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BBC Correspondent’s Sub Headline – BREAKING: Reporter can’t tell you what’s happened.
Possibly the worst headline I’ve ever written. But before I’m accused of completely failing to perform basic contractual duties, allow me to explain why those seven words are rather important.
Since 2013, the BBC and almost every other leading news organisation in the UK has been locked in a bizarre battle to tell you the truth about Erol Incedal. “Who’s he?” I hear you ask. He’s a student from London who was accused of preparing some
kind of major terrorism plan. And then after two trials he was found not guilty of that allegation. But I can’t tell you why.
The prosecution of Erol Incedal has been, without a shadow of a doubt, the strangest criminal trial that those of us who report on the law have ever seen.
Apologies. I meant to write “not really seen much of” because almost all of what happened was behind closed doors. And now the Court of Appeal has ruled that the unprecedented gagging order in the case will remain in place forever.
Incedal was charged with another man, Mounir Rarmoul Bouhadjar, in October 2013. Rarmoul Bouhadjar admitted possessing bomb-making plans. Incedal denied the allegation, saying he had a reasonable excuse for holding them. In 2014, a jury convicted him of that, but they failed to agree whether he was guilty of a more serious charge of preparing an act of terrorism. At a retrial the following year, a fresh jury cleared him.
I don’t know why that jury cleared him. If I did, I couldn’t tell you. Some of my colleagues do however know. But they can’t tell me. Or you. They’d be in Contempt of Court and could end up in prison.
Erol Incedal’s trials involved an unprecedented level of secrecy in courts that are normally open to the public. There were brief periods of public evidence and then slightly longer periods when a group of accredited journalists were allowed in to listen to some of the mysterious evidence. The third and highest level of the case operated in complete secrecy, with the media totally banned.
At the end of each secret session that journalists could attend, police took their notebooks and put them in a safe.
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