The acquittal of Damian Green earlier this month on the charges placed against him brings a close to what has been a revealing case, highlighting the operations and intentions of the government and the Home Office. Although the investigation was initiated under request from the Home Office, its direction and eventual target were apparently unknown to the institution’s head Jacqui Smith. In responding to questions in November of last year she replied that the police had been allowed to, ‘follow the evidence where they needed to,’ but that she was unaware that they intended to arrest and interrogate a Tory frontbencher.
The substance of the investigation mounted by the Metropolitan Police centred around the leaking of documents from Home Office sources. The discovery of several of these leaks, together with their frequency, apparently encouraged the Home Office to act. Whilst the substance of those issues leaked into the public domain were not so much the concern of the government, Ms. Smith claimed that it was the lack of knowledge about what had been leaked and not revealed which was what worried the department. This anxiety is exemplified in a letter from the Cabinet Office to the police. The communiqué announces that:
“We are in no doubt that there has been considerable damage to national security already as a result of some of these leaks and we are concerned that the potential for future damage is significant”
The motivation for inquiry was therefore apparently not on account of the damage inflicted upon the Party through media attention, but rather on the threat that the systemic leaks presented only a surface picture with perhaps leaks more threatening to national security remaining unknown. It was on this pretext that the police investigation, and given these circumstances the lengths taken by officers may appear more proportionate.
However, the conclusion of the investigation by the CPS and the concurrent analysis by the Commons home affairs select committee has revealed that there is a degree of incongruity between the claims made in the letter and the evidence given by permanent secretary of the Home Office Sir David Normington. He told the MP’s of the committee that, ‘most of the Home Office leaks had not raised issues of national security.’ Indeed, of the 20 documents reportedly leaked, only one pertained to national security, and its details where known within other sectors of government.
The report by the Committee concluded that a growing frustration by those within the Home and Cabinet Offices may have stimulated them to give, ‘an exaggerated impression of the damage done.’ The report remained unclear as to whether this frustration grew out of the inability to prevent leaks, or the damage which they were doing to Labour’s image.
Damian Green was arrested and held under suspicion of, ‘suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counseling or procuring misconduct in a public office.’ The Cabinet Office have been advised that in future they should revise their rules in order to only involve the police if a criminal offence has been committed. This damning indictment on the case against Damian Green however fails to highlight an important point. The charge under which he was held does in fact constitute a criminal offence, one with a maximum of life imprisonment. Its implications are so serious that the CPS advises that it, ‘should be reserved for cases of serious misconduct or deliberate failure to perform a duty which is likely to injure the public interest.’
It appears unlikely that despite the damaging effect of Green’s revelations to the Labour Party, they could have been deemed as injuring the public, which he and others have claimed he was in fact servicing. The charge of the particular offence is more useful in its wide breadth of coverage and degree of interpretation. This charge, in a similar manner to counter terrorist legislation, is fitting to the purpose as it pertains to the highest degree of seriousness, whilst leaving the avenues in which it can be applied extremely broad. The substance of the offence is therefore perhaps somewhat irrelevant; the police could have charged him under the Terrorism act with the same ease, and granting the same degree of invasion into his personal life and property. This is of course the point, it does not matter that the charge was disproportionate to the action, or that it remains patently clear that ‘party image’ and not ‘national security’ was the motivating factor; what is important is that it sends a message of the reaction that can be expected for rebellious action.