Thursday, December 21, 2017

It's the cover-up that gets you ...

A long time ago, but in this galaxy, a friend said to me that

"It's not often the original mistake that does for you, what usually gets you is the cover-up."

He may have been talking about Watergate but it applies to a lot of other scandals.

And now, by the looks of things, to Damian Green.

While I now think, with great regret, that in the light of the revelations which came out in the past 48 hours the Prime Minister was right to sack Mr Green, I stand by what I wrote here expressing concern about the role of two rogue ex-police officers - and not, it is important to emphasise, "the police" - in disclosing confidential police information about something which was neither a crime nor relevant to the original investigation to make a complaint against Damian Green.

It remains deeply alarming that one of those officers has admitted keeping a copy of information which his superior officers at the Metropolitan police told him to delete.

It should worry anyone who wishes to live in a country governed by the rule of law that confidential police information about something which, even if the allegations made by either of the former police officers was accurate, was both within the law and irrelevant to the original police search, should be used nearly a decade later to wreck the career of someone who two former policemen believed to have done something legal that they disapproved of.

This time it was a Conservative minister. Next time it could be you.

However, it would be wrong to suggest that "the police" in general do not understand and share these concerns, given that criticism of the actions of the two rogue former officers concerned have been expressed by a whole raft of very senior police officers including the former head of the Met who was their boss at the time, the chief inspector of constabulary, and the present head of the Met who  has unequivocally condemned them, telling  BBC Radio London,

"All police officers know very well that they have a duty of confidentiality, a duty to protect personal information.

"That duty in my view clearly endures after you leave the service.

"And so it is my view that what they have done based on my understanding of what they're saying... what they have done is wrong, and I condemn it."

Postscript - further information added 26/12/2017

The actions of the retired officers concerned have also been disowned by the Metropolitan Police branch of their own union, the Police Federation. Ken Marsh, head of the Metropolitan Police Federation, was quoted in the press as saying that

We are all privy to confidential information but we respect the rules.”

He added,

All this has done is pit the Tories against the police again,” and

most of my colleagues think that what these retired officers did is abhorrent.”

I understand that the Met Police are now investigating whether either of the officers concerned have themselves broken any laws such as the data protection act, so I'm not going to pre-judge that investigation.

I'm adding this to make the point that the overwhelming majority of police officers just want to do their job in a non political way. Nobody should want this to become a fight between the Conservatives and the police, a fight which would not be in the interests of either side, or more importantly that of the country.

The pornography allegations were not of course the reasons for the original investigation into Damian Green, which related to a complaint of inappropriate behaviour against him by the journalist Kate Maltby. The Prime Minister's letter accepting his resignation said the following about this:

"You have expressed your regret for the distress caused to Ms Maltby following her article about you and the reaction to it. I appreciate that you do not recognise the events Ms Maltby described in the article, but you do recognise that you made her feel uncomfortable and it is right that you have apologised."

What appears to have been the killer is that Mr Green had made statements suggesting that the police had never raised with him any issues about what had been found on his computers. It is now clear that this was, in the PM's words which he accepts, "inaccurate and misleading."  

That was a breach of the code and left the PM little choice but to sack him.

As my friend said all those years ago, it's usually the cover-up that gets you ...

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