The ricin ring that never was

Yesterday's trial collapse has exposed the deception behind attempts to link al-Qaida to a 'poison attack' on London

Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, April 14, 2005

Colin Powell does not need more humiliation over the manifold errors in his February 2003 presentation to the UN. But yesterday a London jury brought down another section of the case he made for war - that Iraq and Osama bin Laden were supporting and directing terrorist poison cells throughout Europe, including a London ricin ring.

Yesterday's verdicts on five defendants and the dropping of charges against four others make clear there was no ricin ring. Nor did the "ricin ring" make or have ricin. Not that the government shared that news with us. Until today, the public record for the past three fear-inducing years has been that ricin was found in the Wood Green flat occupied by some of yesterday's acquitted defendants. It wasn't.

The third plank of the al-Qaida-Iraq poison theory was the link between what Powell labelled the "UK poison cell" and training camps in Afghanistan. The evidence the government wanted to use to connect the defendants to Afghanistan and al-Qaida was never put to the jury. That was because last autumn a trial within a trial was secretly taking place. This was a private contest between a group of scientists from the Porton Down military research centre and myself. The issue was: where had the information on poisons and chemicals come from?

The information - five pages in Arabic, containing amateur instructions for making ricin, cyanide and botulinum, and a list of chemicals used in explosives - was at the heart of the case. The notes had been made by Kamel Bourgass, the sole convicted defendant. His co-defendants believed that he had copied the information from the internet. The prosecution claimed it had come from Afghanistan.

I was asked to look for the original source on the internet. This meant exploring Islamist websites that publish Bin Laden and his sympathisers, and plumbing the most prolific source of information on how to do harm: the writings of the American survivalist right and the gun lobby.

The experience of being an expert witness on these issues has made me feel a great deal safer on the streets of London. These were the internal documents of the supposed al-Qaida cell planning the "big one" in Britain. But the recipes were untested and unoriginal, borrowed from US sources. Moreover, ricin is not a weapon of mass destruction. It is a poison which has only ever been used for one-on-one killings and attempted killings.

If this was the measure of the destructive wrath that Bin Laden's followers were about to wreak on London, it was impotent. Yet it was the discovery of a copy of Bourgass's notes in Thetford in 2002 that inspired the wave of horror stories and government announcements and preparations for poison gas attacks.

It is true that when the team from Porton Down entered the Wood Green flat in January 2003, their field equipment registered the presence of ricin. But these were high sensitivity field detectors, for use where a false negative result could be fatal. A few days later in the lab, Dr Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, found that there was no ricin. But when this result was passed to London, the message reportedly said the opposite.

The planned government case on links to Afghanistan was based only on papers that a freelance journalist working for the Times had scooped up after the US invasion of Kabul. Some were in Arabic, some in Russian. They were far more detailed than Bourgass's notes. Nevertheless, claimed Porton Down chemistry chief Dr Chris Timperley, they showed a "common origin and progression" in the methods, thus linking the London group of north Africans to Afghanistan and Bin Laden.

The weakness of Timperley's case was that neither he nor the intelligence services had examined any other documents that could have been the source. We were told Porton Down and its intelligence advisers had never previously heard of the "Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, containing recipes for ricin and much more". The document, written by veterans of the 1980s Afghan war, has been on the net since 1998.

All the information roads led west, not to Kabul but to California and the US midwest. The recipes for ricin now seen on the internet were invented 20 years ago by survivalist Kurt Saxon. He advertises videos and books on the internet. Before the ricin ring trial started, I phoned him in Arizona. For $110, he sent me a fistful of CDs and videos on how to make bombs, missiles, booby traps - and ricin. We handed a copy of the ricin video to the police.

When, in October, I showed that the chemical lists found in London were an exact copy of pages on an internet site in Palo Alto, California, the prosecution gave up on the Kabul and al-Qaida link claims. But it seems this information was not shared with the then home secretary, David Blunkett, who was still whipping up fear two weeks later. "Al-Qaida and the international network is seen to be, and will be demonstrated through the courts over months to come, actually on our doorstep and threatening our lives," he said on November 14.

