Claim: Police were Monitoring Ringleader of 2006 Synagogue Attack Plot

In November 2006, BBC Newsnight carried a report on the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, concentrating on its activities in Croydon in South London. The programme featured an anonymous source known only as “J”, who had apparently infiltrated the organisation on behalf of a private intelligence organisation called VIGIL. “J” explained that Hizb ut-Tahrir was not just religiously extreme – it acted like a street gang, indulging in petty crime:

We’ve been told that it’s alright to hurt non-believers… The loyalty to the group, I had to show it… they actually asked me to take some money from three guys… By force… I threatened them and they gave me the money because of who I was with… This is Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The accusation has been repeated since; just a few days ago, Duncan Gardham in the Telegraph reported that

In the past members of the group have been accused of encouraging street violence against non-Muslims…

However, although there are indeed serious reasons to be concerned about HuT’s influence, and its role in radicalising young Muslims, I haven’t been able to find any reports detailing specific instances of HuT-inspired street crime.

The Newsnight report ended with a remarkable coda:

Just as we thought our investigation was coming to an end, there was a major development. We were told that another source in HuT had uncovered a plot to attack a synagogue near Croydon. We can’t confirm this, as we did not have direct access to this source, but firebomb materials were found in this patch of woodland. When we tried to investigate, plain clothes police turned up within minutes and they confirmed that a police enquiry is underway.

Other media picked up on this; according to the European Jewish Press:

London’s Jewish community was on alert this week after bomb making equipment was discovered by police hidden close to a synagogue in the capital.

The items, believed to have included accelerants and rags which could be used to make petrol bombs, were uncovered on a road close to Croydon Synagogue.

The news was revealed in a BBC News television programme broadcast last week…

CST Head of Communications Mark Gardner told the Jewish News… that the CST had “no specific knowledge regarding the allegation that Hizb ut-Tahrir, or associated activists, were responsible for the threat to the synagogue”…

So what happened next? Plotting to burn down a synagogue is obviously an extremely serious matter, and in the context of an organised group has wide-ranging security ramifications. Yet the trail seems to have gone cold.

The lack of any follow-up is particularly strange given that the police were apparently closely monitoring the situation. I was recently forwarded a couple of emails that were written by Dominic Wightman, who ran VIGIL, prior to the Newsnight programme:

Today we got a “commendation” from the Jewsih Community trust and a Commander at Scotland Yard called Andre Ramsay…

…Plant in Hut highlighted upcoming attack by a group of HuT thugs on local synagogue. Molotov cocktails,sledgehammers, etc etc were discovered because of his info by the counter terrorism branch of scotland Yard working with Croydon police. The attack was planned for Sunday – bonfire night attack. Surveillance now in place and ringleader being tailed. Very exciting but scary at the same time – v.hard telling the cops no I will not give up our plant. Kemp helped. Jews very chuffed. Cops very apprehensive at first but called this pm and said “jolly good show”…

It should be noted that while HuT is anti-Jewish, no comparable HuT plot in the UK has come to light, either before or after November 2006 – “J”, it seems, just happened to have joined the right HuT cell at just the right time to have discovered a remarkably significant yet atypical HuT conspiracy.

As I have discussed in previous blog entries, I had some interaction with Wightman (who also uses the spelling “Dominic Whiteman”) during 2009; by this time VIGIL had collapsed and he was bankrupt, and he was keen for the blogger Tim Ireland and myself to “expose” another person, who he told us was responsible for contaminating VIGIL’s work with bogus information. Wightman was so keen, in fact, that he fabricated an attack document against Tim which he tried to pass off as this other person’s work. Since that scheme failed, Wightman has composed lengthy diatribes attacking Tim and me, published on his own website and under sock-puppet names on other sites. Their content and tone require little comment, but they serve to illustrate that this is not a person whose judgement or testimony should have been allowed to form the basis for decisions made by media, police, or politicians.

