Woolwich Terror Attack – The Main Suspect and Me.

I was as shocked and horrified as anyone else this week by the appalling attack by two young men on the soldier in Woolwich, London. The image of the victim lying in the street dying as one of the suspects talked into a lens, with blood on his hands and still holding meat cleavers, was genuinely disturbing at the most primal of levels to anyone watching,

For me however, it’s been particularly unsettling.

Let me explain why.

In the 48hrs since the attacks I have been distracted by the face, voice and build of that man. He seemed familiar and I have spent hours trying to work out why.

I knew he reminded me of someone I once met and have never forgotten, but when I started digging through my notes, I more or less dismissed the imagined link. But I kept searching anyway. New information however, stopped me in my tracks.

The suspect’s name, according to reports, is Michael Adebolajo, a 29 year-old British man of Nigerian origin. Initially that didn’t help me. Moreover, when I discovered he’d changed his name to Mujahid, that confused me even more since I have no recollection or memory reference of having met anyone called that either.

However, the more I looked at the terrible video of him speaking into the camera, waving his blood splattered hands around, the more certain I became I’d met him during one of my investigations in 2004.

After more research, I discovered that this man was a follower of radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed. And it was then I realised that my connection might be actually correct.

You see in March 2004, I met the radical cleric – calling himself ‘Sheik’ Omar – in London (in a Burger King rather bizarrely) for an investigation I was doing for Esquire magazine into two UK suicide bombers who’d committed an atrocity in Israel. Some people regarded the radical Sheik who led the extremist group  al-Muhajiroun as a buffoon but I felt different. A source told me the two suicide bombers had been influenced heavily by the cleric, so I wanted to meet him and ask him about his knowledge of them. I came away utterly convinced the cleric knew far more about the suicide bombing operation than he was letting on. He scared me and I tried to convey that in the final paragraph of the article. You can read the investigation here.

Now throughout that memorable meeting Bakri Mohammed was accompanied to the meeting by a very intense, well-built and glowering young black man. Before I’d started taping the encounter, I discovered the pair of them – quite thoughtfully – had already bought me some fast food from the Burger King we were sitting in: I gently declined their kind offer and so the cleric shrugged, then happily tucked into a second Chicken Royale and also helped himself to another large strawberry milkshake. I heard the large young man speak and realised he was a local Londoner and asked him what his name was – he looked at the cleric clearly seeking permission – and then told me in a quiet voice that I could refer to him as ‘Abdul’. He sat silent throughout the entire meeting literally staring at me non-stop, something I found unsettling and a little annoying. I tried to engage him in conversation and he refused to say much. Only after the tape-recorder was switched off did he briefly discuss religion, referring to Jesus using the Hebrew name of Yeshua, and bemoaning the country’s lack of belief in proper religions

That name he referred to himself with – ‘Abdul’ – didn’t help me much as I tried to join the dots.

Until today when I read an article in The Independent newspaper.

It connects the cleric to the Woolwich attacker and there, halfway down, it also states he did indeed have a third name – one he used in between ‘ Michael Adebolajo’ and the more recent ‘Mujahid’. That name – according to Bakri Mohammed himself – was… ‘Abdullah’. The article also lays out his closeness to the cleric, how he became radicalised post-2003 and his movements in that whole timeframe. Everything fits with my recollections.

To triple-check my memory however, I pulled out from my archives this morning the actual 11-page transcript of my interview on March 16th, 2004 with the cleric and this man. As I said, he sat silently throughout the actual recording so I didn’t expect to find much, but after a couple of searches I found, on Page 3 of the 4,409 word transcript, a single reference to me asking the staring black ‘minder’ of the the Sheik a simple question – and I used the name he’d given me when we first met minutes before – ‘Abdul’.

I would therefore state, with perhaps an 85-90% certainty, that the 29year-old man with the meat cleaver and bloodied hands who jointly carried out the Woolwich murder of 25 year-old soldier Lee Rigby, and the 20 year-old minder to the radical preacher I met in North London in March 2004, were the same person.