The most ironic twist was an attempt to introduce an "al-Qaida manual" into the case. The manual - called the Manual of the Afghan Jihad - had been found on a raid in Manchester in 2000. It was given to the FBI to produce in the 2001 New York trial for the first attack on the World Trade Centre. But it wasn't an al-Qaida manual. The name was invented by the US department of justice in 2001, and the contents were rushed on to the net to aid a presentation to the Senate by the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, supporting the US Patriot Act.

To show that the Jihad manual was written in the 1980s and the period of the US-supported war against the Soviet occupation was easy. The ricin recipe it contained was a direct translation from a 1988 US book called the Poisoner's Handbook, by Maxwell Hutchkinson.

We have all been victims of this mass deception. I do not doubt that Bourgass would have contemplated causing harm if he was competent to do so. But he was an Islamist yobbo on his own, not an Al Qaida-trained superterrorist. An Asbo might be appropriate.

· Duncan Campbell is an investigative writer and a scientific expert witness on computers and telecommunications. He is author of War Plan UK and is not the Guardian journalist of the same name

Police killer gets 17 years for poison plot

· Judge says it was part of plan to 'destabilise society'
· But eight others go free as second trial abandoned
· Dispute over extent of plot and ricin evidence

Duncan Campbell, Vikram Dodd, Richard Norton-Taylor and Rosie Cowan, The Guardian, April 14, 2005

An Algerian man who stabbed a policeman to death and planned poison attacks in Britain was jailed yesterday for 17 years after being told by the judge that he was part of a terrorist operation to "destabilise society".

His conviction at the Old Bailey came at the conclusion of one of the longest trials in legal history but amid confusion and accusations of political manipulation, as eight co-defendants were cleared and a second conspiracy trial abandoned.

Kamel Bourgass, an illegal immigrant in his early 30s, who came to Britain in 2000, was found guilty of conspiring to cause a public nuisance through the use of poisons and explosives. He was convicted last year of the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake, who was stabbed to death in Manchester in 2003 as Bourgass tried to escape.

That conviction, for which he was jailed for life last year with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 22 years, can only now be reported after the lifting of restrictions.

"The courts take a very serious view of those who for misguided ideological reasons seek to destabilise society by terrorism," said Mr Justice Penry-Davey, sentencing him. Bourgass used so many different names that even yesterday it was still unclear which was his real one.

"You were ... the prime mover in a terrorist operation involving the use of poisons and explosives and intended to destabilise the community in this country by causing destruction, fear and injury," the judge said. "Had this operation come to fruition, the resulting fear and destruction with a potential for injury and widespread panic would have been substantial. Fortunately, though through no action of yourself, the plot was nipped in the bud."

Police and security services welcomed the verdict. "This was a hugely serious plot because what it had the potential to do was to cause real panic, fear, disruption and possibly even death," said Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch. "This was no more, no less than a plot to poison the public."

As Bourgass was being convicted, a second conspiracy trial due to start this week against four other north African men supposedly associated with him was abandoned. The jury in Bourgass's case had also last week cleared four further Algerian men of being part of any conspiracy. A man alleged by the prosecution to be the principal co-conspirator with Bourgass was released by police in September 2002.

The police had not realised his significance at that stage and he is now being held in Algeria. Under interrogation he gave the evidence which led to the raids and eventual capture of Bourgass.

The defence solicitor Gareth Peirce, who represented three of those acquitted, said the cleared men, who have been held in Belmarsh prison for more than two years, were the victims of a "massive conspiracy tapestry woven by the prosecution".

"After more than two years in prison and a trial lasting six months, four defendants who have claimed their complete innocence of these charges despite all the prejudice that has surrounded the bringing of the prosecution, achieved unanimous jury findings of not guilty," Ms Peirce said. She was critical of politicians for using allegations about the case to promote their own agenda.