Of course, this background does not in itself invalidate “J”‘s testimony, and the discovery of materials close to the synagogue by the police suggests a real threat existed. But there are some basic questions:

– Why wasn’t the ringleader ever arrested or brought to trial, if the police were monitoring him?

– Why did the BBC talk of “another source in HuT” when Wightman’s email shows that it was the same source?

– Why wasn’t “J” arrested for mugging three people, or, at least, a warning given to Wightman that involvement in “undercover” antics does not give immunity to break the law and to endanger members of the public?

UPDATE: When I wrote the above, I was unaware that the BBC had assessed a complaint about Newsnight and an associated radio segment:

Newsnight, BBC2 & File on 4, Radio 4, 14 November 2006

Complaint

The programmes carried versions of a report on the activities of the Islamic organisation  Hizb ut-Tahrir, which drew on sources and information provided by Vigil, an organisation devoted to gathering intelligence in support of counter-terrorism. A representative of Hizb ut Tahrir challenged the reliability of Vigil and its supposed sources within the organisation and complained that a misleading impression of the organisation and its activities had been given.

Ruling

The programme-makers were entitled to rely on sources whose identity was known to them and whose accounts could be to some degree corroborated, and the overall picture presented was well supported by evidence. However, both programmes included a suggestion that Hizb ut-Tahrir (or a splinter group of its members) was responsible for planning a fire-bomb attack on a Croydon synagogue, based on information passed on by Vigil from a source not identified to the programme-makers. This was not a strong enough basis on which to mount such a serious allegation. In addition, File on 4 included an exchange in which the reporter seemed to be assuring a Home Office Minister that the programme had clear evidence that Hizb ut-Tahrir was in breach of the law on glorifying terrorism, whereas the programme’s evidence (though it gave legitimate grounds for concern) did not establish this point. 

Further action

The Editors of Newsnight and File on 4 discussed the issues arising from the ruling with their programme teams and the correspondent in question. They stressed the need for care in assessing and treating serious allegations from single unnamed sources and, in relation to
File on 4, the need for precision when framing questions, particularly when they relate to allegations about a third party.

Also, I have since asked for details about the incident from the police, under a Freedom of Information Request. The request was denied:

Although the incident described took place some five years ago we do not consider this matter to be resolved. We believe that the disclosure of the information relating to the suspicious items would have a negative effect on the community relationships and would subsequently compromise our law enforcement capabilities – reducing our ability to prevent and detect crime, which is the core principle of UK policing. Any disclosure that could disrupt the investigative process would not be in the public interest.

I don’t consider this to be satisfactory: how can the matter remain unresolved, when the police have supposedly been monitoring the the persons concerned? How could there be a “negative effect on… community relations”, given that Hizb-ut-Tahrir was named in the media at the time? The only “negative effect” I can envision is anger and dismay that the police had liaised with a private consultant who has since shown himself to be dishonest.

5 Responses

  1. If only I were from Croydon (as some MPs have claimed). Some local knowledge would be invaluable.

  2. Watching Wightman in front of the camera – no emotions on his face, reciting by rote his concocted “evidence” anyone can see the guy is lying about “Jay” – as well as blatant lies about the length of time VIGIL had been operating.

    There is a smoking gun here, for those prepared to look.

  3. […] personal confidence of Patrick Mercer MP, and Wightman had appeared on Newsnight in November 2006, having supposedly helped to reveal a plot to firebomb a synagogue. VIGIL was also involved with the Centre for Social […]

  4. […] advised Patrick Mercer (who was at that time Shadow Minister for Homeland Security), he apparently worked with police, and he contributed to the creation of reports about extremism (in particular, as “Dominic […]

  5. […] puff-piece), and Mercer probably facilitated Wightman’s appearance on BBC Newsnight in November 2006. VIGIL collapsed the following year, in circumstances that showed Wightman to be dishonest and, […]

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