“Charity millions ‘going to Syrian terror groups'” claims Telegraph in data-free shock

Disasters Emergency Committee - give with conf...

Disasters Emergency Committee – give with confidence (Photo credit: HowardLake)

The Telegraph, a respectable British national newspaper, has today run an alarmist headline on its front page suggesting that several million pounds donated to Britain’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC, whose members include the British Red Cross and Oxfam) for humanitarian relief in Syria have instead gone to terrorists.  Can it possibly be true?

Let’s first deal with those weaselly inverted commas in the headline.  These are conventionally used by journalists to indicate that a claim has been made by someone else; the newspaper is only reporting what has been said.  Yet nowhere in the article is anyone reported to have uttered the words “going to Syrian terror groups” — those quote marks are being abused.  More importantly, no one mentions “millions” of pounds.  The people quoted in the article speak of “some” money going to extremist groups (William Shawcross, chairman of the Charity Commission),  “stuff” being “diverted” (Peter Clarke, former head of anti-terrorism at the Metropolitan Police) and “some charitable aid” being “diverted to terrorists in Syria” (Robert Halfon MP).  No one, other than the Telegraph apparently, feels able to quantify the amount of cash being mislaid.

It is surely inevitable that in the chaos of the Syrian civil war some charitable funds will go astray.  Who honestly believes that doesn’t happen even in peaceful places like Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan (all of which have Islamic militant groups ready to scoop up errant cash)?  It could be a few thousand pounds.  It could be tens of thousands.  Who knows?  Certainly not the Telegraph.  The “millions” of their headline derives from the £20 million the DEC has heroically raised in its Syria Crisis Appeal.  But as far as we can tell from all the statements reported, none of the experts are suggesting the share ending up in the wrong hands is anywhere near that large.  In fact most of them talk of risks and possibilities rather than known facts:

There is a risk that funds raised in the name of ‘charity’ generally or under the name of a specific charity are misused to support terrorist activities, with or without the charity’s knowledge

individuals supporting terrorist activity might also claim to work for a charity and trade on its name and legitimacy to gain access to a region or community

It is perfectly feasible for charities to be established as a sort of cover

You can think of a host of different ways in which people giving money with the best possible intentions could find that it has been misappropriated

Informed speculation possibly, but speculation nonetheless.  Not one word directly quoted justifies the Telegraph headline.

The problem is that such headlines are bound to put people off giving money to reputable charities helping desperate Syrian civilians.  Yet we can’t accuse the Telegraph of any falsehood.  Their headline might be true.  We simply don’t know.  All we do know is that they have presented no evidence for it, and none of the experts they quote said anything like it.  Such sensationalist truth-bending tactics are to be expected from the tabloids — the Daily Mail is guilty of almost exactly the same misrepresentation — but the Telegraph ought to know better.

Donate to DEC’s Syria Appeal here


2 thoughts on ““Charity millions ‘going to Syrian terror groups'” claims Telegraph in data-free shock

  1. Could it be that this blog has had a small impact? The Daily Mail headline, which used to read “Millions of pounds given to Syrian refugee charities is ‘being used to fund terrorism’”, has been changed online to “Cash donated to Syrian refugee charities is ‘being used to fund terrorism'”.

    I had posted a polite comment on the Daily Mail article pointing out the misleading nature of their original headline. It was never approved, although plenty of semi-literate rants agreeing with their anti-charity stance were. It’s curious they don’t seem willing to publish measured criticism… but at least they seem to have acted on it.

  2. Update: William Shawcross has clarified his position and has distanced himself from the Telegraph’s headline:

    “The Daily Telegraph’s suggestion that ‘millions’ are being diverted from well-known charities to fund terror groups is speculative and certainly does not represent what we know. Such allegations risk undermining the efforts made by charities to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people in areas like Syria. I hope that people will continue giving to charities working in the UK and around the world with their usual generosity. I can reassure donors that known cases of terrorist abuse of charity funds are very low and that we will vigorously pursue any such allegations.”

    The DEC’s full rebuttal can be found here: http://www.dec.org.uk/appeals/syria-crisis-appeal/press-release/telegraph-headline-charity-millions-going-to-syrian-terror

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