Did a jailed terrorist beg to come home? Newspapers rush to the wrong — though headline-grabbing — conclusion.18 January 2021
‘It’s the Sun wot won it.’ That was a famous headline when the Conservatives unexpectedly won a British general election.
Now, more than a quarter of a century later, that popular tabloid newspaper could very well rewrite its deliberately ungrammatical headline and declare: ‘It’s the Sun wot faked it.’
Let’s start by quoting the offending article, dated 17 January 2021, in full. First, here’s the headline:
‘RETURN BID: Hate preacher Abu Hamza begging to return to Britain over Covid fears in US jail‘.
Then it’s marked: ‘EXCLUSIVE‘.
Then the story goes on:
‘The hook-handed cleric, 62, wants to be released from his tough US supermax jail.
‘In letters from his cell at ADX Florence in Colorado, diabetic Hamza whines that his disabilities would be a “death sentence” if he contracted the virus.
‘The one-eyed preacher of hate says that the confiscation of items such as his electric toothbrush creates poor hygiene conditions.
‘Hamza, extradited to the US in 2012 on terror charges, writes he could suffer “brain damage, failure of organs and amputation to more limbs”.
‘US prosecutors are opposing Hamza’s latest plea to be released after he was turned down in October.
‘They say the prison is taking “aggressive steps” to stop the spread of Covid and his heath conditions are “properly managed”.
‘Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man, Adel Abdel-Bary, 60, who plotted blasts that killed more than 200, was freed in New Jersey and flown back to the UK last month after claiming his obesity put him at risk.’
Nice story — fine to provoke outrage at the effrontery of a former imam [Abu Hamza] convicted in the US of terrorism charges for wanting to return to the country [Britain] where he had allegedly stirred up Muslim youth to become violent terrorists.
Except for one small inconvenient fact: or rather, lack of fact. Nowhere does the story say how or when Abu Hamza actually asked to be sent back to Britain.
In fact, apart from the new ‘angle’, the story was simply a rewrite of what that the same newspaper’s website had displayed a month earlier. Just that the ‘return to Britain’ claim was now added in.
The request made by Abu Hamza that he wished to return to Britain has been reported only once — in a one-line unsourced reference in the telegraph.co.uk website — many months back.
Actually, the original application to a US court had been reported in October last year — by The Times — and in turn was rapidly copycatted by the tabloid British press. Especially prominently on the Sun’s website.
Sure enough, the new and unsubstantiated claims of the Sun in 2021 were also plagiarised within hours by other British newspapers — like the Sun’s biggest red-top rival, the Mirror.
About four hours after the Sun went online with its fictional aqccount, here’s the headline mirror.co.uk wrote :
‘ Hate preacher Abu Hamza ‘begs’ to come back to UK as he’s ‘scared of catching Covid’ ‘
It opened with: ‘Notorious hate preacher Abu Hamza is reportedly ‘begging’ to come back to the UK because he’s scared of catching coronavirus in his high security US prison.’
At least the Mirror used the word ‘reportedly’.
So how did the Sun get the idea that Abu Hamza had ‘begged’ to go back to Britain? Let alone that, as the headline says, this was a ‘Return Bid’.
Ah, it comes from ‘letters’. What letters? To whom? When? Where?
The so-called quotes and a toothbrush story are revealing — because these come from a story the Sun ran months ago. And in that report there was nothing said about Covid.
It is just possible that, if the US was to release Abu Hamza altogether, rather than perhaps move him to a supposedly ‘safer’ Covid-free environment, he would then be deported to Britain, rather than to his native Egypt.
An associate of his, and a fellow-supporter of Al Qaeda, Adel Abdel-Bary, 60, was indeed freed from an American jail and expelled back to the UK last month (December 2020). But, even though the Sun — yes, here we go again — said Bary had been granted a ‘mercy’ release because he was too fat, that was untrue.
It was because, as can be read elsewhere, Bary was almost at the end of his jail sentence, calculated from the date he was detained … whereas Abu Hamza has decades more to run (or rather to stay).
And how does the Sun know Abu Hamza said he was afraid of Covid in his maximum security prison? On the face of it, that argument would be ridiculously weak.
Abu Hamza has been held there in isolation for 23 out of every 24 hours — a restriction that he had in the past lamented was itself unfair.
Sounds like he would be much safer locked in his one-man cell than most ‘free’ people are.
The newspaper does not bring any evidence that Abu Hamza based his argument around Covid.
And of course the Sun also does not show that, even if he did make that hard-to-swallow argument, he ‘begged’ to be returned to the UK.
Perhaps the newspaper, and the websites of copycat newspapers, simply wanted to continue an honourable age-old tradition: never let the facts get in the way of a good story.