The political ramifications of the case were starting to emerge last night. Charles Clarke, the home secretary, expressed his satisfaction with the verdict. "What the case showed was that there are terrorist organisations which seek to challenge us in this country and challenge our basic freedom," he said.

He denied that the collapse of a second trial and the acquittal of eight of the nine accused case was an embarrassment.

"We will obviously keep a very close eye on the eight men being freed today, and consider exactly what to do in the light of this decision," he said.

The political dimensions of the case were further emphasised when David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said it demonstrated the flaws in Labour's immigration policy.

Six months before the stabbing Bourgass came to the attention of the police when he was arrested for shoplifting jeans. He did not show up as failed asylum seeker since he used the name Nadir Habra when entering the country illegally.

Mr Davis said Bourgass should have been deported. But lawyers pointed out that Bourgass could not have been sent back to Algeria on the grounds that he could have faced torture or death there.

Evidence in the trial showed the British and US govern ments had made exaggerated or misleading claims based on the raid on the north London flat where Bourgass lived.

Making the case for the Iraq war in February 2003, the former US secretary of state Colin Powell said in his speech to the UN security council that ricin had been found there and that that demonstrated a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. No such evidence was produced in court. Mr Powell spoke of a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network".

The marathon trial, estimated to have have cost at least £20m, also revealed that government claims that ricin had been found continued after their own scientists concluded that none had been. The London flat where Bourgass's poison recipes were found had been raided on January 5, but within two days experts at Porton Down concluded that no ricin had been produced, according to a court document seen by the Guardian.

It can also now be reported that the attorney general took the rare step of warning his ministerial colleagues about prejudicing the jury after comments by the former home secretary David Blunkett. The trial judge wrote to Lord Goldsmith after Mr Blunkett, when in office and as the jury was hearing the case, said last November: "Al-Qaida is seen to be, and will be demonstrated through the courts over months to come, to be actually on our doorstep and threatening our lives. I am talking about people who are and about to go through the court system."

Lord Goldsmith has decided Mr Blunkett's remarks did not amount to contempt but yesterday the trial judge criticised Mr Blunkett for comments made during the trial.

Last night Muslim groups condemned the publicity over the plot. Azad Ali of the Muslim Safety Forum, where top police officers and Muslim leaders discuss terrorism and other issues, said: "The ricin plot was part of government thinking and public justification in bringing in control orders. This will confirm the feeling in the Muslim community that it is being victimised on the basis of intelligence that was not tested in anything like a court, and when it is, it is thrown out."

What also emerged was that an early test on a pestle and mortar, conducted when the flat was raided, showed possible traces of ricin.

But a more advanced test on January 7 found none, a result confirmed by a DNA test.

Professor Alastair Hay, an expert in biochemical poisons, reviewed Porton Down's tests for the defence.

Porton Down documents show that by January 8 scientists at the defence research facility had written to the police declaring there was no ricin on several items from the flat.

The jury heard that the plan had been to kill people by smearing ricin on door handles in Holloway, north London. But Prof Hay said: "With these recipes they could not have killed people. Ricin is not absorbed through the skin."

Terror trail that led from Algeria to London

One jailed, four freed after jury deadlocked at end of eight month, £20m, trial

Duncan Campbell and Rosie Cowan, The Guardian April 14, 2005

The complex and lengthy trail that led to Kamel Bourgass's convictions began when detectives launched an investigation, following the 9/11 attacks, into a number of loosely-aligned north African al-Qaida sympathisers living in Britain.

At first, police thought these individuals were no more than a financial support network, raising money for terrorists abroad through document forgery and credit card scams.

"Intelligence told us these people were engaged in wholesale fundraising for terrorism, and that this money was being moved abroad, as it was certainly not reflected in the very spartan, simple lifestyles of those involved here," said a senior security source. "But we wanted to explore the boundaries, to see if it stopped at fundraising."

But the discovery of the photocopied recipes for ricin, and other poisons, including cyanide, and information on explosives and bomb-making, in a house in Thetford, Norfolk, in September 2002 strengthened the belief that some of those individuals could be terrorists plotting an unconventional attack in the UK.

