Wednesday, January 28, 2009

DID "SAS FANTASIST" DIE IN BELGIUM?

By Margaret Ryan
BBC News

Tom Carew
"Tom Carew" left a BBC interview in 2001 after being exposed as a fraud

A body discovered in Belgium is believed to be that of a man who falsely claimed to be a member of the British SAS and wrote a best-selling novel based on his fake exploits. So is this the end of the story?

When a body was found last year in a rented garage north of Antwerp, it was difficult to identify who it was.

But documents later found beside the human remains suggested they were those of Philip Sessarego, who once penned a book about his time in the Special Air Service (SAS) under the name of Tom Carew.

Belgian police are now to take DNA from relatives in the UK of Mr Sessarego, otherwise known as Philip Stevenson, to finally confirm the body is his.

Spokeswoman Dominique Reyniers told the BBC News website prosecutors were "99%" sure it was Mr Stevenson, but she added: "In the very near future an exchange of DNA material is planned."

His daughter Claire told a UK newspaper the police had told her they would not believe it was him until they had the DNA.

In his best-selling book Jihad!: The Secret War in Afghanistan, Tom Carew described when he joined the 22nd Special Air Sservice Regiment (22 SAS):

"At the end of the course, there were just a handful of us left who'd passed, together with a couple of guys who hadn't quite made the grade but were near enough misses to merit being kept on with the regiment until they could retake the tests they'd failed."

He also described in detail how he had trained the Mujahideen to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.

He wrote about his time in Afghanistan: "It was 1979 and the Afghans were fighting a superpower with tactics they had used against the British before the First World War."

He continued: "Before leaving Britain, everyone said, 'Be careful; they are barbaric, they'll chop you up'.

"My boss at MI6 gave me a Flashman novel about Muslim brutality - his idea of a joke."

He was later interviewed many times in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks as a former member of the SAS with expert knowledge on the difficulties of fighting the Taleban.

The trouble was that he had never served in the SAS and much of his book was subsequently dismissed as a work of fiction.

It was an investigation by the BBC programme Newsnight eight years ago that uncovered the truth about his service history.

He had served in the Royal Artillery, before trying to be selected for 22 SAS in the 1970s.

But he failed to make the grade. He was allowed to remain in Hereford - the SAS base - in what was known as the Demonstration Troop, a group of ordinary soldiers who undertook jobs for the SAS, like pretending to be the enemy on exercises.

He later tried to join the Reserve or R Squadron of the SAS - part of the Territorial Army - but he failed that selection too and was discharged on 31 December 1975, on his 23rd birthday.

He had made grand claims about how he had fought with the SAS in Oman and helped set up its Northern Ireland cell.

But Newsnight discovered Mr Carew's real name was Philip Sessarego. He had not served in the SAS in the 1970s, had not taken part in combat operations in Oman, and had not rejoined the SAS in the 1980s as he claimed.

After his book was exposed as little more than fiction he moved to Belgium, where he is said to have been known as Philip Stevenson.

He is also thought to have attempted to fake his own death in Bosnia in the 1990s.

As to the discovery of the body in the garage in Belgium, the Ministry of Defence said it would not comment on the death of someone who was not currently serving.

Journalist Joris Van der Aa, of the Antwerp newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, said: "When the body was found it was in such a state that it could not be identified."

But he said the body was believed to be that of the ex-soldier - who would have turned 55 in 2008 - and there were not thought to be any suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.

The man who had once claimed to be an SAS hero seemed to have been living in reduced circumstances in a garage fitted out with a bed and kitchen.

"The owner of the garage had gone there as the rent was not being paid," he said.

Mrs Reyniers said this was not being treated as a murder investigation.

"His death is in no way suspicious," she said.

She said she could confirm that the cause of death was most probably "a monoxide poisoning".

But given that this is a man who is thought to have previously faked his own death it may only be when the DNA tests have been completed that he can finally be laid to rest.
BBC NEWS REPORT.

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