By Roy Havers
The so-called "ricin plot" resulting in the murder of Special Branch member Stephen Oake by alleged al-Qaeda supporter Kamel Bourgass in January 2003 has been used by right-wing political figures to promote their own agendas. Charles Clarke said it showed the terrorist threal was real; Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, declared that it therefore justified the war on Iraq.
Most cynically of all, Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis used the fact that Bourgass had sought asylum in this country for yet another crypto-racist attack on asylum seekers. He was well and truly shown up by Stephen Oake's widow, who objected strongly to the use of her husband's death for political ends.
In fact, the Government could not have returned Bourgass to Algeria, his country of origin, because the military dictatorship of that country would beyond any doubt have murdered him. It is well known for murdering its opponents, no matter how insignificant.
The Bourgass "al-Qaeda cell" seems to have been fairly insignificant. Of the nine people charged, four were acquitted and the charges in four cases were dropped: only Bourgass himself was convicted, and not of terrorist offences but of the murder of Stephen Oake. He seems to have made his living in Britain by selling clothes he stole. Recipes found in his flat were capable of producing ricin and cyanide, but none was actually produced.
Like Mahmoud Abu Rideh, one of the most "feared" Belarsh detainees, Bourgass seems to have been mentally disturbed. His actions when police entered his flat in January 2003 were those of a such a person. As Gareth Pierce, solicitor for three of the arrested men, said, "There were no poisons made. There seemed to be a pathetic, clumsy, amateurish attempt to make some by a man who was conceded by all to be a difficult, anti-social loner."
She continued: "There was a great deal that this country was led to believe that in part caused it to go to war on Iraq, erected on the basis of an alleged major conspiracy involving ricin. It is appropriate that that now is revisited."