This photo was taken in London 2007, some three years after I met the man who called himself ‘Abdul’. The same man – as far as I can tell – is circled in this image. He bears a very strong resemblance to the man who accompanied Omar Bakri Mohammed when I interviewed him. The expression in this image was identical to the sullen one he wore throughout our meeting, leading me to strongly believe he was, as I described him in the investigation, the radical cleric’s ‘minder’. He is pictured here with another well-known radical preacher Anjem Choudary.

My final recollection of the encounter – an anecdote I have mentioned frequently in lectures to students because I never forgot it – was when we wrapped up the interview, the pair muttered to each other and then invited me back to a local flat. They said they had some interesting ‘martyr’ videos I might find interesting and could assist me with my investigation.

I politely declined.

Eamonn O’Neill presents new 1hr BBC Radio 4 documentary on Watergate

I am delighted to announce that a new BBC Radio 4 documentary I have been working on recently will air on Saturday May 11th at 8pm,

‘Heroes and Hacks’ examines Watergate on its 40th anniversary and evaluates its legacy for journalism and society. I interviewed all the legendary ‘greats’ – including quite a few of my own heroes – including: Bob Woodward, Len Downie, John Pilger, Heather Brooke and Nick Davies. There’s even a short clip of me interviewing Ben Bradlee over 20 years ago (which indicates how long I have been studying the topic!). I am planning a new academic/trade book and multi-platform digital project on this in the next 12-18 months.

It was great fun to do and the production company who produced it for BBC Radio 4 – Whistledown Productions – were superb. Special thanks to producer Colin McNulty for all his hard work and help.

Giving Evidence to the Scottish Parliament

I was invited recently to give expert evidence in the Scottish Parliament on the future of investigative journalism in Scotland in the wake of press regulation proposals. The Education and Culture Committee were were well-briefed on the thorny topic and its members asked some very engaging questions. I was delighted to follow on from Lord McLuskey who wrote the recent report for the Government and also deliver my evidence alongside Pete Murray from the National Union of Journalist who is not only a widely respected colleague but a great pal.

Of course the most surreal part of all was realising halfway through my evidence that one of the committee members was none other than an old school friend who I hadn’t seen since the Physics class nearly 30 years before. What a way to meet the lovely Clare Adamson MSP again.

The whole morning was filmed and is available here.

Launch of The Livingstone Journalism Scholars Programme

On the 200th anniversary of Scottish explorer David Livingstone’s birth, I was very proud to be one of the architects of a new scholars programme for journalists from Malawi. He attended the university where I work – the University of Strathclyde – when it was a mere college. Fittingly, until recently when I moved offices, I also worked for a decade in the Livingstone Tower which was named after him, walking past a statue of him every morning.

It took 6 months working with the Deputy Editor of Scotland on Sunday newspaper Kenny Farquharson, my colleague Dr Jane Andrews from the university’s David Livingstone Centre for Sustainability and staff from the office of Cabinet Secretary for Education Michael Russell – who personally supported this – from Scottish Government to make this happen. We’re all very proud and look forward to it coming to fruition later this year.

Meantime here are two fantastic articles in Scotland on Sunday announcing the new plans.

 

New BBC Radio Scotland series launches with 30-minute programme devoted to Eamonn O’Neill’s investigative work.

A new BBC Radio Scotland series of programmes begins soon as part of a ‘Crime and Punishment’ season.

The first 30 minute broadcast is entirely devoted to covering my professional investigative work over the last 24 years, in particular the 13 years I devoted to the Robert Brown miscarriage of justice case – reckoned to be one of the longest in the UK and certainly the worst involving a Scottish prisoner.

