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The Wood Green ricin plot refers to a 2002 bioterrorism alleged plot on the London Underground railway system, in which ricin poison would have been manufactured and used for an attack. It was believed the attack had connections with Al-Qaeda. Police arrested seven suspects on 5 January 2003.[1][2]

Within two days, the Biological Weapon Identification Group, at the Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, were sure that there was no trace of ricin on any of the articles that were found. This fact was initially misreported to other government departments as well as to the public, who only became aware of this in 2005.[3] Reporting restrictions were in place before the public's perceptions could be corrected.[4][5]

The only subsequent conviction was of Kamel Bourgass, sentenced to 17 years for conspiring "together with other persons unknown to commit public nuisance by the use of poisons and/or explosives to cause disruption, fear or injury" on the basis of five pages of his hand-written notes on how to make ricin, cyanide and botulinum.[6] He was already sentenced to life in prison for the murder of DC Stephen Oake, whom he stabbed to death during his arrest in Manchester. Bourgass also stabbed three other police officers at the same time; they all survived. All other suspects were either released without charge, acquitted, or had their trials abandoned.[4]


Public reaction

Colin Powell's UN presentation slide showing alleged "UK poison cell" as part of global network.

Physicians throughout the United Kingdom were warned to watch for signs that patients had been poisoned by ricin,[2][7] and the public health director for London urged the public not to be alarmed following some media reports. Britain's largest circulation newspaper, The Sun, reported the discovery of a "factory of death",[8] and other newspapers warned on their front pages "250,000 of us could have died", "Poison gang on the loose" and "Killer with no antidote".[9][10]

The fact that no ricin had been found was known to some government departments very early on, but this information not revealed to the public until after Bourgass's trial two years later, although in the interim it was cited as evidence for further Terrorism Laws, as well as featuring in U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 5th February 2003 speech to the UN to build the case for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, as part of the alleged Abu Musab al-Zarqawi global terrorist network. As late as February 2006, Prime Minister Gordon Brown described it as a significant terrorism plot spanning 26 countries.[11]

Timeline of arrests and announcements

  • 5 January 2003 - police raid a flat above a pharmacy at 352 High Road,[12] Wood Green, North London and arrest six men on suspicion of manufacturing ricin intended for use in a terrorist poison attack on the London Underground.[1]
  • 7 January - seventh man arrested.[13]
  • 12 January - five men and a woman arrested in the Bournemouth area for terrorism involving ricin,[14] but released without charge several days later.[15]
  • 20 January - police raid and close the Finsbury Park mosque for several days as part of the investigation. Seven men arrested. Another man arrested in London a day later.[18]
  • 11 March - the Home Secretary issues control orders against ten terrorist suspects just released from detention connecting them to the ricin plot, even though it was alleged to have occurred while they were in custody. Letters of apology were sent two weeks later explaining that it was a "clerical error", but that they were still terrorist suspects.[22]
  • 21 March - two vials containing traces of ricin are found in a train station in Paris.[23] These were said to be connected to an attack on the Russian embassy,[24] until further tests proved that they were jars of wheat germ.[25]
  • 16 September - several of the men are re-arrested to face deportation on terrorist charges based on information from a prisoner in Algeria.[26] One of them, who was sentenced to death in Algeria 1997 in his absence, continues to fight his deportation,[27] Two of the jurors who found him innocent at his trial express their sense of anger and betrayal at his subsequent treatment.[28]


In 30 June 2004, Kamel Bourgass was convicted for the murder of DC Stephen Oake during his arrest and was jailed for life.

The trials of five defendants, including Bourgass, for conspiracy to commit murder and as part of a ricin plot, began in September and lasted through to 8 April 2005. Bourgass alone was convicted and sentenced to 17 years for conspiring to cause a public nuisance by "plotting to spread ricin and other poisons on the UK's streets".[29] Mouloud Sihali and David Khalef are convicted of possessing false passports.[30]

On 12 April 2005 the jury was dismissed after failing to reach a verdict on the charge of conspiring to commit murder, and a second trial of four further defendants was abandoned before it started.[29]

There had been a blanket ban on the media reporting on anything involving the Bourgass case for two whole years until the trial had ended.[5] In October 2005, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director-General of MI5, revealed that the evidence which uncovered the so-called ricin plot came from Mohamed Meguerba, a man who jumped bail and fled to Algeria where he was detained and probably subjected to torture.[31]


On 13 April 2005, Jon Silverman, Legal affairs analyst for the BBC wrote:

[I]s this case... notable for the way in which criminal investigations are shamelessly exploited for political purposes by governments in the UK and United States, whether to justify the invasion of Iraq or the introduction of new legislation to restrict civil liberties? A key unexplained issue is why the Porton Down laboratory, which analysed the material and equipment seized from a flat in Wood Green, said that a residue of ricin had been found when it had not.[32]

On April 11, 2005, George Smith, of GlobalSecurity.Org summed up:

