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John Smeaton

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Smeaton QGM

The Myth

John Smeaton was a baggage handler employed at Glasgow Airport, who came to fame when on the 30th June 2007 he tackled two terrorists who tried to blow up the airport terminal and kill or injure the many passengers there.

On seeing the terrorist set himself alight John, born in 1978 in nearby Bishopton, ran to the burning man and 'decked him' and then helped an injured colleague to safety, before returning and restraining the charred criminal.

An online fund was set up to allow the public to buy him a drink, and over 1,000 pints were donated in the first 48 hours. As a mark of John's character and generosity, he recently donated half the money he had been given to Erskine, a charity that assists with the care of injured ex-servicemen and women in five care homes throughout Scotland.

Mr Smeaton and his thoughts on the incident as told to a confused CNN reporter...

  • On first being confronted by the two suspects in the burning vehicles: "What's the score? I've got to get this sorted."
  • Spotting a terrorist suspect grappling with police: “You’re nae hitting the Polis mate, there’s nae chance.”
  • On taking the terrorist down: "Me and other folk were just trying to get the boot in and some other guy banjoed him".
  • And on terrorists: "Glasgow doesnae accept this, if you come tae Glasgow, we'll set about you."

By his actions John Smeaton serves as an inspiration to us all, a true hero and gentleman.

Now known as 'The Smeatonator'.

The Reality?

Unfortunately, all may not be what it seems - despite his award of the Queen's Gallantry Medal. The announcement of the award was greeted with incredulity from several quarters, as the criteria for such a prestigious award (Level 3) is quite exact.

QGMs are not given lightly and certainly not dished out with the crackers. People have done a whole lot more and received much less (if any) recognition. Some have even cynically mooted that Smeaton's awards was pushed through by the Prime Minister himself - a fellow Scot - in a shallow attempt at PR point scoring.

This is clearly an outrageous suggestion, that a politician - and one of such standing - could influence the award of such an honour merely for propaganda purposes just three days after taking office as PM?

A recent story in the Daily Mail has dragged this story in to the limelight again.

His dramatic account of how he helped to foil a bomb attack on Glasgow Airport last summer earned John Smeaton a string of bravery awards.

But it was his breezy warning to would-be terrorists that "Glasgow doesn't accept this... we'll set aboot ye" that captured the nation's imagination and transformed "Smeato" into a folk hero.

Now, however, the former baggage handler's celebrity status has itself come under fire amid extraordinary claims that he exaggerated his involvement in stopping the would-be bombers.

In an astonishingly bitter outburst, key players in the incident cast serious doubt over the extent of Mr Smeaton's role in thwarting the men who drove a blazing jeep into the terminal building last summer.

They are angry at the accolades that have been heaped upon 31-year-old Mr Smeaton, who collected a Queen's Gallantry Medal this month, while they have been largely ignored.

The men, who say they were the first on the scene to fend off the terrorists, believe they should have been similarly rewarded for their efforts.

Alex McIlveen, who tore a tendon in his foot while tackling burning Kafeel Ahmed, told reporters: "John Smeaton is not telling the whole truth. When it came to tackling the bombers, he didn't land a blow."

Mr McIlveen claimed it was he and two other men, Michael Kerr and Stephen Clarkson, who were mainly responsible for defeating the terrorists that day and all Mr Smeaton contributed were fine words.

"It was the policeman, Michael Kerr and myself who tackled the first bomber after he got out the passenger side of the jeep. Then it was Stephen Clarkson, myself and three other policemen who tried to stop the second one who was on fire. "As far as I am concerned, at no point did John Smeaton attempt to tackle the bombers. "Let's not kid ourselves here. The only reason Smeaton got so much attention is because of what he said afterwards about Glasgow not tolerating terrorists. "But surely that isn't worthy of a Gallantry Medal? It is just ridiculous. Every time I see him on the TV or in the papers pretending to shed tears and all that, it just makes me so angry. He is a fake."

It is the first time the group has spoken out publicly against Mr Smeaton, who hit back immediately insisting his account of the incident was true.

"As far as I am concerned, there are certain people who have agendas against me," he said. "I've only got one story to tell. I ran up and went for the guy and then grabbed an injured man and dragged him away. "And if people want to make allegations that I didn't do that then I'll just sit back and go 'No problem'."

Mr McIlveen said that, while Mr Smeaton has travelled to New York and Buckingham Palace to collect awards, he and Mr Kerr and Mr Clarkson are still fighting for proper recognition for their efforts at the airport on June 30.

Mr Kerr, a heating engineer from Stirlingshire, was the first member of the public on the scene after the Jeep Cherokee laden with gas canisters drove into the terminal at 3.11pm.

Hit and myth: John 'Smeato' Smeaton's handling of the would-be terrorists led to his being hailed a hero as this poster and the one below illustrate. But colleagues now say that he spent most of the time just watching events unfold

It is believed he was floored and had his leg broken by doctor Bilal Abdullah, who emerged from the vehicle's passenger door and attacked police officer Torquil Campbell.

The men say Mr Kerr, 40, was then pulled away from the car by airport worker Mary McCandlish, after she called for assistance from Mr Smeaton, who was standing watching the drama unfold as he had a cigarette outside the terminal building.

Taxi driver Mr McIlveen, 46, said: "Michael was lying with a broken leg when Mary ran over. But she couldn't move him so called over to Smeaton, who was watching everything unfold. "It was only then that John did anything. He helped Mary pull Michael away from the jeep and then just stood there shouting at the bombers as the rest of us piled in.

"So, basically, all he got an award for was helping some lassie pull a man to safety. Smeaton is milking the whole thing for as much as he can get and it makes me angry. Michael, Stephen and I have had enough."

Mr Clarkson, who recently underwent brain surgery, is also thought to dispute Mr Smeaton's version of events. His brother David said: "Stephen didn't see John Smeaton there at all. John Smeaton's story is varying all the time."

Last week, it emerged that the Prime Minister's Office had written to relatives of the men saying their involvement did not meet the required criteria to merit Gallantry Medals.

Since his comments made him an overnight sensation, Mr Smeaton has been a VIP guest of both the Prime Minister and First Minister, received a Pride of Britain Award, a CNN Every Day honour and been voted Scotland's third most eligible male.

Mr Smeaton spoke of his shock that the other heroes had turned against him. He said: "I'm very surprised because I've backed their campaign to get medals all the way and genuinely help them out. I've not looked for publicity. I don't go chasing after it. I don't search for anything.

"I don't think I would have got a medal for nothing, so I don't know. I've always tried to mention the other guys wherever I've been and whatever I've done. "I think Alex, Stephen and Michael need to be recognised in exactly the same way. Nobody did anything different that day. Why I got singled out that day, I still don't know."

Daily Mail

Conclusion

A real hero, a case of sour grapes, or is Smeaton going to be elevated to the pantheon of Waltdom - a bluffer who took credit from others and bigged it up with Betty at the Big House? Or is Smeaton simply an unwitting political pawn, cynically used by a beleaguered Prime Minister (and leader of a rotten political party known for its abuse of the honours system) when he decided he needed a hero?