Officer, there’s a hole in your bit bucket By William Bowles

19 August 2005


On July 30 I wrote a piece on the murder of Mr De Menezes by an undercover assassination squad on the Northern Line train that as the ‘leaks’ that came into the possession of TV News shows, was a pretty accurate summation of the events on that Friday morning.

Y’know, the ‘profession’ of journalism is a very cosy club. The majority of journalists and reporters for the major media (including the BBC) have very close connections with all the state structures, but especially with the police who will, when it suits them, leak all kinds of information to their chosen conduits, and no doubt some palms also get crossed with silver.

These aptly named ‘undisclosed sources’ are considered to be very useful when getting the ‘inside dope’ on a police investigation and news organisations try to maintain ‘good’ relations with their informants. Stealing a break on your competition is part of the ‘game’ if you want to get ahead and make a name for yourself.

Sometimes they work to the advantage of the journalist but conversely, they can just as easily work to the advantage of the authorities. The question then is who is using whom?

The tactic of manipulating ‘undisclosed sources’ has come fully into its own since July 7 in part because 24/7 news coverage relies on a continuous flow of ‘news’. Moreover, the concentration of media ownership also works to the advantage of the state as there are fewer outlets, enabling the same story or stories to spread extremely rapidly and drown out any other possible scenarios.

And just as importantly, 24/7 ‘news’ delivery is an insatiable devourer of content, much of which we get only the most fleeting glance at because it gets dumped into the ‘bit bucket’ just as quickly as it appears. Hence tracking every little tidbit becomes an almost impossible task, especially when taken collectively, they resemble pieces from different jigsaws.

Deluged with mostly anonymous sources of information leads to a situation of chaos and where events – at least from the media’s perspective are fast-moving – the potential to launch a disinformation campaign is enormous.

If we look at the ‘news’ that poured out on and after 7 July for example, we find that very few had a direct attribution. Invariably, it was ‘according to my sources’ or ‘according to informed sources’ that such and such occurred. Hence talk of ‘military explosives’, ‘connections to al-Qu’eda’, an ‘international terror network’, ‘timers’ then no timers, then it became amateur or home-made explosives, then back to military explosives, Pakistan, then Pakistan vanishes, all of it clearly designed to create an atmosphere of panic and fear.

Most important of all, when the dust finally settles and one starts to try and assemble a coherent and hopefully reliable picture of what really happened, you find that virtually all of the so-called news is either nowhere to be found or and this is crucial, there is no attributable source to which one can turn to for verification. And because aside from the odd official comment, such as Police Commissioner Blair’s on-the-record statement about De Menezes being directly connected to the bombings within minutes of his assassination, the rest can be safely denied.

And indeed, this is exactly what’s happening with the De Menezes murder as the ‘eye-witness’ report by a certain Mark Whitby shows:

I was sitting on the train… I heard a load of noise, people saying, ‘Get out, get down’.

I saw an Asian guy. He ran on to the train, he was hotly pursued by three plain clothes officers, one of them was wielding a black handgun.

‘He half tripped… they pushed him to the floor and basically unloaded five shots into him,’ he told BBC News 24.

As [the suspect] got onto the train I looked at his face, he looked sort of left and right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, a cornered fox.

He looked absolutely petrified and then he sort of tripped, but they were hotly pursuing him, [they] couldn’t have been any more than two or three feet behind him at this time and he half tripped and was half pushed to the floor and the policeman nearest to me had the black automatic pistol in his left hand.

He held it down to the guy and unloaded five shots into him.

He [the suspect] had a baseball cap on and quite a sort of thickish coat – it was a coat you’d wear in winter, sort of like a padded jacket.

He might have had something concealed under there, I don’t know. But it looked sort of out of place with the sort of weather we’ve been having, the sort of hot humid weather.

BBC News Website, Friday, July 22, 2005

Mark WhitbySo who is Mark Whitby? Where is Mark Whitby? Why hasn’t he surfaced since July 22? Does Mark Whitby even exist? The contrast between his story and the one that has emerged this week is so startling that one has to ask the question, is ‘Mr Whitby’ a plant?

Even ‘Mr Whitby’s’ language is unusual, “he unloaded five shots into him” “…he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, a cornered fox.” ‘Unloaded’? Does this sound like an ordinary working man who has only minutes before seen a man shot to death “It was no less than five yards away from where I was sitting. I actually saw it with my own eyes” he told the BBC. “I saw an Asian guy … [wearing] sort of like a padded jacket … [that was] out of place”. Oh really? Whitby’s eyewitness story sounds more like a script to me.

We now know of course that he wore only a light denim jacket, he was already sitting down in the carriage when another policeman, a surveillance officer, grabbed him and then he was forced to the ground before being shot eight times (amazingly, the police fired at least eleven shots but three missed, even at point blank range. One can only speculate on what happened to the shots that missed).

So within minutes of the assassination of Mr De Menezes, all kinds of stories were doing the rounds and all faithfully reproduced by the media. But try and find out where the story about Mr De Menezes leaping the ticket turnstyle comes from and there’s only one named source and that’s Chris Wells, a 28-year-old company manager who says:

…he saw about 20 police officers, some of them armed, rushing into the station.

He said: ‘There were at least 20 of them [officers] and they were carrying big black guns.

‘The next thing I saw was this guy jump over the barriers and the police officers were chasing after him and everyone was just shouting ‘get out, get out’. Several other witnesses reported seeing the man jump over the ticket barriers and being chased by three men in plain clothes but carrying guns.