It is no longer a surprise when one finds that many claims from the alleged best of American government intelligence in the war on terror are bogus. It is still dismaying, though, to see intelligence derived from materials submitted in the alleged trial of the "UK poison cell" that is so patently rotten. Who was informing Colin Powell on the nonsense before his date with the UN Security Council? There was no UK poison cell linked to al Qaida or Muhamad al Zarqawi. There was no ricin with which to poison London, only notes and 22 castor seeds . There was no one who even knew how to purify ricin.[3]

On August 17, 2006, Craig Murray summed up on CounterPunch:

I spoke at the annual Stop the War conference a couple of months ago [and] referred to the famous ricin plot... It was alleged that a flat in North London inhabited by Muslims was a "Ricin" factory, manufacturing the deadly toxin which could kill "hundreds of thousands of people". Police tipped off the authorities that traces of ricin had been discovered. In the end, all those accused were found not guilty by the court. The "traces of ricin" were revealed to be the atmospheric norm. The "intelligence" on that plot had been extracted under torture in Algeria. Another police tip-off to the media was that the intelligence said that the ricin had been stored in plastic jars, and they had indeed found plastic jars containing a suspicious substance. It turned out the containers in question were two Brylcreem tubs. What was in them? In the first, paper clips. In the second, Brylcreem.[33]

The Wood Green conspiracy allegations were also depicted critically in the 2007 documentary, Taking Liberties.

External links

See also


  1. ^ a b "Terror police find deadly poison". BBC. 7 January 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  2. ^ a b Dr Pat Troop - Deputy Chief Medical Officer (7 January 2003). "Concern over ricin poison in the environment". Department of Health (CEM/CMO/2003/1). Retrieved 2006-10-21.  
  3. ^ a b Smith, George (11 April 2005). "UK Terror Trial Finds No Terror: Not guilty of conspiracy to poison London with ricin". Retrieved 2006-10-17.  
  4. ^ a b Summers, Chris (13 April 2005). "Questions over ricin conspiracy". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-10-17.  
  5. ^ a b "Terror trial had blanket news ban". BBC. 13 April 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  6. ^ Campbell, Duncan (14 April 2005). "The ricin ring that never was". The Guardian.,,1585130,00.html. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  7. ^ Dr Pat Troop - Deputy Chief Medical Officer (9 January 2003). "Interim guidelines for health professionals on the response to suspected ricin exposure". Department of Health (CEM/CMO/2003/2). Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  8. ^ Associated Press (8 January 2003). "Seventh Man Arrested in London Ricin Case". foxnews.,2933,74968,00.html. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  9. ^ Associated Press (8 January 2003). "More Plotters With Ricin May Be on the Loose, London Police Say". Foxnews.,2933,75028,00.html. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  10. ^ "The sober truth about ricin". The Argus. 9 January 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-20.  
  11. ^ Gordon Brown (13 February 2006). "Full text of Gordon Brown's speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London". BBC. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  12. ^ Burke, Jason; Bright, Martin (12 January 2003), "Britain faces fresh peril from the 'clean-skinned' terrorists", The Observer,  
  13. ^ "Police question seven over ricin find". BBC. 10 January 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  14. ^ "Six questioned in ricin investigation". BBC. 14 January 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  15. ^ "Five released after terror raids". BBC. 14 January 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  16. ^ Lord Filkin (16 January 2003). "Death of Detective Constable Stephen Oake: Inquiry". House of Lords. Hansard.  
  17. ^ "Mystery still surrounds killer". BBC. 13 April 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  18. ^ "Mosque closed to worshippers". BBC. 24 January 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  19. ^ Colin Powell (5 February 2003). "Al-Zarqawi's Iraq-Linked Terrorist Network". US Department of State. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  20. ^ Colin Powell (14 February 2006). "The President's international affairs budget request for fiscal year 2004; hearing before the Committee on International Relations; 108th Congress". House of Representatives. Retrieved 2006-10-31.  
  21. ^ "Europe skeptical of Iraq-ricin link". CNN. 12 February 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-31.  
  22. ^ "Apology over control orders error". BBC. 16 April 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  23. ^ "Ricin found in Paris". BBC. 21 March 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  24. ^ "Ricin 'linked to militants'". BBC. 21 March 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  25. ^ "Paris 'ricin' find is harmless". BBC. 11 April 2003. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  26. ^ "Algerian detainees 'face torture'". BBC. 16 September 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  27. ^ "Questions over terror informant". BBC. 24 May 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  28. ^ two anonymous jurors (19 September 2006). "Our verdict was ignored". The Guardian.,,1875503,00.html. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  29. ^ a b "Killer jailed over poison plot". BBC. 13 April 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  30. ^ "The ricin case timeline". BBC. 13 April 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  31. ^ "MI5's 'torture' evidence revealed". BBC. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  32. ^ Silverman, Jon (13 April 2005). "Comment: Questions unanswered". BBC. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  
  33. ^ Murray, Craig (17 August 2006). "The Hair Gel Terror Hype - Hitting a Nerve". Counterpunch. Retrieved 2006-10-18.  

Coordinates: 51°36′29.1″N 0°6′37″W / 51.608083°N 0.11028°W / 51.608083; -0.11028



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