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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 6th May 2012

I’m returning to a story I wrote about just five days ago 1st may because there has been a development. Unlike the original story, this development has not been widely reported.

Previously, I stressed that I wanted to avoid speculation but I’ve realised that this was a mistake because I cannot now say ‘I told you so’. If I claim that the latest news on the case of the seven people arrested under anti-terrorism legislation in connection with the supply of Catha edulis, khat, to the USA is exactly what I expected to happen, you’d have every right to scoff. If only I’d speculated, last time, I could crow about my insight.

Catha edulis, khat

Catha edulis, khat

Three of those arrested on Tuesday have now been charged and appeared in court.1 The charges they face are not under anti-terrorism legislation. Rather, they have been charged with conspiracy. Now, conspiracy is still a pretty serious offence. After all, Guy Fawkes and his associates were executed for conspiracy when they tried to blow up the UK parliament in 1605.

Adrian Wall, Liiban Nursharif, and Daud Ali have not been charged with that sort of romantic conspiracy. They are accused of conspiring to mislabel parcels. You may need a moment for that to sink in. Conspiracy to mislabel parcels. You know the little green form you fill in when you send Christmas gifts to the family in Australia where you always put the goods down at half the actual value because it’s not much of a present if the recipient ends up paying customs duty. These three men are accused of agreeing not to put ‘khat’ on those forms because they didn’t really want the US authorities to know that the parcels contained the plant as it is a controlled substance in the USA.

I’m not making light of this matter because I find it genuinely very troubling. I haven’t been able to find any images of the three men so I am, I’ll admit, jumping to conclusions when I find it troubling that Nursharif and Ali were remanded in custody but Wall was granted bail.

Catha edulis, khat

Catha edulis, khat

I said this development hasn’t been widely reported. A number of papers have reproduced the Press Association story2 in full. That story says they have been ‘charged with smuggling banned stimulant drugs from Britain to America’. Never mind its status in the USA, khat is not a banned anything in the UK so that statement is completely false.

The Sun3 in one of those classic pieces of journalism where you tell the truth in such a way as to ensure it is read as a lie headlined its reprint of the PA account ‘Three arrested in terror raids appear in court’ but then just goes for a straightforward lie with the sub-heading ‘Trio charged with smuggling banned stimulant drugs to America from Britain’. That is not what they have been charged with.

I've spent quite a bit of time trying to find the legislation making 'mislabelling a parcel' and offence to see what the penalties are but I haven't found anything and none of the news reports talks about possible punishment.

You might think that a press concerned about freedom and the rights of individuals would be enraged by the abuse of anti-terrorism laws in this way. After all, there was great indignation when it was said that local authorities were using anti-terror laws to snoop on people who weren’t putting out their rubbish bins properly.4 But, it seems, it is a different matter if the people concerned have foreign sounding names and might possibly be Muslim.

Catha edulis, khat

Catha edulis, khat

I’ve written before about the need to avoid ad hominem attacks; to play the ball not the man. And I’m aware that newspapers are written and produced by real people so were I too describe the UK press of engaging in hate-based lying I’d being accused unknown individuals of doing that but it is hard to maintain restraint.

It is even harder in the case of one known individual. In January 11th, Mark Lancaster MP attracted a fair amount of derision with his claim that 10 million tonnes a week of khat was entering the UK. As I pointed out at the time, this was no slip of the tongue; it was an example of Mr Lancaster’s sloppy study of a subject he claims to know a great deal about.

And now, the MKNews5 (MK=Milton Keynes, Mr Lancaster’s constituency) suggests that Mr Lancaster also doesn’t understand one of the fundamentals of the British legal system; the one about innocent until proven guilty.

According to the MKNews;

'Mr Lancaster said: "I have been pushing for evidence which links the terrorist group al-Shabaab to the illegal export of khat from the UK. Today’s news proves that our suspicions are well-founded, and more must be done to expose this worrying link between khat and terrorism."'

‘Today’s news proves’ absolutely nothing but, it would appear, that Mr Lancaster is happy to ignore legal niceties when it suits him.

Further down the piece is a quote from Adan Kahin, head of Milton Keynes Somali Community Association;

"This news has caused great concern. If it is happening elsewhere in the UK, then it could easily be happening in Milton Keynes."

Is it just me or could that quote be read ‘I am unaware of any connection between khat and terrorism in the Milton Keynes Somali community’?

Actually, I'm wrong to attribute those items to the MKNews because it turns out that it has simply pasted a release from Mr Lancaster's office because the same account, word for word appears on the MP's website6.

The other four people arrested at the same time are still being detained under anti-terrorism laws. These mean the police can detain them without charge for much longer than if they had been arrested for non-terrorist crimes. I didn’t speculate before but I will now. I expect these four to be either released without charge or charged with relatively minor offences that have nothing to do with terrorism.

I also expect that the press will continue to describe this as a terrorism case and state, as fact, that the khat trade finances Somali warlords.

Extra - Monday 7th May 2012

Overnight, the remaining four have been charged; also with mislabelling parcels.7 There will appear in court either today or tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if Lelah Ali, Hersi Farah, Sharrif Ali, and Warsame Nur are remanded in custody or bailed.

At the same time, police in Canada have confirmed that there is no hard evidence to link khat to terrorism.8


1.Conspiracy charges for three arrested after terror raids BBC 5th May 2012
2.Three in court after terror swoop The Press Association 5th May 2012
3.Three arrested in terror raids appear in court The Sun 5th May 2012
4.Half of councils use anti-terror laws to spy on 'bin crimes' The Telegraph 1 November 2008
5.Campaign to ban khat gains impetus with dawn raids MKNews 3rd May 2012
6.Khat arrests put issue back on the agenda Website for Mark Lancaster MP 3rd May 2012
7.Four facing conspiracy charges over khat allegations BBC News 6th May 2012
8.Khat not linked to terrorism: RCMP Toronto Sun 6th May 2012 

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