Private Eye on the Right-Wing Press’ Attacks on the European Court of Human Rights after the SAS Shooting of the IRA in Gibraltar

Looking for more information yesterday on Private Eye’s account of how Thames Television lost its broadcasting license due to Thatcher’s anger at its documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, I came across a piece in its ‘Hackwatch’ column reporting the attacks by the Right-wing press on the European Court of Human Rights for their judgement on the actions of the SAS. It ran:

Hackwatch: Rock Bottom Revisited

In February 1989 the Eye published Rock Bottom, a pamphlet about the SAS shooting the previous March of three IRA bombers in Gibraltar. Its main conclusions were:

1. That the terrorists’ plan to set off a bomb in Gibraltar on 8 March had been well known to intelligence officers in Britain and in Spain, who closely followed the three from Malaga to Gibraltar and never once lost sight of them.

2. The Det Chief Inspector Joseph Ullger, head of Gibraltar special branch, had admitted at the inquest that the terrorists had been allowed on to the Rock without hindrance, though the authorities knew what they looked like, what passport aliases they were travelling under and what car they were driving.

3. That the failure to stop and arrest the terrorists before they got to Gibraltar was crucial to the entire operation. Either the authorities knew there was a bomb in the car and that the terrorists could detonate it, in which case they were putting a substantial section of the Gibraltar population at risk; or they thought or knew there was no bomb in the car (as there wasn’t) in which case there was no danger of a bomb being detonated.

4. That the only realistic conclusion from these facts was that the terrorists had been deliberately allowed into Gibraltar so they could be killed by the SAS – and that this was unacceptable lynch law.

5. That the lynching had been covered up by the British government, especially at the Gibraltar inquest.

6. That the government was supported to the full in its cover-up by its agents in the press, notably the Sun and the Sunday Times, which waged an hysterical campaign against one of the few attempts in the British media properly to report what went on Gibraltar: Thames TV’s Death on the Rock.

The majority verdict of the European court of human rights goes along with points one, two and three. The court refused to accept point four, the ‘execution plot’ theory, but could provide no other reason the terrorists were not arrested at the border.

One reason for the court’s failure to explain such an inexplicable lapse by the authorities was lack of information. Pre-planning by British intelligence about what it would do to the terrorists once they arrived at Gibraltar was specifically barred from the inquest by a flow of our old friends, “public interest immunity certificates” (gagging orders). The judges did not demand a lifting of the gagging orders, even if they were empowered to do so. Accordingly, without the necessary intelligence information, they were reluctant to jump to the “trap” conclusion reached by the Eye.

The European court of human rights was set up after the war, among others by Winston Churchill, as a “bulwark against fascism”. A majority verdict finding the British government guilty of breaching article two – the right to life – might be expected to be greeted in Britain by a moment of humility, even apology. Instead the air has been thick with the delicious noise of law ‘n’ order fanatics denouncing the due process of law and order.

The Sun launched into a vitriolic attack on the court (urging its readers to ring in and abuse any court official they could find who spoke English, which some of them did in racist language embarrassing even to the Sun editors).

The judges who voted with the majority were denounced one by one. In Lithuania, for instance, the Sun shrieked on 28 September, “three people had been sentenced to death for murder” (no doubt the Sun forgot its many angry campaigns for the return of capital punishment in Britain). Greece was savaged for imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Luxembourg “five prisoners were held in solitary confinement over the legally allowed limit” and in Spain “prisoners were beaten with truncheons”. Civil liberties campaigners in Britain can look forward to future Sun campaigns against the imprisonment without trial of hundreds of people seeking asylum to Britain or the new “head-opener” truncheons so eagerly wielded by the British police.

Why had the judges done such a terrible thing? Alan Clark in the Mail opined: “We have never been forgiven for leaving the ERM.” But Peter Hitchens, political correspondent of the Daily Express, had discovered the real reason. “Could it be,” he asked, “partly because these judges are infected by the sort of ‘correctness’ which has spread into the governing class from the campus revolutionaries of the sixties”? (including even perhaps the vigorously correct York organiser for the International Socialists in the mid-1970s -a certain P. Hitchens).

But no one could touch the master. Andrew Neill filled his column in the Daily Mail (26 Sept) with a hymn of hate against the judges, and followed this up with an almost identical piece in the Sunday Times (29 Sept). Once again Neill singled out the Thames programme Death on the Rock for special abuse, especially for its use of witnesses. Among matters not mentioned in either article were

1. The huge sums in libel damages paid out by the Sunday Times for the hysterical abuse of honest witnesses to the programme. (Neill faces yet another action from Carmen Proetta for shooting his mouth off recently in the Irish media).

2. The payment by the Sunday Times of £2,000 to a convicted drugs smuggler for “information” to smear one of the Gibraltar witnesses. (The information never materialised and the prisoner hopped it with his loot to the Cost del Sol).

3. The denunciation of Neill and his Insight editor by at least three Sunday Times journalists who complained that their reports and assessments on the ground were twisted to feed the paper’s vendetta against Thames TV.

4. The fact that the award-winning Death on the Rock was subjected to one of the most thorough independent investigations in the history of the British media – and commended and cleared of all the serious charges. The investigation was headed by Lord Windlesham, a former Tory minister’.’

Private Eye, 6 October 1995, p. 11.

The shooting of the IRA terrorists by the SAS was therefore the action of a death squad, rather than soldiers governed by the rule of law. The government covered this up using gagging orders, and when the European court of human rights nevertheless ruled against it, the Right-wing press subjected the court to a campaign of denunciation and abuse. The worst of these propaganda pieces was written by Andrew Neill, now appearing as the fair and balanced host of the BBC’s Daily Politics.

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2 Responses to “Private Eye on the Right-Wing Press’ Attacks on the European Court of Human Rights after the SAS Shooting of the IRA in Gibraltar”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. Paul Smyth Says:

    Reblogged this on The Greater Fool.

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