Deja Vu

I had a strong sense of déjà vu today, when I read about the woes of Mrs Green, the bar­ris­ter wife of Tory MP Dami­en Green who was arres­ted last Novem­ber for allegedly encour­aging gov­ern­ment inform­a­tion leaks.

Mr Green was arres­ted under an obscure and antique piece of legis­la­tion for “con­spir­ing to com­mit mis­con­duct in a pub­lic office and aid­ing and abet­ting, coun­selling or pro­cur­ing mis­con­duct in a pub­lic office”.  This, des­pite the fact that civil ser­vice man­dar­ins had per­suaded the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch (MPSB) to invest­ig­ate him because he posed a “ser­i­ous threat to nation­al secur­ity”.  The case has now been dropped and reports have now shown that these civil ser­vants sig­ni­fic­antly over­stated the case to spur the police into action.

In such a case the obvi­ous step would have been for the Met to have invoked the dra­coni­an 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act.  Cer­tainly their heavy-handed response seemed to indic­ate that this was how they were view­ing the grav­ity of the case, even if they were des­per­ately try­ing to avoid the attend­ant scan­dal such a step would have pro­voked.    Spe­cial Branch officers in the Counter-Ter­ror­ism squad are not nor­mally sent to rip apart people’s houses for minor offences.

Which takes me back to the inter­view with the out­raged Mrs Green.  A bar­ris­ter spe­cial­ising in highly con­fid­en­tial child abuse cases, she inno­cently let the secret police enter her home, only to watch in dis­be­lief as they ripped it apart in what sounds to me like a counter-ter­ror­ism style search.  They, of course, found noth­ing rel­ev­ant to their invest­ig­a­tion, but scoured the com­puters, removed the bed­sheets, took away love let­ters between the Greens, and even rifled through the chil­dren’s books.

I sup­pose I was more for­tu­nate than the hap­less Mrs Green.  When the secret police ripped apart my home in the same way back in 1997, I was in Europe with my ex-part­ner and col­league, MI5 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler.  After we had exposed the fact that MI5 was shame­lessly break­ing the law, the MPSB had obtained a war­rant that allowed them to search our home for mater­i­al relat­ing to our employ­ment in MI5.  As I was away, they jack­hammered the front door in, and then spent two days rip­ping through the flat in Pimlico.  It had been my home for 4 years.

Nat­ur­ally, the police found noth­ing rel­ev­ant.  That did not deter them from search­ing the place for two days, and tak­ing away bags of pos­ses­sions, includ­ing some of my under­wear, the bed­sheets, pho­to­graphs, and our love let­ters.  They also smashed up chairs and lamps, ripped the bath apart, pulled up the car­pets, and scattered my remain­ing under­wear across the bed­room floor. It looked like they had been play­ing with it.

I saw all this when I returned home a month later, and I felt viol­ated.  I know this is a com­mon reac­tion when one’s home is burgled; but in this case my home had been despoiled by the police, not by crim­in­als.  No doubt, some would say that we, and the Greens, deserved this treat­ment.  After all, we had the temer­ity to expose mal­prac­tice, lies, and crime with­in gov­ern­ment circles.  We, of course, would argue that we had acted for the pub­lic good.

Whatever.  I still think that a counter-ter­ror­ism style search of a whis­tleblower­’s house is over the top and delib­er­ately intimidatory.

The police may have ran­sacked my home, but I was nev­er charged with any offence.  Nor did I ever did get my under­wear or love let­ters back.….

MPs object to police state

Dgreen An inter­est­ing polit­ic­al row has erup­ted this week in the UK about the arrest of the oppos­i­tion Tory MP, Dami­en Green, who is also the Shad­ow Min­is­ter for Immig­ra­tion.  He was arres­ted on Thursday for alleged breaches of an obscure com­mon law  “aid­ing and abet­ting mis­con­duct in pub­lic office”.

Reports indic­ate that the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch, or as the news­pa­pers would have it the “anti-ter­ror­ism branch” was called in to invest­ig­ate leaks from the Home Office about immig­ra­tion policy, that Green was using these leaks to score points off the gov­ern­ment, and the Home Sec­ret­ary Jac­qui Smith in particular.

Nat­ur­ally, MPs from both sides of the House have been froth­ing at the mouth:  how dare Plod embar­rass an MP by arrest­ing him without warn­ing and by con­duct­ing co-ordin­ated searches of his homes and offices in both Kent and Lon­don?  News­pa­pers, par­tic­u­larly on the right of the polit­ic­al spec­trum, have been full of head­lines say­ing that this is proof that we are liv­ing in a police state.

While I have some sym­pathy for the belea­guered Mr Green, hav­ing also been hauled off by the Met Spe­cial Branch and quizzed for hours for dis­cuss­ing sens­it­ive inform­a­tion that was very much in the pub­lic interest, as well as see­ing my home ripped apart in a co-ordin­ated counter-ter­ror­ism style raid and seen friends arres­ted in co-ordin­ated dawn raids, I am still aghast at the hypo­crisy of both the politi­cians’ and medi­a’s reaction.

Many of us are already all to pain­fully aware that we live in a de facto police state.  Under the notori­ous Sec­tion 44 of the 2000 Ter­ror­ism Act, we can all be stopped and searched for no reas­on — and can even be arres­ted purely so that a bobby on the beat can ascer­tain our iden­tity.  Notices to this effect are now help­fully pinned up out­side most tube sta­tions in Lon­don.  Thou­sands of people are sub­ject to this across the UK every year on the streets of Britain.

But oth­er points rather leap to my atten­tion from the cov­er­age of this case.  If MPs don’t like the heavy-handed use and abuse of police powers, why did they pass these laws in the first place?  Did they not think through the implic­a­tions?  Or do they think that, as MPs, they are some­how above the laws of this land?

Plus, seni­or MPs are arguing that the use of leaks from dis­gruntled civil ser­vants is a time-hon­oured way for HM Oppos­i­tion in Par­lia­ment to hold the gov­ern­ment to account.  Well, that might be good for the MPs’ par­lia­ment­ary careers, but what of the hap­less and fre­quently brave souls with­in the Civil Ser­vice who face 2 years in pris­on for such leaks if they are con­victed of a breach of the 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act?  And, of course, there is no leg­al defense under the OSA of hav­ing acted “in the pub­lic interest” — the very argu­ment that MPs are using to jus­ti­fy Green’s expos­ure of Home Office cov­er-ups and incompetence. 

As far as I can see, there have been no com­ments from either journ­al­ists or MPs about the fate of the source.    The most I could find was the fol­low­ing in the Daily Tele­graph:

An alleged “whis­tleblower”, thought to be a male Home Office offi­cial was arres­ted 10 days ago.”

Either that means that journ­al­ists and MPs could­n’t give a toss about the fate of this per­son — after all, an MP’s career is far more import­ant — or that any report­ing of the arrest of the whis­tleblower has been injunc­ted in the media to the nth degree.  This would be even more troub­ling, as someone can just be “dis­ap­peared” into a Kafka-esque leg­al nightmare.