In August of 2016, I went to film an interview, in Oldham, with Ben Stimson, British man who’d fought with the people’s militia in Donbass, here is that documentary.
Ben was in a pretty desperate situation when I met up with him – penniless, hungry, paranoid due to the threat of imprisonment hanging over him. As a journalist, I wanted to film an objective documentary, as a person, I wanted to help a man, a countryman, in a plight. So it was, I provided meals for Ben, and a little for sustenance.
My impressions of Ben were predicated by the fact that I felt he was in a desperate situation, and of primary concern to him was, for want of a better expression, saving his own skin. Ben (pictured, at positions in Donbass) had originally been arrested on the basis of an interview he’d done with the BBC, here. However, his main worry had actually been a second interview he’d done with the BBC, unreleased, which he believed was potentially more damaging to him. He told me that he’d been in contact with Tom Burridge, of the BBC, who’d assured him this interview would not be released.
Ben’s relationship with the BBC vacillated between indignation at having been ‘stitched up’, yet also the feeling that still lingers with many in the UK, that the BBC is somehow a ‘benevolent’ organisation, which would look after him, as they’d told him they would. As for the ‘stitched up’, this is what the BBC did to Ben:
Yet, Tom Burridge had been in touch with Ben, telling him that despite this, the BBC would make sure everything was ok for him, etc etc. When I filmed Ben in August, things were in limbo for him, he’d been going to sign on at his local police station every couple of days for almost six months, with little sign of anything going anywhere. He was living, hand to mouth, in council accommodation, having spent time on the streets.
Yet, after the release of my documentary, in August, things moved quickly. At the end of September, Ben was already charged with terrorism offences, and remanded in custody. I had been in touch with Ben in August, and September, and knew that Tom Burridge had contacted him, after the release of my documentary, incensed with what Ben had said about the BBC, telling Ben that they’d now be releasing the 2nd interview he had feared, and worse.
My overall feelings towards Ben were mixed. He was not an unintelligent man in many ways, however he was a man in a desperate situation, being used, and manipulated by people, and I felt he was liable to say whatever necessary to, as I’ve mentioned ‘save his own skin’. Therefore, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that, in response to Burridge’s threats, Ben had thrown me under the bus, telling Burridge that I’d filmed a ‘pro-separatist’ documentary, and leaving out bits that actually, were never even there – I’d just put everything up as it was.
My over-riding feeling towards Ben had been a sense of injustice on his part, and that he was being unfairly persecuted. British man Chris Garrett, Swampy, had fought for Ukraine’s neo-Nazi battalion, come back to the UK, and not only had no one touched him, he’d gone around trolling Russia...
Ben had fought for the other side, those defending themselves against the Ukrainian army, carrying out the manifesto of a government which came about after a violent overthrow in Kiev, and was now being charged. I believed in Ben’s cause, in justice, and told Ben that, if he stuck with me, I’d always be there to go to bat for him. However, Ben didn’t do that, the BBC came, breathed threats on him while baiting him with the promise of help from them which I’d told him was never going to come, the opposite rather, and Ben had betrayed our trust.
So, if there’s one word which defines how I feel about the whole situation it is, ambiguous. And I do wonder on what pretence Ben is up facing charges – I wouldn’t rule out him having made a deal to say what the courts want to hear, that it is a ‘Russian invasion‘ in Donbass etc etc, in return for his freedom. That may seem harsh on Ben, but my strong impression of him was that, although I never asked him specifically to say anything, that he would say anything if he thought it would save him.
Of course, I have documented evidence of Ben saying the opposite of what he may say, or be made to say, in a British court. And I sincerely hope I’m wrong, that Ben will not lie in court, say what people want to hear, simply to save himself. I hope he won’t, as he did with Tom Burridge, throw me under the bus because he thinks it’ll boost his case.
However, in any case, Ben’s sitution has my full support. As a point of principle, I absolutely support a verdict of innocent for Ben. The UK justice system must be fair, and consistent. How can it be that a man who goes to fight for a neo-Nazi Ukrainian battalion is free to walk the streets of the UK absolutely untouched? Part of a Ukrainian army guilty of carrying out multiple crimes against civilians of Donbass, shelling civilian areas… , mass death and destruction.
The charges against Ben: “the intention of committing acts of terrorism and engaging in conduct in preparation for giving effect to this intention”, and “the intention of committing acts of terrorism and assisting acts of terrorism” are clearly a complete fabrication, a fiction.
I will be there, for at least part of Ben’s trial, in the UK in July, to cover it. And I will, as stated, absolutely support the principle that UK law must be consistent – the diffence in treatment between Stimson and Garrett is absolutely ridiculous, a travesty.
However, as for supporting Ben Stimson himself, as an individual, let’s see how he acts. He’s pleading not guilty, and indeed I’ll hope that Ben stays true to what he told me, his honest word, and not that UK forces work on Ben so he ends up in court as a stooge to tell lies about Donbass to suit the BBC, and British government.