Conspiracy thriller The Trick has the sort of storyline you'd expect in a fictional Hollywood movie - but the alarming events actually happened in real life.

Based on the events of the 'Climategate' scandal in 2009, the new BBC film sees Line of Duty actor Jason Watkins playing the lead role of Professor Phillip Jones, whose life was turned upside down.

The BBC synopsis reads: "With time running out against an unseen enemy, The Trick looks at the potentially devastating consequences to humanity from climate change denial – how a media storm undermined public confidence in the science and how the concept of 'truth' took a back seat causing us to lose a decade of action.

"The film also charts the unjustified persecution of Phil Jones, his wife Ruth’s support of her husband and the fight for the ultimate exoneration of himself and the science."

Just as the world seemed ready to finally tackle climate change, Professor Jones and his team of climatologists at the University of East Anglia were horrified to discover that their work has been hacked by climate change deniers and turned into the first big fake-news story.

Thousands of emails and documents taken from the Climate Research Unit, but rather than the entirety being leaked, the contents were carefully selected by the deniers to falsely claim scientists were 'faking' evidence of rising temperatures.

Jason Watkins plays Professor Phil Jones in The Trick (


BBC/Vox Pictures)

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Along with corporations with vested interests, the deniers skilfully create the image of climate change as a conspiracy being perpetrated by academic scientists by taking small sections out of context.

One of the sentences that deniers picked out was an email which read: "The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."

It was part of a wider discussion on the need for better monitoring of the energy flows involved in short-term climate variability, but was grossly mischaracterised by critics.

Somewhat ironically, the incident happened during one of the wettest Novembers on record in the UK, which is the sot of extreme weather that the team were predicting for the future because of global warming.

The timing of the leak was important as it occurred just before the COP15 summit in Copenhagen, leading many to claim it was a smear campaign intended to undermine the climate conference.

Norfolk police began investigating criminal offences in relation to the data breach at the university with the assistance of the Met's Central e-Crime unit, the Information Commissioner's Office and the National Domestic Extremism Team.

In real life, Professor Phil Jones received death threats and abuse (


BBC/Vox Pictures)

In July 2012, the investigation was closed because they did not have a "realistic prospect" of identifying the hackers and said there was no evidence to suggest anyone working at the university was involved in the crime.

Suddenly, Professor Jones was thrust into the spotlight and began receiving abuse and death threats when the story was picked up by global news channels.

Describing himself as a "very quiet person", mild-mannered Jones became the figurehead for the subsequent media storm and hate campaign.

"At the time, the mail was awful. Everyone was attacking me and I couldn’t deal with it," Jones told The Observer.

"I got Christmas cards filled with obscenities and, to this day – on the November anniversary of the hacking – I still get a couple of offensive messages."

"After The Trick is screened I expect there will be a new wave of abuse. However, I accept the risk because this is a story that needs to be told."



BBC/Vox Pictures)

After becoming the victim of the cyberterrorism attack, of which the perpetrator's identity is still not known, Professor Jones saw his life's work being discredited and suffered with his mental health.

In total, eight committees investigated the allegations and published reports - and none of them found evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee conducted an inquiry concluded that there was no case for Jones and his team to answer for.

However, the damage was already done as the public perception of climate change had been altered.

Experts have concluded that the hack has potentially set the fight against climate change back by up to a decade because measures that could stop rising temperatures and cut carbon emissions have been delayed.

The reaction to the 'Climategate' scandal is prevalent today, with scientists receiving horrific abuse and even physical attacks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jason Watkins and Victoria Hamilton as Phil and Ruth Jones in The Trick (


BBC/Vox Pictures)

Earlier this month, a survey by the Nature journal on 321 scientists revealed 59% said their credibility had been attacked, 22% had threats of sexual or physical violence and 15% received death threats.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty was put in a headlock in a park, while Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, said his family got unwanted attention.

With the COP26 summit on the near horizon, Professor Jones hopes there will be no discussions about the science, but rather ones on what he need to do and how quickly.

"Scientists shouldn't be prescribing policy," he told Sky News. "We've presented them with the evidence, they have the future projections, a rise of global temperatures of 1.5 or more, or 2 degrees, is going to have a real influence on the climate.

"If we don't do anything, then eventually places like Greenland will begin to melt more rapidly than they are now, and the Antarctic Peninsula. One of the longer-term things is we will have a dramatic rise in sea level eventually if we do nothing about it.

"More importantly, if we don't do much in the short-term, we're still going to have more of these extreme events like we've experienced in the last few years. We don't know where they're going to be, where there's going to be this record rainfall or these very high temperatures, but more people are going to be affected by that in future years. The number of extreme events is likely to increase compared to what we have experienced say in earlier decades."

*The Tricks airs tonight on BBC One at 8.30pm

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