Controversial Leeds museum event featuring "pro-Assad" speakers who questioned Western reporting of chemical weapons attacks in Syria cancelled

A controversial event on Syria featuring 'pro-Assad' speakers who have accused the BBC of faking a chemical weapons attack and described the Sandy Hook massacre as a 'mass shooting hoax' has been cancelled by Leeds City Council.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 3rd May 2018, 1:16 pm
Updated Monday, 14th May 2018, 1:01 pm
Britain joined the US and France in taking military action against the Syrian regime after a chemical weapons attack last month.
Britain joined the US and France in taking military action against the Syrian regime after a chemical weapons attack last month.

The Media On Trial event was due to take place at Leeds City Museum on May 27 but the council said after concerns were raised about some of the speakers, officials decided it was “not an appropriate venue for this event”.

The panel was due to discuss “the media’s propensity to either embed its journalists with terrorist forces” or "disseminate material directly from terrorist sources”.

Among those due to take part were Patrick Henningsen, editor and founder of the 21st Century Wire website, which has carried articles questioning whether forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad were responsible for the recent alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, which sparked retaliatory action against the regime from the UK, US and France.

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Mr Henningsen has also suggested on Twitter that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting massacre in which 20 children were killed was a “hoax”, that there is “absolute proof” that “NO PLANE” hit the Pentagon in the 9/11 terror attacks, and that some of the photos of the moon landings may have been taken elsewhere.

Also listed to speak was 21st Century Wire associate editor Vanessa Beeley, whose most recent article carried the headline “The Egregious Western Media ‘Chemical Weapon’ Fraud in Eastern Ghouta’.”

Peter Ford, a former British ambassador to Syria who is head of the controversial pro-Assad British Syrian Society, and “independent researcher” Robert Stuart, who has accused the BBC of “colluding” in the “fabrication” of a 2013 attack in Aleppo, were also due to speak alongside Sheffield University politics professor Piers Robinson and Tim Hayward, professor of Environmental Political Theory at Edinburgh University.

The event has now been cancelled after concerns were raised about the speakers. The Leeds Friends of Syria group said it was “completely unacceptable” for the museum to be hosting a “pro-Assad propaganda event” featuring “apologists for murdering dictators”.

A spokesman for Leeds City Council said: “Leeds City Museum recently received a request to host a panel discussion on May 27. Since accepting the booking, we have been made aware of further details regarding some of the content and discussion topics which would be part of the event.

“Whilst the council and museums service are always in favour of promoting free speech and debate, our booking policy clearly states that events are subject to cancellation.

“In line with that policy, we have decided that the museum is not an appropriate venue for this event and have informed the organisers that their booking has been cancelled.”

Toby Dickinson, a political adviser on international security issues and Leeds resident, said: “Leeds City Council has made the right call. While there are differing, legitimate perspectives on how to end the human suffering in Syria, nothing is gained by giving oxygen to the views of propagandists and conspiracy theorists.”

In a statement, the Media on Trial speakers said they wanted to discuss questions over the reporting of the Syrian conflict, whether Western intervention had helped "extremist jihadist groups", and debate about the responsibility for chemical weapons attacks.

The statement said: "Exploring these questions does not logically constitute being pro-Assad nor does it mean that any war crimes are being denied.

"What it does constitute is an objective and honest evaluation of UK foreign policy and its consequences for Syria."

They added: "That Leeds City Council has bowed to politically motivated pressure means that these questions and debates have been censored."