NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY ON NAIL-BOMBER DAVID COPELAND 26/5/21
Larry O'Hara 23/5/21: updated 27/5/21
Long-standing readers of this magazine will be aware of a scandal we have investigated for over 20 years: that neo-Nazi David Copeland was given effective license to plant possibly two and definitely the third of three nail-bombs in London Spring 1999, the last and most devastating at the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho 30/4/99, resulting in three fatalities. Starting with the landmark Notes From the Borderland issue 3 (p.14-38) article, we have returned to the topic a number of times: in issues 4/5/6/8/11. It is a complex and nuanced matter, with many developing strands. A summary of many (but not all) of our concerns is elsewhere on this site: just put 'The Copeland Scandal Summarised & Updated' into the internal search engine.
This article is a 'holding piece' stating publicly our declaration of interest in the subject-matter of both the recent documentary, in which supposed anti-fascist infiltrator into the BNP 'Agent Arthur' played a star role and the forthcoming book by Nick Lowles. Each NFB issue has ever more evidence concerning the nail-bombings and state/Searchlight/media cover-up: documentary producer Daniel Vernon patently:
Either never considered these revealed facts as he lacks the basic ability (or minions) to research topics he films about, or was simply and perhaps understandably taken in by the apparent authority and ostensible credibility of Nick Lowles (Hope Not Hate CEO) and didn't see any need to delve further into the disturbing matters NFB and others have raised, which at this stage I concede Vernon may not have been aware of. Distinctly possible as Vernon is busy judging by his CV and might well have seen the film project as straightforward: and the films treatment of victims exhibited the due sensitivity I anticipated. That of course is not the whole film, only part. If Vernon has never come across the numerous disturbing questions surrounding Copeland's campaign, I would be happy to shed light on the subject.
Or, he was aware of the facts but decided to ignore them, and calculates the audience concerned about truth is a very small one. I would like to think the former explanation is correct. Nonetheless, you have to ask, how credible can a 'total hero' (to quote Lowles) be if you don't even know his identity? Did it not occur to Vernon that Lowles might want to conceal Arthur's identity because this "infiltrator" may have done some unsavoury things not consistent with the image the film (and forthcoming book) portray? Perhaps even things relevant to directing Copeland on the violent path? It is intriguing that whereas the film presented all BNP members as Nazi thugs, Arthur talks of himself as merely a victim, getting attacked by anti-fascists. Did he never attack any anti-fascists himself, or for example, trash a bookshop...?
If a serious and competent documentary-maker Vernon should accept these are legitimate questions. After all, if supposedly 'turned' fascists who have allegedly embraced anti-fascism such as Ray Hill, Tim Hepple and Robbie Mullen, not to mention Hope Not Hate's own 'Director of (Kebab) Research' Matthew Collins have all been deemed worthy of media 'stardom', why not a genuine anti-fascist?
The Netflix programme and associated forthcoming book 'Codename Arthur' by Nick Lowles received an uncritical puff-piece from Observer journalist Mark Townsend: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/23/rightwing-attack-inevitable-warns-informant-who-identified-london-nail-bomber and in numerous other outlets.
While extensive further comment can wait till sight of the book, enough information is already in the public domain to cause serious doubt about the veracity of both. Rather than pre-empt detailed comment on my part, I direct interested parties to the key pages in NFB issue 3 p.24-28. They cover exactly the same issues as the documentary: what was known about Agent Arthur in 2000, when Searchlight "knew" Copeland was the bomber, exactly when/how Copeland's name was passed to Special Branch and the significance of the list of 261 names provided it was a late addition to. In fundamental respects, this article has stood the test of time. I certainly stand by one of the sub-headings asking 'Searchlight: Accessories to Murder?'.
The above said there are such flagrant departures from fact in the film it is worth highlighting a few
1) It was not 'Arthur' who identified Copeland as the bomber, but his work colleague [Paul Mifsud] who phoned the police at 5.25pm on Friday 30/4, as reported at the trial. One of many outlets reporting this fact was the Met Police web-site 'Operation Marathon' story, which can be accessed via the excellent Wayback Machine (internet archive search engine). Even better, the book Lowles co-wrote 'Mr Evil' [John Blake 2000] certainly admits that Mifsud called police (p.157). Although the book also claims a "far right source" (which they are now saying is Arthur) had given the name earlier (p.158-9) they do not of course mention that it was merely as a bland appendage to a list of 261 names, and did not mention him specifically as the possible bomber (see NFB 3 p.26-27 on the 261+ Club). Mifsud's testimony, as Lowles admitted in 'Mr Evil' was rather specific: it provided his (land-line) telephone number and that he lived in Farnborough, and graded the likelihood of it being Copeland as 8/10 (p.157). Whereas all we have from Lowles then & now is an alleged telephone identification: as to why that wasn't in the fax it is easy to figure. It (the precise identification by phone of Copeland) almost certainly never happened,. However, even if it did, the key question is why did it not take place on Thursday, when it would have made a difference. So when that dishonest hamster look-alike Lowles comes on screen ruefully commenting Arthur sought no reward, it's no wonder. He would have been told to sling his Hook.