It was the arrest that same month of Muhammad Meguerba, whom police admitted initially underestimating as a minor figure, that would eventually expose Bourgass's activities.

Police found a false documents and a fake French passport in Meguerba's premises, but as he was then married to an Irish woman, he was able to show he was in the UK legally, and was bailed pending further inquiries.

Meguerba skipped bail, and fled the UK through Liverpool, travelling first to Spain, then to Morocco and back to his native Algeria, where he was picked up by the authorities in December 2002.

He told them he had been part of a UK-based group trying to make ricin. He gave a name, Nadir Habra, believed to be Bourgass's real name, and described a flat in north London, which although he was un able to give a precise address, British police established was a particular flat in High Road, Wood Green, Bourgass's former residence.

The information dove-tailed with the photocopied ricin recipe British police had found in Thetford three months earlier and the nationwide hunt for Bourgass began.

At the Wood Green flat in January 2003, police found the handwritten originals of the recipes for ricin and other poisons, and various ingredients, including cherry stones and apple seeds.

Ramshackle operation

While police were surprised at the ramshackle nature of the operation - the fruit seeds stored in plastic cups in the back of a messy wardrobe seemed more third form science project than 21st century warfare - they were in no doubt about the seriousness of what they found.

"It exploded the myth that CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] materials are made in some sort spotless Dr Strangelove laboratory," said a source. "This was garden shed, kitchen chemistry, stuff you pick up in the average high street. It required adolescent knowledge upward."

While government scientists at Porton Down found no evidence of actual ricin, they agreed the recipes were viable, and police were convinced they were looking at serious attempts to launch a poison attack in the UK.

Tremendous effort would have been necessary to produce even a minuscule quantity of ricin or cyanide, using Bourgass's recipes. But detectives believed the intention was to cause panic by either targeting individuals, placing contaminated items in shops, or even smearing the poison on door handles in north London.

Acting on intelligence, officers went to Bournemouth to search for Bourgass there but he had already moved on. It was by chance, during a separate operation against illegal immigrants in Manchester, that Bourgass was discovered in a flat in Crumpsall Lane, sparking the attack which led to him murdering DC Stephen Oake on January 14 2003.

The inquiry spread throughout London and the UK, including the highly sensitive search of Finsbury Park mosque in June 2003. Eight other men were arrested and charged in connection with the ricin plot. Four were tried with Bourgass and were acquitted of all the conspiracy charges. Charges against four others who were to have stood trial in the next month, were dropped yesterday.

All four tried with Bourgass are Algerian and had links to him, to a greater or lesser degree, although their attitudes towards him differed.

The youngest of the group, Sidali Feddag, 20, gave him a place to stay while his own asylum application was being heard.

Feddag had come to the UK in 2000 as a teenager with his father and had to fend for himself when his father returned to Algeria, leaving him alone in London. He applied for asylum in 2001, was refused and then appealed.

He was placed in local authority accommodation in High Road, Wood Green, and allowed Bourgass to live there, where the pair shared the room in which some of the supposed ingredients for poisons were found. He later moved, he said, to Leyton, in east London. Feddag always denied being a party to any plot and declined to give evidence. His defence was that he had been collecting the ingredi ents for innocent purposes and that they constituted traditional Algerian herbal medicines.

Like three of his co-accused, he had bogus documentation, his being a false French passport which he said he had obtained on Blackstock Road, in Highbury, north London, for £190. He had made up a new name and details for himself and chosen a date of birth in 1980, adding five years to his age.

Mouloud Sihali, in his late 20s, appeared to be the most worldly of the defendants. He had a number of Lithuanian, Swedish and German girlfriends and worked as a waiter to make ends meet. He was also a computer expert who told police when he was detained that he had studied nuclear physics in France.

As far as the prosecution was concerned, he was said to have provided passports and to have been an expert in false documentation. He kept a diary with details of his own various false identities but was arrested in an attempt to commit an alleged fraud for a loan of £12,000 to £15,000 from an internet banking service.