It was flattering to be asked to participate and discuss my work. The questions from host Neil Mackay were interesting and wide-ranging. It’s the first time in my career I’ve really been asked to examine my personal motives for doing investigative work and to be recorded over 90+ mins for a 30 mins broadcast was a new experience. It’ll be interesting to see what’s included and what gets cut out…

You can find the programme here and listen to it live on the day or afterwards via the iPlayer: BBC Radio Scotland – Covering Crime with Eamonn O’Neill Thursday 14th March 2013 2.05pm.

New Academic Book

I am delighted to announce the publication of new academic book called ‘After Leveson? The Future for British Journalism’. I contributed a chapter on the possible ‘Chilling Effect’ of the Leveson Report on investigative journalism in the UK. My analysis took into account research I’ve carried out on the complex and unpredictable aftermath of the Watergate scandal in the 1974-2000 timeframe in the USA. I connected this to the thought-provoking ‘Cultural Chaos’ theory introduced in his book of the same name by my former Univ of Strathclyde colleague Prof. Brian McNair now on the faculty of Queensland University of Technology. I found much to commend in his analysis and believe his progressive conclusions tie-in with my examination of what happened after the so-called high-point of the genre in the USA. It’s available here: ‘After Leveson? The Future for British Journalism’.

Ray Mouton’s statement on the resignation of Pope Benedict.

Readers of my posts on this site will know I have written extensively of the child abuse scandal which has engulfed the RC church globally. Several of the articles in the past have mentioned the important contributions made by former New Orleans-based lawyer Ray Mouton, now a bestselling critically-acclaimed author, since he represented the first RC priest accused of child abuse in the 1980s. He was one of the co-authors of the notorious ‘Manual’ – a 100-page document – drafted in May/June 1985 warning the church about the scale of abuse and strongly advising it to change all its policies regarding the issue. They were ignored and the document was shelved.

Ray Mouton has written a fictional story about this matter in the unforgettable novel ‘in God’s House’ review elsewhere on my site. In the wake of the Papal resignation today he has just issued the following statement:

Statement of author Ray Mouton re:

Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

This resignation could not have come soon enough and it should be followed by the resignations of most of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church – Cardinals in Rome and around the world, and Archbishops, Bishops, Vicars and Chancery officials who have covered up sex crimes against children by priests, nuns and religious, for there are few, if any, in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church who have not been either complicit in the cover up of felony crimes of priests or had guilty knowledge that such crimes were being covered up.

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger has been at the center of the cover up of the current clergy abuse crisis and scandal since 1981 when he was appointed Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith that is an office that is the successor to what was previously called the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office and prior to that was called Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.

This office has always had all authority and responsibility for what are defined under Church law, canon law, as “moral delicts” of clergy – what the Church calls sins and the secular world calls crimes. The present Pope held this Vatican office for 24 years as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a period of time that spans from the first public prosecution of a priest in the U. S. in 1984 to 19 April 2005 when he ascended to the papacy and assumed the name Pope Benedict XVI. The current clergy abuse crisis and scandal happened on this man’s watch.

While Ratzinger was still a Cardinal in charge of clergy abuse matters, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law of Boston resigned in disgrace on December 13, 2002. At that time the present Pope was the person making all decisions relating to clergy abuse matters. The decision was taken to promote, elevate and exalt the disgraced Cardinal Law by naming him Archpriest of Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest church in Rome dedicated to Mary, a basilica painted in gold leaf that claims part of Christ’s crib as its relic, and has a villa as the residence of the Archpriest. Cardinal Law was also appointed to all important Vatican commissions, including the one that selects Bishops, and Cardinal Law had the privilege of celebrating mass on the altar of St. Peter’s on one of the official 9 days of mourning following the death of Pope John Paul II.

Ratzinger was Pope when Cardinal Roger Mahony in Los Angeles authorized a 660 million dollar settlement of civil claims in July 2007, a sum that represents the wholesale rape of girls and boys over decades. Pope Benedict XVI did not act to replace Cardinal Mahony nor was Mahony reprimanded, but rather he was allowed to serve as Archbishop of the largest diocese in the U. S. until he reached retirement age four years later in 2011. In fact, Mahony was not removed from public life until January 31, 2013.

