REMEMBER THE headlines when in January Spanish police arrested 16 North Africans who lived in Barcelona and Girona? 'Major Al Qaida Attack Foiled' trumpeted the BBC. Tabloid papers ran lurid tales and the Guardian declared that 'the group was poised to launch bomb attacks in Europe'.
A Spanish government press release, rehashed by the bulk of the British media, claimed police had found 'containers of unidentified chemicals'. The 'chemicals' were quickly identified by the British media as the deadly 'ricin'. In this week's New Statesman magazine Justin Webster reports on what has happened in the case.
The 'ricin' the British media talked of was simply an ignorant translation of the Spanish 'resina' mentioned in an initial Spanish government press release. Resina simply means resin and it has nothing to do with ricin at all. The examining magistrate in charge of the case in Spain has already released 14 of the 16 arrested without any charge, and is expected to do the same with the remaining two soon.
He says the supposed evidence is 'very weak'. The 'ricin' turned out to be nothing more sinister than detergent. And there were no 'explosives' at all. Sohuil Kouka, one of those arrested and held for 56 days, is now back with his family in Spain. 'I will not be buying any more bleach,' was his wry comment to the Spanish press.
MEANWHILE IN France the government has been forced to admit that 'ricin' found in a locker at a Paris station is actually wheatgerm. The French interior ministry had initially said the contents were 'traces of ricin in a mixture which has proven to be a very toxic poison'.
Tests done by the defence ministry's laboratory showed that the 'ricin mixture' contained ground up bits of wheatgerm and barley. Incredibly, the investigation will remain under the jurisdiction of anti-terrorism police.
In the Frame - No. 6 LORD IRVINE
WHILE THE media gape in awe at opulent furnishings in Saddam Hussein's palaces, they could have found similar gear in Lord Irvine's place.
New Labour's Lord Chancellor has just splashed out £105,317 on 'artefacts' for his official apartments. These include 'a dining table, eight mirrors, three beds and a Pugin-designed crockery set'.
US is ready for new arms sales
US ARMS firms sell weapons to a US-backed ruler of Iraq. Sound familiar? This is not the tale of how the US armed Saddam Hussein before it turned on him. It is what George Bush is planning for the 'new Iraq'. In Bush's 'supplemental budget' proposed last month he asked the US Congress for authority to allow weapons sales to Iraq.
Other countries are also possible customers. The International Herald Tribune writes, 'The war amounted to an advertisement for US planes, tanks and command and control structures, all of which will be of interest to buyers.'
The rush to lock up children
BRITAIN HAS achieved one sickening record in the last decade. The number of children under 15 years old locked up has risen eightfold - from 100 to 800.
A report by the Nacro crime reduction charity talks of a 'rush to custody' with juveniles in Britain. Those under 18 locked up have risen from 4,000 a year in 1992 to 7,600 last year. At any one time over 3,000 under-18s are in custody in Britain.
Ambitions to get Clarke
EDUCATION secretary Charles Clarke infuriated people in Newcastle last week after insulting parents and young people in the city. Commenting on the proportion of school students from the city who go on to university, he told the city's Evening Chronicle newspaper,'My view is that in Newcastle there is a lack of aspirations.'
David Permain, head of the city's Kenton Green school, angrily rejected Clarke's comment. 'Parents in Newcastle desperately want their children to do well, but they are terrified of the prospect of them ending up in debt.'
Suzanne Kay, who went to the local Marden High school and is now a student at the city's Northumbria University, said, 'I feel insulted to hear Charles Clarke talking like this when his own policy can only deter people from working class backgrounds from going to university.
'There is nothing wrong with the aspirations of my friends, my parents or myself. The prospect of less debt could go a long way to encouraging more people to go further with their education.'
Race case scandal
THREE MEN accused of a racist attack walked free when the star witness against them did not attend court. The witness was a police officer, PC Geoffrey Warburton. He had told police colleagues he could not attend because he was looking after a sick relative.
When a court official was dispatched by the judge to check the truth a different story emerged. The PC's 16 year old son admitted that his father was 100 miles away watching motorbike races at Donington Park in Leicestershire. His absence from court meant the case against the three men was dropped. The case centred on an incident in Blackburn in which Franco Pakiyantha was confronted outside his home.
He called the police and said the three men had shouted racist abuse at home and broken his windows. The three were to be tried at Burnley Crown Court charged with affray and racially aggravated criminal damage.
Shahid Malik, a member of the Labour Party national executive, who is from Burnley, said, 'It would appear that the commitment of Lancashire Police to deal with racial incidents is not as powerful as it needs to be among some of its officers.'
Figure it out
110 - The record percentage rise in ticket sales in the US for Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine on the weekend following his blistering attack on the war at the Oscars. The weekend afterwards sales rose 73 percent.
An echo from another war
BUSH, BLAIR and their generals say, 'We come not as conquerors, but as liberators.'
Who also said, 'Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators'?
Answer: Adolf Hitler, 25 March 1938, on taking over Austria.
'I can assure you that this is not what we want to be happening in Iraq in a year's time.'
US Military Spokesman,
last week after 11 Afghan civilians were killed by US bombing
''Who's next?' implies military action. But there are several steps that could be taken short of war - stricter sanctions, increased political pressure, covert operations. But in each case, the end should be the same as in Iraq - transformation not coexistence.'
William Kristol, leading figure in Project for the New American Century
'With regard to Syria, Washington will examine measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward.'
Colin Powell, US Secretary of State
'We set up the Labour Party in 1900 because the Liberal Party was not serving the working people. Now that Labour Party takes £8 million from Lord Sainsbury, embraces the free market, supports privatisation, and treats unions with contempt.'
Bob Crow, RMT rail union leader
at the Scottish TUC
'The war in Vietnam took too long. We should have taken the war north instead of waiting. Just like here.'
Jay Garner, Iraq's new overlord