He told the police who arrested him that he had been in the UK for three years and added: "You will find out I'm OK." He used a cousin's identity.

A third co-defendant, David Khalef, 32, had already pleaded guilty to possession of five false passports which were found hidden in a bed base in High Road, Ilford, Essex. Neighbours said he would disappear from his flat for months on end and he spent time in Halifax and East Anglia where he had found work picking fruit.

False passport

Although he had a false French passport and claimed to be French, he was, in fact, Algerian and had done military service in Algeria. He arrived in England in 1998 and claimed asylum which he was refused in December 2000. His appeal was turned down in June 2001 and he became an illegal entrant.

With an IQ of 75, he was borderline mentally handicapped and described in court as being of "very low intelligence". Arrested in Thetford he was asked "Do you speak English?" and replied: "Yes, but I am not a terrorist."

Mustapha Taleb, 34, worked in the bookshop at the Finsbury Park mosque and was the person who handled requests to use its photocopier. It was through a fingerprint on one of the recipes which had been photocopied at the mosque that he was linked with Bourgass. He was the only defendant legally in Britain.

At his home in Finsbury Park, north London, his laptop had 50 files which contained Algerian opposition material and one file on bomb-making which was "incomplete and incoherent" according to experts.

The five Algerian men in the dock were accused of two conspiracies: the first, to murder between January 1 2002 and January 23 2003 in the UK and the second to commit a public nuisance by the use of poisons and/or explosives to cause disruption, fear and injury in the same time period.

Extremist cause

The case against them suggested that the five had conspired together, according to the prosecution, "in furtherance of their extremist Islamic cause. They were part of a group, based in London, sharing common beliefs and a common aim."

The evidence against them, as the prosecution saw it, indicated that, with Kamel Bourgass at the centre, the five men were aiming to cause either death or panic on the streets of Britain. It was this case that the jury rejected this week after four weeks of deliberation.

The trial of the five was one of the most complex and lengthy ever held at the Old Bailey. The first legal submissions were made last July and the jury sworn in last September.

There were frequent delays and the jury was often sent home amid legal arguments or because of illness among jurors. In the end, the verdicts came only after four weeks of deliberation with one of the jurors absent.

The accused have been held in Belmarsh prison for the last two years and remained there throughout the trial. According to their lawyers, all have suffered from varying degrees of depression.

Security was intense with sometimes as many as 14 prison officers in the dock with the defendants behind plexiglass screens.
Detective murdered by an obsessive loner

Illegal immigrant had trained with al-Qaida before coming to Britain

Rosie Cowan and Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, April 14, 2005

Kamel Bourgass, the killer of special branch officer Stephen Oake, was, senior security sources believed, a fanatic who trained in the al-Qaida terror camps of Afghanistan in order to try to wreak havoc on the UK with a bizarre poison plot.

An obsessive Islamic fundamentalist, he spent months in a shabby north London bedsit, trying to concoct elaborate home-made toxins, many of which would have had little effect.

But while an Old Bailey jury found Bourgass guilty of conspiracy to cause public nuisance by use of poisons and/or explosives, they failed to reach a verdict on conspiracy to murder on the same evidence.

A previous jury found him guilty of the murder of DC Oake, for which he is serving life imprisonment.

Bourgass was a man of multiple identities and various ages, but who told the court his real name was Nadir Habra and that he was 31. He claimed to have left school in Algeria at 17, and been conscripted as a police officer for a year. He said he came to England four years ago as an illegal immigrant.

Police launched a nationwide hunt for him after receiving information from a man in custody in Algeria, but stumbled upon him by chance during an unrelated immigration raid in Manchester.

The trail began in spring 2002, when UK anti-terrorist detectives began investigating north African networks that they believed were raising money for al-Qaida-linked groups abroad.

When they discovered a photocopied recipe for ricin and other poisons in a house in Thetford, Norfolk, in September 2002, they realised the terrorists' target could be much closer to home.

