Quick to Miss a Trick

Bob_QuickFormer Assistant Commissioner of Special Operations at the Metropolitan Police, Bob Quick, has hit the headlines a couple of times in the last few months – for all the wrong reasons. 

Last November he authorised the arrest of Tory MP Damien Green for allegedly encouraging leaks of sensitive government information.  This had the knock-on benefit of waking MPs up to the fact that we are now living in a de facto police state.  Well, I suppose that must have been a welcome distraction for them.  It must be so dull merely to spend your time devising new and ingenious ways of fiddling your parliamentary expenses. 

This week, Quick was photographed entering Downing Street with highly classified documents under his arm about a sensitive UK terrorist investigation, which were clearly visible to waiting photographers.  The clearly visible "Secret" briefing document detailed an MI5-led operation, codenamed Pathway, and bounced the counter-terrorism agencies into making premature arrests of the suspects, many of them young Pakistanis in the UK on student visas.

Outrage followed this massive security lapse.  What on earth was the man doing, openly carrying secret documents?  Protective rules dictate that such papers are not allowed outside HQ unless signed out and in a security briefcase.  The voluntary press censorship committee, the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, has slapped a 'D' Notice all over the story.  Quick has, of course, resigned.  Reportedly, he may even (gasp) face disciplinary proceedings within the Met.

Is it just me, or people missing a trick here?  This man has disclosed a highly classified intelligence document without permission.  In addition, this document contained information about an ongoing operation AND the names of senior intelligence officers – according to MI5 lore two of the most damaging types of information that could possibly be disclosed.  So, why is Quick not facing prosecution under the draconian 1989 Official Secrets Act?  He clearly falls under Section 1(1) of the Act as a notified person if he is handling Secret documents:

1(1) A person who is or has been—

(a) a member of the security and intelligence services; or

(b) a person notified that he is subject to the provisions of this subsection,

is guilty of an offence if without lawful authority he discloses any information, document or other article relating to security or intelligence which is or has been in his possession by virtue of his position as a member of any of those services or in the course of his work while the notification is or was in force.

Under these provisions, there is no real defence under law.  Legal precedent in recent OSA trials has clearly established that the reason for an unauthorised disclosure of secrets is irrelevant.  (The theoretical and untested subsequent defence of "necessity" has no bearing on this particular case.)  Whether the breach occurs due to principled whistleblowing or a mistake doesn't matter: the clear bright line against disclosure has been crossed and prosecution inexorably follows.

Except if you have sufficiently seniority, it appears…..

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