2) Though the film has an un-named representative of the gay community claiming that community was not warned by police they might be a target, that is directly contradicted by the widely read Pink Paper front-page distributed the very day of the Soho bomb entitled 'Gays on Fascist Bomb Alert', sourced back to the 'Home Office', and then MI5 specifically in the very next issue out 7/5/99 [on all this see NFB 3 p.18-20]. And of course the fact that the Admiral Duncan was one of only 4 out of 178 contemporary gay venues visited by police the week before (on this see NFB issue 5 p.16-18 specifically).
3) The BNP were presented as, basically, Nazi thugs, and lots of Nazi propaganda flashed across the screen. Viewers would be totally unaware that Copeland was a member of a neo-Nazi groupuscule, the National Socialist Movement, who like their former comrades in Combat 18 actually hated BNP Leader John Tyndall, indeed he had proscribed them in December 1993. Now, he certainly had a Nazi past, and certain branches (eg Leeds/Croydon) were close to C18 as too individual members, but C18 had actually beaten up key BNP members like Tony Lecomber and Eddie Butler. The Nazi propaganda was not the BNP's, but that of the C18/NSM. I can imagine the producers mindset (aided by Lowles who wouldn't know the truth if it punched him): "it's only the far right, the truth doesn't matter, they can't sue, especially Tyndall as he's now dead". Yet truth always matters: the minute you think it doesn't you end up with garbage like Searchlight/Hope Not Hate.
4) Agent Arthur is (unbelievably) praised for having destroyed Tyndall's BNP in London. Yet bearing in mind this "total hero" was supposedly in place 1994-2004, BNP electoral votes hardly show this. Take the European Elections: in 1999 17.960 votes/1.6%, 2004 76,152/4%, 2009 86,420/4.9%. Now, while BNP votes fell off a cliff by 2014, down to 19,246/0.9%, not only was this due to tangible other factors (demographics/the EHRC court case etc), Arthur can hardly claim credit can he?
The documentary basically lacked any critical faculties, it was a mixture of personal experience, propaganda and outrageous liberties with the truth, masquerading as a definitive history. All very post-modern. 'Arthur' is just never questioned on anything he's said. Indeed, nobody interviewed was challenged on anything they said. The central premise of the programme, that 'Agent Arthur' identified Copeland first (or perhaps even at all) looks to be an outright lie, and the producers should hang their heads in shame for having given it airtime. That dishonesty, I suggest, is the main reason why 'Arthur' skulks in the shadows, not a fear of Nazi reprisals. Searchlight: not just Lowles but also Gerry Gable, could and should have recognised Copeland the day before the Soho bomb, when the pictures were released by Scotland Yard (12.15pm on Thursday to be precise)--now that would be a useful strand in any proper documentary on the bombing campaign. But this was not it. Rather borne out by having low-level police informant/thug Bernard O'Mahoney as the 'expert' insider on the far right. He was shown on screen confessing to having abducted and beaten up/tortured black people in the past. Have the programme makers alerted the police so he can be interviewed about these crimes?
There were excellent aspects to the film and the music/imagery was certainly compelling:
--the story of Soho survivor Gary Reid (bizarrely not named) was sensitively and illuminatingly portrayed.
--the real star was Brixton Community activist Mike Franklin. Not only did he eloquently describe the black community's experience of police racism, he repeatedly asked why the Brixton film of Copeland was not released earlier, as he had at the time. This was something we highlighted [NFB 3 p.16-17], though were unaware of Frankland's fruitless attempts to get the photos publicised. It is to the film's discredit that his forceful case was not put to investigating officer DCI Maureen Boyle, interviewed but not even named.
One further matter of slight interest: in 1994, when Lowles claims 'Agent Arthur' approached him directly, he was not the key Searchlight agent handler, Editor Gerry Gable was. That said, I now believe Lowles did run Arthur, but exactly when, and on behalf of who, is still to be ascertained. In a euphemism exhibiting profound chutzpah, Hope Not Hate is described as having "evolved" out of Searchlight. Yet readers of Notes From the Borderland issue 10 (p.34-80) [followed up in issue 11] will know this was no "evolution" but a palace coup mounted by Lowles and his Labour Right friends. You could not tell from reading the Observer article, or watching the programme, that Searchlight magazine still exists, indeed (while not saying much) when it appears is rather better than it used to be... While in one sense we don't care about this spat, it does illustrate again how fundamentally dishonest Lowles is. It is though, wryly amusing that Gable is shown in footage answering the phone and going through files, but never named. While Gable was possibly behind an attempted spoiler for the programme in the Daily Mail Weekend magazine (22/5/21 Jenny Johnstone) that is not certain. His reaction to the book and programme should, nonetheless, be entertaining...
More on all this elsewhere, later....
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