But they still knew nothing of Bourgass until Mohamad Meguerba, whom they had arrested in September 2002 on false document charges, jumped bail and fled to his native Algeria, where he was picked up by the authorities in December 2002.

Meguerba told the Algerians that Bourgass and he had been trying to make ricin for an attack in the UK, and the hunt for Bourgass began. Searches of the Wood Green flat and other premises associated with the occupants in early January 2003 turned up crucial material, including poison ingredients and an envelope addressed to Nadir Habra, c/o Finsbury Park mosque, containing the originals of the poison recipes in his fastidious Arabic script.

Intelligence led detectives to Bournemouth, which Bourgass had visited. However, it was by chance that they discovered him later that month when they raided a flat at Crumpsall Lane, Manchester, while looking for another illegal immigrant. Unrestrained during the police search, he grabbed a kitchen knife and killed special branch officer DC Oake by stabbing him eight times.

A senior detective said: "He was an incredibly dangerous individual, committed to his cause, who showed no compunction in killing."

British security sources said Meguerba, awaiting trial in Algeria, told them Bourgass had undergone paramilitary training in the Afghan terror camps, where he was hand-picked for special advanced training in poison-making techniques.

Bourgass entered the UK illegally by lorry through Dover in 2000 and unsuccessfully sought asylum. He worshipped at Finsbury Park mosque and used it as a postal address. He even kept the poison recipes in the envelope in which his asylum rejection arrived.

He told the court he had had short-lived jobs in a pizzeria and as a refuse collector. But he was arrested in Romford, Essex, in June 2002, for shoplifting three pairs of jeans. Co-defendant and former room-mate Sidali Feddag claimed he was a prolific shoplifter, who lived on the sale of his spoils.

The case against Bourgass was that he had written out recipes for a series of poisons and explosives. He was also in possession of some of the necessary ingredients and equipment to carry out his aims.

He did not give evidence in his defence in the murder trial. Instead, he offered in explanation a claim that he had feared for his life as he knew how the authorities in Algeria behaved towards suspects and thus was afraid that he would be tortured and killed if arrested. The jury in this trial, which concluded last year but could not be reported lest it influence the later trials, did not accept his explanation and he was convicted.

An intense and obsessive man, Bourgass eventually admitted in the most recent trial an agreement to kill and to cause fear but said that this was in defence of villages in Algeria. He said he had copied out the recipes at Meguerba's request, and denied any intention of targeting anyone in the UK.

This time he gave evidence in his own defence in a rambling and inconsistent fashion. He was frequently caught lying.

Bourgass had stayed with another Algerian, Sidali Feddag, in the Wood Green flat at the centre of the case. Mr Feddag, who was acquitted in the latest trial, had been allotted the flat while his appeal for asylum was being pursued.

Mr Feddag claimed Bourgass was a secretive man, who rarely socialised and spent hours reading the Qur'an. Bourgass told the younger man he was collecting fruit seeds and other ingredients to make traditional Arabic medicine.

Bourgass's barrister, Michel Massih, dismissed the charges as "utter nonsense, complete and utter fantasy", and mocked the notion that anyone would go to such trouble to create a poison when one could simply buy weedkiller or rat poison from a shop in Britain. The acetone, which was one of the main ingredients found, could be used for removing nail polish and could thus have an innocent explanation, he said.

The fact that one of the recipes suggested using dung which would be "dried in the sun for an hour" was seen as evidence that the likely place for such a concoction was, as he was claiming, Algeria, since London was short of both dung and sun, said Mr Massih to chuckles in court. What was really at the centre of the case, claimed Mr Massih, was the build-up to the war in Iraq. The headline of the Mirror on January 8 2003, was "IT'S HERE" and the accompanying story suggested that a "deadly terror plan [had been] found in Britain. "It is around the time of the build-up to the war in the Middle East," said Mr Massih. "You have a scenario which is almost begging for there to be something ... Then on January 8 this rubbish comes out."

