Sometimes, like the dawn phone call on the morning former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin’s Edinburgh home was attacked by anti-capitalist activists, unlikely sounding messages turn out to be true.
Most often, those that seem too odd to be true turn out to be exactly that – the work of someone who has read too many online conspiracy theories or an individual’s sick idea of a joke.
So, when we discovered an email sent to the Evening News a month after Princes Street Gardens had been evacuated following the discovery of an improvised device, we were sceptical.
The email which arrived from an email address ending in riseup.net and the subject line INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST GROUP IN UK looked like some kind of wind-up.
The body of the email contained a single line – INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST GROUP "ITS", CLAIM RESPONSABILITY TO EDINBURGH BOMB – all in capital letters, just as the subject line had been. That in itself surely was a sign that this was the work of a crank.
The intriguing thing was where the email led us. The only other thing it contained was a link to a Spanish language website which a little investigation suggested might be based in Mexico and which appeared to be claiming responsibility for the attempted bombing of the Gardens.
We simply didn’t know what to make of it, so we did what we are paid to do, and made some inquiries. There was little evidence of the International Terrorist Mafia which was claiming responsibility, but there were other references to the existence of a self-proclaimed “eco-terrorist” group going by that name.
It was intriguing, but we did not know how seriously to take it.
So, pursuing our duty – and, in all honesty, not really expecting it to lead anywhere praticularly fruitful – we put a call in to Police Scotland to ask if they could shed any light.
What happened next was unusual. The return call came a few hours later, not to the newsroom, but direct to the Editor’s office, asking whether I would be willing to meet a senior counter-terrorism officer the following day and agree to postpone any plans to publish any details of what we had been sent until after that. I agreed.
The next day, the officer travelled through to our Edinburgh office and sat down with me over a cup of coffee to explain that he and his officers were taking this extremely seriously. They believed then, as they do now, that this was a genuine act of terrorism and that this lead, coupled with what they already knew was potentially leading them to the person or people responsible.
Publishing any details would put his investigation at risk at a delicate stage and could lead to a terrorist going free. Was he just telling me that to make his life easier or was there a genuine risk of a terrorist evading justice? It was impossible for me to tell. What could I do? Of course I agreed, I wasn’t going to take any chance in the circumstances.
Officers checked our computers and took away electronic copies of the message. In the end, it was a key part in the investigation which led to would-be bomber Nikolaos Karvounakis being traced and apprehended.
Sometimes those weird emails turn out to be far more important than you would ever imagine.