BBC Apologizes After Reporting the Queen’s Opinion

The BBC apologized to the Queen of England after a security correspondent detailed a private conversation in which the head of state had voiced a political opinion

  • Share
  • Read Later
Odd Andersen / AFP / Getty Images

Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri addresses followers during Friday prayer in near Finsbury Park mosque in north London, March 26, 2004.

The BBC apologized to Queen Elizabeth II after a security correspondent detailed a private conversation in which the head of state told him she had voiced concerns to a minister over the arrest and extradition of Abu Hamza, an Islamic cleric who faces terrorism charges in the U.S.

During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today Program, Frank Gardner revealed that the monarch told him that she was “upset” with the way the arrest and extradition of Abu Hamza was handled and at one point voiced these concerns to a home secretary.

(MORE: Abu Hamza’s Extradition: European Court Approves Moving Terror Suspect to the United States)

Many have criticized the European Court—including former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton—for its slow proceedings and jurisdiction over British courts. The Queen also expressed disappointment that there had not been a more efficient way to arrest the Egyptian-born British citizen. According to Gardner:

The Queen was pretty upset that there was no way to arrest him. She couldn’t understand – surely there must be some law that he broke. Well, sure enough there was. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to seven years for soliciting murder and racial hatred. She spoke to the Home Secretary at the time and said, ‘surely this man must have broken some laws, my goodness, why is he still at large?’

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Monday that Abu Hamza, a radical Islamic preacher, will be extradited to the United States to face trial, despite the defense’s argument that he would face “torture” at the hands of U.S. authorities.  Hamza, who has been dubbed a “terrorist facilitator with a global reach” by sources in Washington, will face 11 charges relating to the kidnapping of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998 and an attempt to set up a jihad training camp in rural Oregon.

The Queen rarely expresses her political views and it is convention that those who converse with her—whether in private meetings, or palace receptions—stay mum on what was said.

But Gardner’s closed meeting with the Queen may have been too newsworthy not to share, according to Charlie Beckett, a professor at the London School of Economics and former senior producer and program editor at the BBC

“Either [Gardner] has made a very, very rare mistake, or he decided it’s in the public interest,” Beckett said. “I would argue as a journalist that it was in the public interest.”

(MORE: William vs. Charles: Who Should Succeed the Queen?)

Others have directly criticized the Palace for intervening in issues that should be reserved for parliament and British courts. Graham Smith, a spokesperson for Republic, a lobby group that campaigns for the abolishment of the monarchy, said that the Royal Family has a tendency to influence government behind closed doors—a problem he says that is made worse by the fact that there is nothing the British people can do to get rid of them.

“We’re told the Queen is above politics and never gets involved, yet she has apparently admitted that she has interfered in a controversial issue,” Smith said.

But the Queen isn’t usually the one being lambasted for meddling in government affairs. Her alleged lobbying comes after a tribunal ordered the British government to release copies of Prince Charles’ letters to ministers.  The tribunal ruled last week that it is in the public interest to see “how and when Prince Charles seeks to influence government.”

The tribunal’s ruling has come as a shock to some since sweeping reform to the Freedom of Information Act in 2011 has allowed the Royals avoid public scrutiny. The Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William are no longer required to disclose letters, e-mails, or documents even if they are deemed in the public interest. Maurice Frankel, head of the Campaign for Freedom of Information told the Independent in 2011 that he believed the Prince of Wales had been behind this legislation.

“The concern is that he is exerting an influence on government policy as a lobbyist for his views,” Frankel said today. “Why should that be concealed in absolute terms?”

Though the BBC called Gardner’s breach of confidence “wholly inappropriate,” it is likely that there will be few repercussions—a sign that Gardner’s news judgment may have been on-point.

“Maybe the BBC’s security correspondent will never be invited back to Buckingham Palace,” Frankel added, “that’s as serious as the consequences get.”

MORE: Britain Seethes as Radical Islamic Cleric Released from Prison