The Guardian has an article by Ian Mayes today which reveals some more details about why the newspaper pulled Duncan Campbell's article on the "The ricin ring that never was" story from their online archive, back in April, about the Kamel Bourgass case, the reporting of which which formed part of the "Climate of Fear" media disinformation campaign before the General Election.
It is suspicious that The Guardian chose not to explain properly or to re-publish the redacted article until after the General Election.
The readers' editor on ... the welcome restoration of a report to the website
Monday October 24, 2005
On April 14 this year, the Guardian published a Comment page article by freelance investigative writer Duncan Campbell headlined The ricin ring that never was. The sub-heading read: Yesterday's trial collapse has exposed the deception behind attempts to link al-Qaida to a 'poison attack' on London.
Mr Campbell, who is not to be confused with the Guardian staff journalist of the same name, had been asked to give evidence in his capacity as a scientific expert witness on computers and telecommunications. He had been able to show that a small number of documents which it was claimed could only have been obtained as a result of terrorist training in Afghanistan, could in fact have been downloaded at any internet cafe in the United Kingdom.
I do not intend to go into details of the case. However, in the course of his Guardian piece, Mr Campbell had named two scientific witnesses from the military research establishment at Porton Down whose identity, the Ministry of Defence quickly pointed out, had been protected by the court. The ministry, in a letter to Mr Campbell and the Guardian, warned that the disclosure of the identity of any Porton Down witness who had been granted anonymity was likely to be in contempt of court. The letter specifically warned against any further disclosure. It has been Mr Campbell's contention throughout that he was unaware that any such order had been made.
In the light of the letter from the Ministry of Defence, the Guardian immediately removed the article from its website. It did so on the advice of its lawyers, who then set out to clarify the situation and in particular to obtain a copy of the relevant order. This was said to be in the form of a public-interest immunity certificate (a PII) which had been submitted to the court on behalf of the defence secretary and had received the approval of the judge. The letter from the legal department of the MoD indicated that the grounds for the application were the need to protect the safety of the witnesses from, it said, "persons unconnected with the case".
Despite several requests, the MoD and the Crown Prosecution Service failed to provide the Guardian with a copy of the order. However, its lawyers spoke to the prosecution and defence lawyers in the case, who confirmed that the judge had granted an unopposed application to protect the identity of Porton Down witnesses. Apparently, they were not named in open court and they were screened from the jury when they gave evidence. No order was posted in the court press room - the usual practice with reporting restrictions - and Mr Campbell was not at court.
So why didn't The Guardian explain this at the time e.g. with a note on the website URL ?
"Howver according to the official Guidance published on the Crown Prosecution Service website, a Public Interest Immunity certificate has got nothing whatsover to do with online newspaper archives, it relates to Judges making decisions about what Government or other Prosecution evidence is disclosed or not, to the Defence during a trial."
The article has now been put back on the website with the anonymity of the Porton Down scientists protected. Mr Campbell said: "The story is in no way damaged by the removal of the names." The restored version has at the top of it the following note: "Corrected version: this article has been restored to the website after being removed and corrected following a legal complaint."
So why couldn't they have done this six months ago ?
Remember, this article was printed in the paper version of the Guardian, and the details are still available in a couple of seconds via a Google search engine query e.g.
In the interval - roughly six months - between the removal of the article from the website and its restoration a few days ago, a number of conspiracy theories have developed. In particular, the Guardian has been accused of caving in to government pressure exerted through D-notices. In fact, D-notices have not existed since 1993. In that year they became DA notices (defence advisory notices). There are only five of them. They are all to be found on the website www.dnotice.org.uk. They are advisory and the committee responsible for the system has no power of enforcement. It had no involvement of any kind in Duncan Campbell's ricin article.
Just as we noted back on April 29th.
The Guardian generally goes to great length to keep material in circulation. The questions that remain for the paper include: does it explain quickly enough why something is being taken down,
Obviously not in this case.
does it get articles back on to the website as soon as it can and does it then tell readers why the article has suddenly reappeared? It has done, for the first time, in the case of the ricin report.
· Ian Mayes is the president of the Organisation of News Ombudsmen