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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

The bogus SAS man 14/11/01

The reputation of the SAS stretches world-wide. It has a reputation for ruthless efficiency and military professionalism. Other special forces units model themselves on the SAS, whose selection procedures are arduous and protracted. Around nine in every ten hopefuls fail in Hereford. But the SAS is also a brand name that sells things, especially books. On sale in Hereford, the latest best-seller by an ex-SAS author. Jihad! by Tom Carew is largely a tale of his mercenary exploits training the Mujahideen to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. The cover calls him a latter-day Lawrence of Arabia. The book leaves no doubt the author is a Special Air Service veteran.

"I must be one of the few ex-SAS members of 22 SAS who has actually hijacked an aircraft." "...sure I was a big tough SAS soldier, but I was largely at the mercy of the decisions that the Mujahideen commanders were taking."

The book describes the imaginary moment Tom Carew joined 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."

So Tom Carew claims to belong to the SAS, to have fought with it in Oman, to have helped set up its Northern Ireland cell. But he dismisses six years' service in a single paragraph. Checking stories with the SAS is usually a difficult task. Our experiences investigating this SAS author have been different. We've been in contact with numerous sources in the SAS family. The strength of feeling, and the consistency, in what they say about Tom Carew is striking. They say, he's a fraud, making money out of a fantasy career in the SAS. A former senior officer in 22 SAS we contacted was unequivocal.

"This man is a complete charlatan. He must be exposed. What he is doing is dangerous."

He's the latest in a long line of fraudsters, who have written books about the SAS, never having served in it. What they rely on is the Ministry of Defence line on special forces, which is just "no comment". If you have been in the SAS, like I have, then you know immediately whether these people are genuine or not.

In Hereford, London and in Belgium, Newsnight has been investigating Tom Carew for more than a fortnight. Having arranged an interview, we set off to meet him. We've come to Brussels to do an interview with Tom Carew. Despite agreeing to it, he's spent the day avoiding us, and suggesting different reasons why we can't meet in this hotel. On the phone, Tom Carew warned me he has a security surveillance team of 11 Albanians, who, he says, "like to shoot first and ask questions later". That's another claim that we perhaps ought to check. His co-writer has told us the SAS author is "very twitchy" at the moment. After some negotiation, the interview was rearranged, and this morning Mr Carew came in to the BBC.

Why is it that no matter who one talks to, connected with the SAS, whether they still be serving or not, they all say the same thing. They all say Tom Carew is a fraud and he never served in 22 SAS.

Tom Carew doesn't exist.

They say you the author who calls himself Tom Carew never served in the SAS, contrary to what you say in your book?

That's their problem, why do you think the MoD took 30% of my book away.

Several SAS sources told us they recognised Tom Carew as Philip Anthony Sessarego. This is Philip Sessarego's birth certificate. He's 48 years old. He once served in the Royal Artillery, before trying selection for 22 SAS in 1973. He failed, but was allowed to remain in Hereford, in what was known as the Demonstration Troop - ordinary soldiers who did jobs for the SAS, like pretending to be the enemy on exercises. After a while he tried to join the Reserve, or R Squadron of the SAS - that's part of the Territorial Army. He failed that selection too, and was discharged on December 31st 1975, his 23rd birthday. One former SAS man who recognised Philip Sessarego said being in Demonstration Troop gave him access to the right people.

People who hang around and mix with the guys on exercises, they drink tea and have their food with the guys. They pick up all the gossip and a guy like this would be, ear to the ground, he would get to know all the regimental gossip. He would be in a good position to store this kind of knowledge.

As far as 22 SAS is concerned, they are telling us, in capital letters, Mr Carew in no beret, he had no selection pass, he had no badge, he had no postings, and he had no operational duties, he was never a member of 22 SAS.

Tell them to put it in writing, I want it in writing please.

I have somebody saying it on video.

I would like it in writing.

Are you, therefore, denying you are Philip Sessarego?

Yes I am. I could show you my passport and it would show you who I am.

Let's have a look?

I refuse to show it to you.

He then broke off the interview and walked out, filmed by Newsnight's Paul Francis.

Isn't it true a real SAS man would stand his ground and provide an answer, you don't have one, you're going to have to go and think about the answer.

There's your answer.

Still refusing to answer the questions, Mr Carew then left the building. Tom Carew's ghost writer, the respected Adrian Weale said he was surprised and a little embarrassed.

The book isn't built around the claim of long service with an elite regiment, the book is built around Tom Carew's 18 months in Afghanistan fighting the Mujahideen. That's what the story is about. I have a copy of the book, if we look on page 39, there is one or two paragraphs in which he describes service with the SAS.

He lies about passing selection, it's a straight forward lie.

Take that page out. That's out of the book now. So the book is now one page shorter than it was.

Are you saying people should continue to buy the book because it is good on Afghanistan, but rip page 39 out?

Why are people interested about Tom Carew, because he has fought there and he is one of a small number of people who has done that.

Many ex-SAS soldiers blame this furore on the Ministry of Defence's policy of never officially commenting on the regiment. They say that policy allows into print as much fantasy as fact about the SAS.

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