One need look no farther than the action and/or inaction that Joseph Ratzinger took in regard to disgraced Cardinals Law and Mahony when Ratzinger was a Cardinal and Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and later when he was Supreme Pontiff to clearly understand Ratzinger’s attitude of placing paramount emphasis on protecting prelates in the hierarchy of the Church with total disregard for the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.

Clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic Church did not begin during Ratzinger’s tenure in Rome for documents prove it was widespread as far back as 306 AD.

The clergy abuse crisis and scandal will not end with Ratzinger’s resignation as welcome as his resignation is among the faithful and the public.

Until all documents relating to clergy abuse through the past years, decades and centuries are released by the Church in every diocese in the world and the Vatican – all bishops who have covered up crimes of priests must be mandated to follow Ratzinger’s example in resigning their positions, there will be no path for the Church to follow to begin to recover from their fall from grace in sacrificing innocent children to protect the reputation of the Church, its priests and bishops, and the moral authority, credibility and trust the institution once had will continue to erode.

The problem of clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic Church is an “institutional problem” and until the Church addresses it as an institutional problem and all men who serve in the hierarchy of the institution who have covered up crimes resign as Ratzinger has done, the Church cannot heal itself nor provide any meaningful atonement to hundreds of thousands of children who had innocence, God’s greatest gift, ripped from their hearts.

In God’s House, the novel I worked on for 12 years is a book about truth, not facts, and it tells the whole truth of the entire saga of the current clergy abuse crisis and scandal that began in the deep south of the United States in 1984 and continues to devastate every Catholic diocese in the world today.

For 29 years I’ve monitored developments in this crisis, a scandal that goes to the very foundation of the faith for none of the actions of the hierarchy of the Church have conformed to the teachings and example of Christ’s life from which the Church claims its moral authority.

In the beginning in 1984 there were isolated fires of scandal that burned on the horizon out of view of most people.Then the fires of the crisis began to spread and finally covered the Catholic world as the crisis and scandal devastated the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and severely impacted every Catholic diocese on earth.

Finally the flames of the fire are scarring the walls of the Vatican. It’s a fire that cannot be extinguished by one guilty man’s resignation. The Church has always viewed truth as its enemy. Until the institution embraces the truth, does what it mandates of the its faithful – fully confesses all of its sins by releasing all documents relating to sex abuse and accepts the resignations of all who have ever covered up crimes, and the Church accepts the severe penance the courts and public will mete out – only then will the Church be in a true state of grace and be able to begin to rebuild the ruin it created when members of the hierarchy charted a disastrous course for the Church by making fateful, faithless decisions that placed the Church, criminals, and men who empower and enable criminals above the welfare of children.

If he were thrown into the sea with a millstone tied to his neck, he would be far better off than facing the punishment in store for those who harm these little children’s souls.

Luke 17:2

 

Ray Mouton/February 11, 2013/France

Eamonn O’Neill discusses controversial report into Northern Ireland terrorist murder on Scottish TV.

Eamonn O’Neill being interviewed on Scotland Tonight by Rona McDougall.

Scotland Tonight, the most-watched current affairs programme produced by my former employers from two decades ago, STV, invited me to discuss the controversial Pat Finucane case. I explained during the on-air interview my thoughts about the newly-published review carried out by Sir Desmond de Silva into the murder of the Belfast-based lawyer in February 1989 and its findings of top-to-bottom collusion between the British security forces and Loyalist terrorists during the ‘Dirty War’ in Northern Ireland during the 19060-90s timeframe.

It’s a story I have reported on and kept a close watch on for some time now and I explained how the report’s conclusion, although not unexpected and not complete either, still made shocking reading. In my view this case and this is a subject that will run and run for the foreseeable future.

