Accountability for improper BBC journalism

Accountability for improper BBC journalism

18 July 2022
Signatures: 345Next goal: 500
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Why this petition matters

Started by Jon Francis-Jones

BBC Panorama released a documentary in July 2022 constructed to lead viewers to believe the British Special Forces had been involved in the illegal execution of Afghan fighters taken captive.

The documentary used information and footage pertaining to the Special Forces of other countries, in particular Australian Special Air Service Regiment troopers. The blending of such information was undoubtedly designed to confuse viewers, to bolster the credibility of the documentary and its production team.

The matters applying to the British Special Forces had already been referred to the Royal Military Police and already investigated, however the BBC documentary overlooked this, instead providing information as if it were new and implying the Ministry of Defence had simply swept these matters aside, which is not truthful.

The BBC documentary was reliant on untested and prejudicial accounts from Afghan locals. It us not known whether these Afghan locals were former fighters or indeed whether the BBC Documentary makers had offered gratuity for these accounts.

Veterans outraged at the BBC documentary have complained to the BBC, only to be fobbed off with a generic and condescending response, included in italics below.

Thank you for contacting us about Panorama - SAS Death Squads Exposed: A British War Crime? broadcast on 12 July.

We are sorry that you didn’t like the programme.

To ensure we use our licence fee resources as efficiently as possible we’re sending this response to everyone who contacted us. We’re sorry we can’t reply individually, but we hope this will address most of the points you raised.
The programme was the culmination of a detailed four-year investigation into the actions of British Special Forces in Afghanistan and it raised matters of important public interest. Panorama examined a six-month tour by a single SAS unit and found evidence of 54 suspicious deaths. Killings which were raised to the headquarters as providing cause for concern by senior UK Special Forces officers at the time.

Alongside the testimony of dozens of military insiders, much of the evidence featured in the programme came from military reports, internal documents and emails from within UK Special Forces.

The SAS’s own official account of this tour does not dispute that detainees and unarmed people were repeatedly shot dead.

Internal emails showed that officers within Special Forces didn’t believe the accounts of raids being given by the SAS unit, and that some of them raised concerns about the alleged executions with very senior UKSF officers. The documents show that these allegations were not reported to the military police and were locked away in a secret restricted-access file instead, accessible to only a handful of senior officers within UK Special Forces.

The military reports featured in the programme gave the SAS unit’s account of the raids in their own words. They showed that the unit had repeatedly killed people after they had surrendered and been detained. The SAS said they had been killed because they had grabbed weapons. Senior Special Forces officers considered these accounts to be suspect at the time for a number of reasons, including that, detainees are routinely searched and restrained. They should, therefore, not be able to grab weapons. The experts Panorama consulted agreed that one case of a detainee grabbing a weapon is unlikely and that repeated cases are highly suspicious.

Some of the suspicious deaths involved raids where more people were killed than weapons recovered. According to the UK’s rules of engagement, British troops are only supposed to kill someone if they present an imminent threat to life. So the military normally expects there to be the same number of weapons recovered as people killed. In a number of cases there were fewer than half the number of weapons reported to have been recovered than people killed. Once again, senior Special Forces officers considered these accounts were suspicious and concerning at the time.

The evidence from the military documents was backed up by British military insiders who agreed to talk to the programme on condition of anonymity. They told us they had witnessed executions and seen ‘drop weapons’ planted at the scene. A senior UKSF officer who worked at UK Special Forces HQ told Panorama about the alarm the reports from the SAS unit were causing back in London. The source said there were too many people being killed and the explanations didn’t make sense.

Panorama also travelled to Afghanistan to gather its own evidence and went to villages that no British investigators have visited, to examine the sites of the shootings. The programme took care to ensure that the accounts of local people were placed in context and that they were countered with the SAS unit’s accounts of the raids. Panorama also worked to verify their accounts with other sources, including those within the British military and a confidential UN investigation which concluded one of those killed was a civilian and unarmed when he was shot dead.

In some locations Panorama was able to gather additional physical evidence. For example, the height of the bullet holes in the Nad Ali guesthouse shooting, which suggested the dead men had been lying down when they were killed. Panorama showed the evidence it gathered to Special Forces weapons and ballistic experts and reported their analysis that these bullet marks were suggestive of people being shot positioned low to the ground and were not what you would expect to see as the result of a fire fight.

Panorama felt there was a strong public interest in publishing the evidence in the programme because it hadn’t been properly investigated by the Ministry of Defence. The Royal Military Police (RMP) did not find out about the material locked away in the secret file until 2015 – four years after the events occurred. Insiders from the Royal Military Police told Panorama they were subsequently stopped from carrying out thorough and fully independent investigations. Senior RMP investigators told Panorama they were repeatedly prevented from following fundamental lines of enquiry, and that cases were dropped prematurely. They said they were ordered to drop suspects, blocked from interviewing key senior UKSF officers and prevented from viewing footage of UK Special Forces operations.

The programme did not seek to impugn or criticise British troops in general. Colonel Oliver Lee made the point that the vast majority served with great distinction and courage on a really difficult mission in Afghanistan. This point was repeated by the Ministry of Defence later in the programme and then reiterated by reporter Richard Bilton.

However, Panorama felt the allegations against the SAS were so serious that they clearly merited reporting. It is a view that has been supported, among others, by the man who was in charge of British armed forces at the time the killings took place. General Sir David Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff, said that 'worrying events of the type captured by Panorama are very rare in the British armed forces', but that 'given the compelling nature' of the evidence, he would order an investigation if he were still in charge.
Once again, we are sorry you didn’t like the programme. We hope this response helps to explain why Panorama thought it was in the public interest to broadcast what they did.

Your feedback is valued. Your concerns have been seen by the Panorama team. We’ve also included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback at the BBC, and helps inform future editorial judgements.

Kind regards,

BBC Complaints Team

Please note: this email is sent from an unmonitored address so please don’t reply. If necessary please contact us through our webform (please include your case reference number).

As a publicly funded organisation the BBC has a responsibility to provide accurate information within their programming. Information must be tested to the highest degree and where it has not this must be made clear within the program - not as a credit.

This documentary is not in the public interest, it is of interest to the public and these two concepts are quite different. It only seeks to sully the good name of the British Armed Forces and this instance those who are or have served within the British Special Forces, a heinous and unwarranted act by the BBC.

This petition seeks for the BBC to be held to account for this and many other inaccurate programs, with miscreant individuals disciplined. The BBC should be impartial, it is not. Instead it is being systemically hijacked to purvey political messages and the Government should intervene to preserve this impartiality.

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Signatures: 345Next goal: 500
Support now