The BBC’s closeness to the Home Office has come under fire after the corporation’s security correspondent Gordon Corera accepted a formal role at a behind-closed-doors counter-terrorism event.
The Security and Policing Exhibition 2013, which opens in Farnborough today, aims to showcase and sell Britain’s security expertise to overseas governments.
Delegates from dozens of states – including some with questionable human rights records – will attend seminars and speeches from leading UK police officers, Whitehall officials and ministers.
While the Home Office has blocked all press requests to attend the conference, citing “national security”, it emerged yesterday that Mr Corera is due to chair a masterclass on cyber-security this afternoon. His role was only confirmed by the Home Office after if initially claimed that no journalists had been invited.
Anne Clwyd, a Labour member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said that the decision to ban reporters while giving preferential treatment to a BBC correspondent, was “unfair.” She added: “This decision indicates the Home Office has something to hide. An exhibition and summit selling Britain’s security and anti-terrorism expertise to regimes with suspect human rights, should not be happening. The Home Office are trying to prevent the scale of this trade being reported.”
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has formally complained to the BBC that the corporation’s legal impartiality was being compromised by Mr Corera’s involvement. The BBC vehemently rejected this claim last night, insisting its independence was unaffected.
Sarah Waldron of the CAAT said: “This event is really concerning us. Behind its closed doors will be international delegations from some of the world’s most repressive regimes, exploring ‘security’ equipment such as sniper rifles, crowd control equipment and surveillance technology – precisely the sort of equipment that is being used to suppress dissent and perpetrate human rights abuses.”
Last year another BBC senior security correspondent, Frank Gardener, was forced to pull out of an awards dinner for arms dealers attending a counter terrorism expo in London. Mr Gardner had been scheduled to address delegates and present awards, but withdrew after the BBC accepted that the extent of their correspondent’s involvement in the event was “inappropriate”.
A BBC spokesman said: "Gordon Corera is chairing a session on cyber security at a conference running alongside the Security and Policing Exhibition. He is not being paid for his role, his involvement in the event was cleared by the BBC and does not breach BBC Guidelines on impartiality."
The government’s arms sales unit, the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation (UKTIDSO), are also involved in organising this week’s summit. The Independent has learned that security officials from Algeria, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are among those likely to attend seminars, bilateral meetings and private briefings with leading UK security officials taking part in the Farnborough gathering.
Speakers include security minister James Brokenshire, three assistant commissioners from the Metropolitan Police, four chief constables, and the current head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde.
Guildford Cathedral had agreed to host the security event’s gala dinner. However last week after complaints that the nature of the summit and exhibition was at odds with the Church of England’s policy on ethical investment, the cathedral cancelled their involvement.