BBC star quits 'awards dinner for arms dealers'

Corporation admits attendance of Security Correspondent at event was not appropriate

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The Independent Online

Frank Gardner, the BBC security correspondent, has pulled out of an "arms dealers' awards dinner", amid concerns that his appearance as master of ceremonies could compromise the Corporation's impartiality.

Gardner whose legs were partly paralysed after he was attacked by al-Qa'ida gunmen in Saudi Arabia, accepted an invitation to be a guest at the Counter-Terrorism and Specialist Security Awards (CTSS), at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington next month.

The awards are part of Counter Terror Expo, a showcase for defence and arms manufacturers, held at the Olympia exhibition centre. Gardner had also agreed to address the delegates on international terrorism and threats.

The CTSS awards include categories for best supplier of armoured vehicles and "most cutting-edge surveillance tool". They will be attended by "companies from across the counter-terrorism, defence and security arena".

The dinner guests, paying £156 each, will enjoy a champagne reception, four-course meal and live entertainment "into the early hours". Gardner was advertised as the "master of ceremonies".

The organisers of the two-day expo say it will "provide outstanding business opportunities for companies specialising in ... weapons and ammunition". Exhibitors include leading arms companies such as Northrop Grumman and Chemring Defence, the British firm that manufactured some of the tear gas used last year by Egyptian security forces battling pro-democracy protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) complained to the BBC about Gardner's decision to accept the invitations. Describing the awards as an "arms dealers' dinner", CAAT said surveillance technologies, of the type to be celebrated at the CTSS awards, had been used for internal repression. The Syrian regime relies on technologies that allow it to monitor the movements of resistance fighters.

In its complaint to the BBC, CAAT wrote: "It is shocking that a supposedly impartial BBC correspondent is fronting a dinner of arms company executives – an industry whose activities elicit widespread public revulsion."

The BBC said that due to the extent of Gardner's involvement in the event, it was now not considered appropriate for him to attend. Gardner, who had permission from his BBC manager to speak at the expo, has withdrawn from both the awards and his speaking engagement at the trade fair's conference.

Gardner, 50, was left for dead after being shot six times in Riyadh in 2004.

Dinner guests: The arms firms

General Dynamics British arm of US-based firm agreed deal to upgrade military equipment for an elite Libyan government security brigade.

Chemring Defence British contractor produced CS gas canisters fired at civilians by Egyptian security forces in Tahir Square.

L-3 Security & Detection Systems A division of $15bn surveillance and communications giant L-3 Communications.

Thales French aerospace and defence company paid fine of €630m in 2010 over bribes to win contract for 1991 sale of frigates to Taiwan.

Northrop Grumman US global aerospace company, world's fourth largest defence contractor.