Miscarriages of Justice
Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami
In July 1994 there was a bomb blast at the Israel Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, London, in which a number of people were injured. It coincided with the Middle East peace negotiations that were proceeding in Washington, marked by the occasion when King Hussein of Jordan shook hands with Israeli PM Rabin. In 1996 two young Palestinian, Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami were convicted for the bombing and sentenced to 20-year sentences. Both claimed their innocence, but the prosecution used ‘Public Interest Immunity Certificates’ to block the disclosure of critical evidence that might clear them.
‘Defending the Realm’, the book based on the testimony of ex-MI5 agent David Shayler points to a miscarriage of justice:
MI5 was warned that an attack on the embassy was imminent. Despite receiving specific information from a highly reliable source, it did nothing. The MI5 officer who received the warning failed to act on it and after the bombing, which injured thirteen people, it was found ‘buried’ in a cupboard by another officer, leading to speculation of a cover-up by the officer who had received it.
The woman concerned was not even disciplined, said Shayler, despite an immediate inquiry headed by the section chief. As a result morale in MI5’s international terrorism section dropped alarmingly, particularly when senior management failed to institute new procedures to prevent a similar event occurring….
Indirect confirmation of the story came from a 1994 Sunday Times article, published just after the attack, which stated that a top Israeli secret service delegation had visited London three weeks before the bombing….
Botmeh and Alami were found guilty because they had been trying to discover ways of making simple explosive devices, with mainly household ingredients, for use as a form of basic self-defence by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Both were scientists from well-known Palestinian families. The judge at their trial accepted that they had no links with any terrorist organization. Their amateurish activities were also in sharp contrast to the bombings, which had been carried out professionally, so much so that the police forensics team could not even establish what explosive had been used…..
In November 1997, Gareth Pearce – a highly respected solicitor who represented the Guildford four – wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service asking for any information relevant to Shayler’s allegations. Sixteen months later, in March 1999, it was revealed that Home Secretary Jack Straw had signed two Public Interest Immunity Certificates, which meant that his officials did not have to release information on the case. The Home Office has not contended that the information is irrelevant, simply that its grounds for non-disclosure are connected to national security. Gareth Pierce states; ‘I am totally, absolutely and one hundred per cent sure, as sure as of any person that I have ever represented, that these two have no involvement whatsoever in the bombing of the Israeli embassy’.
(Defending the Realm by Mark Hollingsworth and Nick Fielding, Andre Deutsch, 1999, pp146-147)
The ‘Iraqgate’ companies
During the course of the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88), the UN agreed on guidelines to stop the export of arms to the protagonists. Britain publicly supported this policy, but privately encouraged and approved arms deals by British companies. The attitude was summed up by Trade Minister Alan Clark at the time: “'I am not particularly bothered about who we are trading with, providing we get paid.'
The Customs & Excise, unaware of this duplicity, brought a criminal prosecution against a Midlands-based engineering firm, Matrix Churchill, for not complying with export restrictions of sales of weapons to Iraq. The case however collapsed in 1992 following the decision of the trial judge to disclose to the defence some reports for which Ministers had signed ‘gagging orders’ or Public Interest Immunity Certificates (PIIs).
In the wake of this debacle, the Government was forced to establish an enquiry under Sir Richard Scott. This enquiry (1992-96) lifted the lid on some of the workings of the ‘military-industrial’ complex in the UK.
The shocking aspect of the revelations from the Scott Enquiry was that the managing director of Matrix Churchill had been acting as an informer for MI6 for seventeen years, yet this connection was disavowed through the use of PIIs. It was a calculated and cynical betrayal - Paul Henderson was ruined financially and, and with another directors, would have faced a seven-year prison sentence had the trial judge not ruled in their favour.
A supplier of military fuses, Ordtec, was also used to collect intelligence information but then disowned. Paul Grecian, Bryan Mason and Colin Phillips, directors of Ordtec, were convicted at Reading Crown Court in 1992. The judge allowed a PII to be invoked, thereby making it appear that the men were acting unlawfully, and profiting from the export of fuses to an embargoed destination - Iraq. The PII was issued to prevent an officer of Special Branch from verifying that Grecian was acting with official backing in order to gather intelligence on Iraq. The prosecutor, one Andrew Collins QC, was later formally reprimanded for knowingly withholding evidence which would have caused the prosecution case to collapse: he would knowingly have sent innocent men to prison to prevent exposure of illegal government activity. Grecian, having received a prison sentence, was exonerated in 1995 when it became apparent “that the government had failed to disclose the relevant documents”.
Reaveley James of Astra Holdings Plc, an ammunition and weapons manufacturer, has also described how his company became involved in covert weapons and ammunitions operations organised by the covert agencies:
“It also became clear that all our main operations were involved in covert operations in the USA, Belgium and the UK, and that Astra, when it acquired these companies, had inherited a hard core of MI6, MI5, DIA agents who operated behind the back of the original directors and who treated them as “useful idiots” … By early 1990 my probing had become a major problem and a plot was hatched to remove me as Chairman shortly before the Supergun and other revelations and Bull’s murder… In order to explain away the destruction of the company with a £350m order book and a market capitalisation of £120m desperate attempts were made to find evidence of malpractice by the original directors…..My family suffered considerably, my two eldest sons army careers suffered, my youngest son’s education because of adverse publicity, my brother was killed in an accident never satisfactory explained which could have been intended for me”.
On 14 April 1998, Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade announced that she has decided not to continue the disqualification proceedings of the directors of Astra, including Reaveley James.
(Sources: The Unlikely Spy by Paul Henderson, Bloomsbury, 1994; Betrayed: The Real Story of the Matrix Churchill Trialby David Leigh, Warner Books, 1996; In the Public Interest by Gerald Reaveley James, Little Brown, 1995; http://www.elc.org.uk/Conference_Papers/Gerald%20James.doc)