I wasn’t going to blog about this. I promised myself. Other bloggists have already covered it, and well. Why bother then?
Because I’m absolutely flaming incandescent is why.
The calm of Sunday evening was rent asunder last night by news that a Met PC had been arrested for ‘leaking’ information in relation to that disastrous government PR exercise that came to be known as ‘Plebgate’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not stand in the ‘PCs can do no wrong’ camp, but neither am I in a hurry to judge this officer on a dearth of facts. Certain things, however, are already as clear as day.
Andrew ‘Let Me Out’ Mitchell MP came to public notoriety in September for his alleged foul-mouthed tirade at one or more of our finest, guarding the gates to Camoron Towers. If my diary is slightly more accurate than the Home Office’s one, that was 3 months ago, or thereabouts. As I understand the Police notes of this encounter were ‘seen’ by Sun journalists and a transcript of the alleged log was published in full by the Telepraph.
So, if my old head is up to it, the Met has had 3 months to conduct its witch-hunt into “Who leaked the log?” Constable A (as we don’t yet know his name) was apparently not on duty at the time of the outburst. His arrest on Saturday was apparently provoked by fresh information received into the unauthorised disclosure, or leaking, of the log. The Sun state in today’s edition, that no payment for disclosure of this log, was asked for or given. I am not saying that this automatically makes it ‘right’ and OK, but puts it in a slightly lower league than cops selling information for profit.
Fast Forward to Saturday and Constable A is arrested for Misconduct in Public Office. I assume that the fact that he was arrested for this offence means that the Met are happy to accept that he did not materially benefit from this alleged unauthorised disclosure. I don’t think that it’s in dispute that Constable A was held at a police station somewhere, questioned (obviously) and held overnight before being released on bail yesterday.
Not very many police officers get themselves arrested for leaking information, and the reasons for this are various. However, many comparisons can still be made.
Our illustrious Police Minister Damian Green was famously arrested by the Met investigating a so-called leak a few years ago. Once the hue and cry had died down the Met asked Sir Ian Johnston, ex head of British Transport Police and not a Sir then, to conduct a review of their activities in relation to the arrest of Damian Green for Misconduct in Public Office (same offence, see). Whilst the 2 cases are not exactly identical, they are similar in many ways. Sir Ian Johnston’s review concluded that the arrest of Damian Green had not been proprtionate because “leaked material only amounted to “embarrassment matters” for the Government.” He said the documents did not contain information which threatened to undermine national security or Government effectiveness. Now that part is beginning to sound quite similar.
A separate review by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O’Connor, found that police should only investigate the most serious leaks. Was the ‘plebgate’ leak a ‘serious’ leak? Others will judge that but I suspect not, and it certainly had nothing to do with National Security. So why was the officer arrested? Why could he not have been met by officers from Professional Standards and interviewed when he was next scheduled to work? I don’t know, but it sounds like a reasonable course of action to me.
Why was it necessary to detain the officer overnight? Many journalists and public employees have been arrested in recent months over hacking, leaking, bunging and heaven only knows what. Was it necessary for any of them to be detained overnight? Is this case really so complex that the officer couldn’t have been bailed to come back the next day? He’s been bailed to return now, why not Saturday?
For the avoidance of doubt, I do not condone wrong-doing by anybody. Neither do I condone Police Officers being treated in a manner that appears to be worse than would be applied to MPs, journalists and ‘ordinary’ folk. Police Officers are ‘ordinary’ folk in a way. They come from your community and will return there when their services are no longer required. Is it really asking so much for them to be treated humanely and with respect? Anybody else in the country from Burglar Bill to Lord Poshtwat would be screaming for their rights and to be dealt with properly. For some reason, best known to themselves, the Met seem unable to apply that to their own. It is almost as they are adopting a policy of making an example of these officers. I have read words like Draconian and Orwellian on Twitter, and I can’t argue with them. I do apologise unreservedly if your name happens to be Burglar Bill or Lord Poshtwat, a mere coincidence.
On a personal note I am alarmed by what I see as an increased use of Misconduct in Public Office, which seems to be the preferred sledgehammer of the moment. I went through many years of my service never having even heard of the offence. Now you see it every week or so somewhere. Is it a coincidence that there is no power of arrest for disciplinary proceedings, but there is for that?
Finally, I was delighted to see John Tully, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, climb upon his charger this morning and question the arrest of this officer. he suggested that the officer’s representatives might “take forward” the suggestion that the arrest was disproportionate under guidelines in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
He said: “The thing which disappointed me is around the proportionality of whether it was necessary to arrest the individual. After all, he is a serving police officer.
“Clearly it needs to be resolved, because there are things that we shouldn’t talk about as police officers, and this may be one of those cases.”
He said he did not know what the arrested officer was said to have disclosed.
Mr Tully added: “There is no suggestion that there is any corruption involved.”
“It is a matter of policy and procedure as far as the Met are concerned. It will be interesting to see where this goes, whether there is a charge at the end of this.”
Methinks we haven’t heard the last of this. Merry Christmas Constable A from the Metropolitan Police Professional Standards Directorate.