Review: ‘In God’s House’ – A Riveting Read.

Reading ‘In God’s House’ the début novel by Ray Mouton, was an intense and suspenseful experience. The prose was fresh and crisp and displayed a Hemingway-esque control and awareness of plot, character and narrative arc from beginning to end. As the story unfolded, I felt myself gripped and eventually shocked by the events, characters and emotions which were introduced to me throughout this deceptively-human but ultimately-epic story. I have reviewed many novels in the last 20+ years as a professional journalist but none hit me as hard as this.

I repeatedly found myself thinking of the masterful work by Mario Puzo, ‘The Godfather’ as I turned page after page of Mouton’s astonishing book. When I read Puzo’s seminal work, whilst being well aware La Cosa Nostra existed I wasn’t prepared for the journey it took me on nor for the education about its players, dramas and underlying themes. It wasn’t a book about the ‘Mafia’ it was a book about the violence men do, an Italian-immigrant family, cultural-loyalties, economic-survival, institutional-corruption and – above all – the roots of an American family.

Mouton’s novel touches deep emotions in similar, if not better, ways. This is not a story about ‘child-abuse.’ This is a wonderful and thought-provoking story of: ambition; professional-judgment; ethics-in-the-workplace; duty-to-family, community, profession and oneself; courage-of-all-forms; and the challenge of religious faith in the modern age.
Yes, Mouton tackles head-on a subject that’s in global headlines but he singularly enlightens the unsuspecting-reader about its street-level legal complexities, multi-layered realities and, ultimately, its appalling consequences.

Like Puzo’s masterpiece, it presents dreadful characters, shocking scenes and unforgettable outcomes. It simply stays with you after you’ve turned the final page.
But above all this is a novel in the purest literary sense: it takes the reader along a path that seems familiar but is revealed to be alien; it unveils truths in the midst of a sea of lies; and it paints a portrait of a lawyer who might not be the person he wanted to be, but is certainly a timeless, sympathetic and wholly human hero for our times for the rest us. In that sense there is an unmistakable – but updated to a modern setting and with possibly more raw intensity – similarity to Harper Lee’s classic hero Atticus Finch from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

This novel succeeds in winning the reader’s trust by creating characters who accompany us on a journey into dark places and as a legal thriller effortlessly ranks on a par with the best his fellow Southern writer John Grisham has to offer (and I am thinking of Grisham’s best work – and his and my own personal favorite – ‘A Time to Kill’ which tackled the equally unsettling issue of racism in the South and also had a flawed but courageous hero in lawyer Jake Brigance. Yes, Mouton’s book is that good).

There have been many journalistic articles, many network documentaries and many newspaper commentaries across the globe written about the crisis within the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. Only one book has been written by the ultimate insider, and this book is by Ray Mouton.

Mouton’s novel takes you beyond the other places because it takes you into the very soul of the damaged Church of Peter. I doubt if any other work of fiction could address such a catastrophic event in such a powerful, accessible, authoritative and shockingly entertaining way. But – and this is important to impart – it triumphs because it left this reader with a feeling of hope that one good man can indeed, face evil down and against all the odds of hell, actually make a difference. That in itself is a testimony to what this author and this story has managed to achieve.

‘In God’s House’ by Ray Mouton is published by Head of Zeus and is available here.

Joining the Council of JUSTICE Scotland

 I am deeply honoured and proud to have been invited by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, to join the brand new JUSTICE Scotland Council which launches in the heart of the capital’s legal community tonight. JUSTICE has been based in London for decades and has a formidable and well-deserved reputation for advising and becoming involve din matters of law connected with social justice. It’s a non-party affiliated charity which has an important role to play in the fast-changing legal landscape of Scotland. Tonight’s launch is by Lord Hope of Craighead, Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court and a fellow University of Strathclyde man. It’s a privilege to serve alongside him and other colleagues from the law, academia and other areas of Scottish life on this