Sky News 23/07/2005

But as with ‘Mr Whitby’, you’ll search in vain to find any subsequent mention of Mr Wells. As we now know, Mr De Menezes, picked up a newspaper, used a ticket to go through the turnstyle and walked, not ran until he reached the platform where he saw a train waiting which he understandably ran for.

I did a search on Google using “Chris Wells AND Stockwell” and found 237 stories, all using the same single interview I’ve reproduced a part of above. There are no subsequent interviews with Mr Wells, no follow-ups, nothing, just this one story repeated 237 times. The same goes for the ‘Whitby’ eyewitness account, the same single story reproduced hundreds of times. Perhaps Mr Whitby and Mr Wells would like to come forward and explain?

The police have said that the reason there is no CCTV footage of that Friday afternoon is because:

police officers had removed the cameras’ disks for their investigation into the suicide bomb suspects who boarded the train at the same station the previous day.

Have the police not heard of replacement disks I wonder or doesn’t their budget run to it?

The media for its part, especially the BBC, has been not only trying to cover its own uncritical reportage but has bent over backwards to paint the police’s actions in a positive light and no wonder, for not only is the BBC the official voice of the state, it has a lot of explaining to do when it comes to so uncritically reproducing un-attributed stories as fact and for accepting everything the police says as gospel.

The latest BBC story tells us that although:

The documents contradict initial eyewitness reports suggesting Mr de Menezes had hurdled a barrier at Stockwell Tube station and was wearing a padded jacket

The BBC doesn’t ask the question any responsible news organization should ask, namely why the conflicting reports? Why have they not tried to locate Mr Whitby and Mr Wells? Instead, the BBC quotes Sir Ian Blair that he:

…told [BBC’s] Talking Politics those reports had never been confirmed by Metropolitan Police officers. We do not do spin. That is exactly the one thing the Metropolitan Police Service does not do.

BBC News Website, 18 August 2005.

Yes, no spin, just like those missing disks. Note that exactly ‘on time’, Sir Ian can’t confirm the ‘eyewitness’ reports, but how damn convenient that the media got immediate access to two ‘eyewitnesses’ who tell stories that justify exactly what the police want us to believe but when push comes to shove, neither story was confirmed by the police.

And essentially the same thing applies to the events of July 7 only in reverse. Dozens of witnesses on the 26 bus but not a single interview. An unknown number of witnesses on the three tube trains but not a single interview. Dozens of stories appeared in the days following the bombings but not a single definative account of any of the bombings has yet emerged. And no wonder, how could anyone make sense of the flood of disinformation we have been fed?

The press get fed a slew of unconfirmed stories, many of them contradictory and full of internal inconsistencies, yet because there are so many stories flying around, and because any story, no matter how flakey, will sell newspapers or grab viewers who are desperate to know what’s going on, they get passed on regardless.

The only impression left with a misinformed public, is one of fear and chaos and of a conspiracy of international proportions that requires a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, a policy which goes horribly wrong because Officer Plod goes for a piss at the wrong time and an innocent man gets murdered in cold blood, at least that’s what the police are now saying.

Isn’t it time the media came clean about the incestuous relationship it has with the state and started exercising its so-called responsibility to report real news rather than rely on headline grabbers that use anything the state puts out through its interminable ‘back doors’ and ‘unofficial’ sources?

PS: For a couple of different ‘takes’ on the De Menezes debacle see ‘Taking down the wrong man at Stockwell tube’ and ‘Self-loathing over Stockwell’

Update: 20/8/05

Got this from South London Press dated 19/8/05. So much for ‘eyewitness’ accounts!

Brixton resident Mark Whitby was yards away in the same carriage.

Various witnesses said they saw an Asian man wearing bulky clothing directly involved in the action.

But Mr Whitby says that man – who may have vaulted a ticket barrier – is likely to have been an undercover cop trailing Mr de Menezes.

“What’s been on the news this week is as close to the truth as you’re going to get,” he told the South London Press.

“I think the guy I saw being bundled out of the way might have been a surveillance officer who was following him.”

Mr Whitby, 47, described what he saw: “There was a mass of bodies and I saw a gun being lowered and I heard the shots.

“Mr de Menezes must have been ahead of the officers. The guy in the thick coat can’t have been him.”

Had the police told the truth from the beginning, then Whitby’s ‘eyewitness’ account would not have determined how the murder of De Menezes was first reported and how it conditioned all the subsequent coverage. Moreover, it took a local newspaper to track down Mr Whitby and get his heavily amended account and one that none of the major media have bothered to carry. It’s as if it never happened!

And what of Mr Wells’ account as obviously he saw a cop leaping over the turnstyle, not a ‘terrorist’. The critical issue here is not simply that eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable as every study ever done has shown, but that the media took these two accounts and they became the definative ‘news’ at that crucial time.

No doubt the corporate/state media will argue that these two accounts were all they had to go on and in any case, we now have the ‘real’ story courtesy of a leaked preliminary report from the IPCC, who cares about Mr Whitby and Mr Wells?

But the police knew both accounts were incorrect and, as we now know, there were other eyewitnesses to the murder, why weren’t they interviewed at the time? We have to ask the question, especially in the light of the fact that the police made sure that no interviews took place with witnesses to the July 7 bombings, what role the police/authorities played in permitting the Whitby and Wells interviews to be the only ones the press carried.

This surely has to be a textbook lesson in the way the media operates to the detriment of a genuinely free press, where the state now determines what is news and what isn’t in order to sell its agenda.


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