No column in The Independent again this morning, as they weren’t overly keen on the issue I was writing about, which is connected to the Viva Palestina convoy of trucks, that left London on February 14th to deliver food and medicine to Gaza.
The convoy was financed by collections throughout the country, which were enough to fund 110 vehicles on a journey to across the channel, through France, Spain, across North Africa and hopefully through Egypt into Gaza. This, you might imagine, is the sort of charitable venture that would be publicised across the media as a chirpy feelgood tale, perhaps involving a regular feature on Blue Peter and at some point resulting in Cat Deeley squealing ‘The response has been AMAZING, you’ve been ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC’.
But in the tradition that anyone’s permitted to carry out crazy wacky acts as long as it involves charity, the police decided to contribute to the event with a spectacular lark. Early in the morning, on the day the convoy left, they arrested nine people on the M65 under the Terrorism Act, who were on their way to Hyde Park, where the journey was due to begin. They blocked off an entire section of motorway, and grabbed their suspects with what was described in the local newspaper as “Dozens of police cars, vans, 4×4 vehicles and a helicopter.”
The first I knew of this episode was from that afternoon’s BBC news, on which it was the main item. Which is as you might expect, with nine suspected terrorists being pounced on by an operation that included a helicopter. To be fair, the BBC journalists didn’t have to work too hard to find the story, as the police informed them in advance, and in addition, by a splendid coincidence, a press photographer happened to be on hand to record this successful swoop.
Maybe this is how the police plan to fund themselves from now on. They’ll follow the practice of celebrities and stage their events so they can be sold to OK and Hello. Major criminals will find themselves lying on the floor in handcuffs, while a photographer claps his hands and calls out “That’s lovely, now can we do the arrest one more time while the Inspector stands just behind kissing his wife, and then have a profile of the murderer’s assistant on a sheepskin rug in front of a coal fire.”
The news reported that the terrorists were on the way to join the Viva Palestina convoy, which straight away seemed a little peculiar. Why would terrorists be on the way to join such an event? What would they be planning to attack? The convoy of trucks heading for Gaza? And what sort of Jihadist terrorist would say “I know how we’ll move around without being noticed – we’ll drive down the motorway in three vans with Palestinian flags flapping from the windows and a f**king great ‘Viva Palestina’ logo painted on the side.”
The story was reported in almost every Sunday paper, with headlines such as “Galloway’s Aid Convoy linked to three terror suspects”, in the Mail on Sunday. And they had the effect of reducing contributions to the charity by eighty per cent, as the astute might have been able to predict. But the nine men, six from Blackburn and three from Burnley, were questioned, and the lorries, which were full of children’s toys, were searched. And presumably the head of the anti-terrorist squad stood there throughout saying “Check that Bratz for semtex.” By the next morning six were released without any charges, and a few days later the other three were released as well, the police appearing to be duly embarrassed to the extent they’ve paid the fares so the wrongly arrested men could catch up with the convoy, which by now was moving into Algeria.
The local councillor for the arrested men in Burnley is Wajid Khan, described how they were “Well respected men in the community, seen in a positive light.”
Presumably then, all the broadcasters and newspapers who considered it a major story that the police had successfully pulled off this anti-terrorist operation will now make it an equally prominent story that the arrests had no validity whatsoever. Apart from anything else there must be many people who saw that story, and are wondering why they’ve heard nothing about it since, assuming a bunch of terrorists have escaped and are running round on the loose. They may even indulge in some investigative work, which will show that three of the arrested men are defence witnesses in a separate trial, which may, or may not be a coincidence.
So you can’t help be suspicious that the arrest of people volunteering for charity may be connected to them being Muslims, and being associated with Palestine. If not it’s going to mean Comic Relief this year will be chaos, with Richard Hammond and Lenny Henry spending the whole evening making announcements such as “Now we’re going to meet the wonderful children of St. Josephs junior school in Kidderminster, who’ve raised two hundred and sixty-four pounds with a sponsored cartwheel race. So here’s Alan Titchmarsh to speak to them from their high security cell in Belmarsh.”
First Published on 26th February at the Mark Steel blog