The lies Bourgass told the police, said Mr Massih, were "almost forced upon him ... They were the lies of a seriously frightened man ... fanciful, silly lies."

Asked about a black bag discovered in the flat in which the recipes were hidden, Bourgass claimed he had found it in the street in Brixton. Asked why he had kept it, he replied "because I'm stupid".

"This was not a cunning plot, this man was knee-jerking," said Mr Massih. "It is such an implausible, laughable, unbelievable account ... really Alice in Wonderland stuff."

Bourgass had lied because of the "brutal nature of the military dictatorship in Algeria and he feared that this would get out to the Algerian authorities and they would take it out on his family or village and that government secret death squads would take action against them".

Exaggerated threats

Leader, The Guardian, April 14, 2005

The acquittal of four suspects this week - and the dropping of charges against another four - in the "ricin" terrorist plot raises wider issues than just the effectiveness of our current terrorist investigating processes. Two years ago the arrests of the suspects were used by Tony Blair and Colin Powell - just weeks before the Iraq invasion - to suggest that al-Qaida had established a cell in London. The prime minister said the ricin arrests showed "this danger is present and real and with us now and its potential is huge". Colin Powell included the January 2003 arrests as evidence in his presentation to the UN in February 2003 that Iraq and Osama bin Laden were supporting and directing terrorist poison cells throughout Europe. Geoff Hoon, defence secretary, congratulated the police and MI5 and suggested that if the defendants were convicted, the officers should indeed be given as much beer as they could drink.

There will not be much drinking or celebrating within security service circles today. Only one of the nine suspects arrested two years ago has been convicted of terrorist offences. The suspect convicted, Kamel Bourgass, a 31-year-old Algerian, was clearly a vicious and dangerous man. He killed one special branch officer with a kitchen knife and stabbed three other officers trying to overpower him. He was convicted of killing detective Stephen Oake earlier - in a trial where reporting was prohibited because of the subsequent trial of himself and four other suspects that ended this week - and has now been found guilty of plotting chemical attacks. But if only the restraints that have been applied to the trials, had been applied when the nine suspects were arrested two years ago. All manner of exaggeration and embellishment occurred on the arrests. There were said to be traces of ricin - a deadly poison for which there is no antidote - in the north London flat where the first arrests were made. In fact there were only ricin recipes. Subsequent tests by the Porton Down science laboratories found no trace of ricin on any equipment found in the flat. But even if they had, ricin is not a poison which can be easily used for mass murder.

What was unsavoury was the way in which the arrests were used to heighten people's fears and exaggerate the threat of al-Qaida. But there is another threat that the Bourgass conviction poses. He was a failed asylum seeker who went underground. Stand by for the opportunistic Tories to use the case to continue their attack on refugees. Such blunt attacks are as poisonous as ricin on civic society.

Dead man's family pray for his killer

Helen Carter, The Guardian, April 14, 2005

The widow of murdered special branch officer Stephen Oake has spoken of the rollercoaster of emotions she has suffered since her husband's death in a botched anti-terrorism operation in Manchester.

Lesley Oake, a committed Christian, said: "My life has changed totally for lots of reasons. The gravity of the situation and the media interest has been quite scary."

The couple were married at 21 and had been together for 20 years. They had three children.

"We were very interested in each other's lives," she said. Stephen was committed to his job and to his family "and would always make us feel special. Each day we took time out to chat over the day's problems". Since his death there had been days when she had not wanted to get out of bed. "When we would talk about what would happen if something happened to one of us, Stephen would always say: 'You must carry on and you must pursue life. You can't let it pull you down.'"

Mr Oake's father Robin, a former chief constable, said his son was happiest when he was working in special branch. He described his death as a "terrible wrench".

"He was part of me that has gone. Sometimes I see young children and I think 'That was Steve once' and it brings a tear to my eye."

"When we had the first press conference I said something ... that I would forgive the person who was alleged to have killed Steve.

"Seeing him in court I have been praying for him, and so have the family, every day since. We feel so sad that a young man like that has got into this position in life."

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