Editorial Strategy Adviser Natalie Rose cites the opinion of the IEA that the two women are “clearly the same individual”. (p17)

In refutation of this, Mr Stuart has pointed out that the younger woman’s words, which are partly translated in this Al Jazeera report https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb4XvVu7g_8&feature=youtu.be&t=15s (“…all I saw was people on fire, I was on fire, my friends were on fire”) quite clearly denote that she is intended to represent a student at the school that was allegedly bombed. In a fuller translation provided by Mr Stuart in his letter to the BBC of 26th September 2014 (http://bit.ly/1z9sAxb, footnote [6]) the younger woman explicitly states “We are students in Orm Alkubra academy”. The woman filmed by Darren Conway at the hospital gate with her “father”, however, is clearly not being presented as a school student by dint of her obviously mature years.

Picture48 Picture49

I wish to draw your attention to this Twitter exchange between Robert Stuart and Dr Saleyha Ahsan from 30th November 2013 https://twitter.com/cerumol/status/406827940681228288 (screengrabs here http://wp.me/P4gebB-xf) in which Dr Ahsan explains that the older woman who is featured in Panorama “was being evacuated out” “to turkey or border hospital”.

In the video featuring the younger woman/student https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRuiJyIts-w the doctor speaking from 2:10 says:

“Sister here is among the lucky ones who are still alive. Her burns covered 20% of her body so with God’s wish she will recover unlike so many other victims who arrived here, and they all were students, and their burns covered 50-80% of their bodies. Most of them were transferred to other hospitals especially in Turkey due to absence of proper medical treatment and a specialized burns centre.”

Thus it is abundantly plain that the two women are separate individuals as:
a) The age difference between them is quite apparent both from the relevant footage and from the still images on Mr Stuart’s blog
b) One is categorically presented as a student, explicitly stating “We are students in Orm Alkubra academy”, while the woman who features in Panorama is entirely implausible in this role
c) Dr Ahsan has stated on Twitter that the woman seen in Panorama was waiting outside to be evacuated to another hospital, whereas a doctor in footage from the day explicitly states that this was not necessary in the case of the younger woman. That the younger woman was not evacuated from Atareb Hospital is also plain from the fact that it is dark outside when the video of her was made.

Please therefore consider why it should be that two different women, one a young alleged student who remained at Atareb Hospital into the evening of 26th August 2013, the other a mature woman who was evacuated “to turkey or border hospital” earlier in the day, should both be wearing what are clearly the same clothes, bearing in mind Mr Stuart’s suggestion that they are both amateur actors who are playing the role of victims in a fabrication and who took it in turns to share the same costume.

In conclusion, I ask that all of the above points be investigated by the Trustees in reaching their decision.

Addendum submitted 3 January 2015

Regarding my letter of 29th December 2014, I wish to raise further concerns about the apparent lack of integrity and objectivity of Dr Saleyha Ahsan, and how this reflects on ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and the BBC as an organisation. I would ask the Trustees to please note further the images below.

The photographs are from Libya in 2011 and are from the same Facebook page of Dr Ahsan’s to which I have already drawn the Trustees’ attention. Dr Ahsan is once more celebrating with a group which includes several armed men and once more a child is present (the boy in the grey top, blue jeans and sandals, standing close to Dr Ahsan in the third and fourth images). As Dr Ahsan observes of alleged “napalm bomb” victim Lutfi Arsi in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’: “He looks like he’s about thirteen, fourteen or fifteen – just a kid”.

Dr Ahsan describes herself as a journalist (https://www.facebook.com/SaleyhaAhsan?fref=ts) and professes to be concerned with the welfare of children. I am struggling to conceive of a situation in which any reputable journalist, let alone a medic supposedly concerned with saving children’s lives, would be so apparently delighted to pose for images, such as those which I provide here and in my letter of 29th December, which a) are so self evidently partisan b) feature children in the midst of armed groups and c) quite possibly depict child members of armed militias.

Furthermore, Dr. Ahsan’s page on the Knight Ayton Management website:  http://www.knightayton.co.uk/female-presenters/saleyha-ahsan, states that, “During the uprising in Libya, Saleyha spent six months independently filming doctors on the frontline. She reported for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent, Channel 4 News online, BBC online, the BMJ online and Latitude News”.

Given Dr Ahsan’s unambiguous support for the Libyan opposition, if it is indeed the case that the BBC has employed her as a journalist covering the Libyan Civil War this would seem to be a clear breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality. With regard to Dr Ahsan’s journalistic objectivity see also [note] below.

I believe therefore that there are extremely serious questions regarding both the ethics of Dr Ahsa , whom the BBC has seen fit to feature in a Panorama programme as  a representative of humanitarian work in Syria, and over  the BBC’s adherence to its own editorial guidelines in the event that it has employed Dr Ahsan as a journalist covering the Libyan Civil War and other “Arab Spring” uprisings. I request that these matters be fully addressed as part of the Trustees’ review of the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser’s decision.








[Note] In this 2011 BBC News article about Libya Dr Ahsan remarks:

“I want to be part of this Arab Spring, even though I was born in Britain and my roots are in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

About Robert Stuart

Researching the 2013 BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria's Children and associated BBC News reports.

2 responses to “A final appeal to BBC Trust re: Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

  1. Pingback: Wie immer alles gelogen, Fake-Propaganda über das #Atareb-Hospital in #Aleppo | Fortsetzung urs1798

  2. Pingback: Why Is Nikki Haley Still Trump’s UN Ambassador? – aladdinsmiraclelamp

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