Monday, 1 December 2008

Tories must answer some questions too in the Green saga

Both Matthew Taylor and Toby Harris offer some useful observations in the Green case, as some of the media join the Tories in a disgraceful attempt to turn Jacqui Smith into a scapegoat for her refusal as Home Secretary to interfere in an active investigation.

What is particularly bizarre is that today's latest twist in the saga concerns the 'outrage' felt at accusations apparently made by the police that Green had been 'grooming' his civil servant informant. But how do we know that the police used such terminology? Only because a 'friend of Mr Green' told the media about it. And while the language may be unfortunate, the Tories are well aware of the legal difference between passively receiving leaked documents and actively seeking them from civil servants.

Green strongly denies the allegations made against him, and I have said before that once the investigation is over, I believe there should be a full review of police procedures in these matters. I agree with a lawyer letter writer to the Times this morning that the police should think more carefully about the use of arrest in criminalising the innocent:

For many years police forces across the country have eschewed the practice of dealing with criminal suspects “on summons” in favour of the practicality and convenience of arrest and charge. This is especially the case since the latter procedure entitles them to enter and search premises without a warrant.....A small number, however, are guilty of neither criminal nor moral wrongdoing and have become the subject of suspicion through no fault of their own, that or they have made a genuine mistake or error of judgement. In such cases police reluctance to allow suspects to be dealt with as “non-casual visitors to a police station” coupled with the removal of restrictive powers of arrest in favour of the very wide power to arrest “to allow the prompt and effective investigation of an offence” occasionally criminalises truly innocent individuals. The decision to arrest in every case has become routine, even policy.

But the letter also suggests that Green was treated in the same way as ordinary mortals, however unpleasant the experience. And since the shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve and his party leader have been bombarding ministers with questions that must be answered now, here's a few for him:

1. If you are Home Secretary and a good friend is being investigated by the police for a crime, do you (a) take to the airwaves to demand his immediate release because you know he's a good egg, and apologise for any inconvenience caused or (b) let the police conclude their investigation without interference and say sorry afterwards if the police got it wrong?

2. If you are Home Secretary and you find that secret documents are being stolen on behalf of the Opposition on an almost daily basis, some of a sensitive security nature, do you (a) say: "well, that's democracy for you, not to worry" or (b) ask your permanent secretary to conduct a leak inquiry?

3. If you are Home Secretary and the Met Police Commissioner has strong reason to believe that an MP is actively and wholly illegally encouraging a member of your Private Office to steal confidential documents and pass them to him, do you (a) tell the commissioner to stop his investigations immediately because the MP is only exercising his democratic right to break the law or (b) allow him to carry on his investigations until they reach a conclusion, even though an MP is accused?

4. If you are Home Secretary and you are told that an opposition front bench spokesperson has been arrested, do you (a) go on the Today programme to denounce the police or (b) recognise that you do not run the police but resolve to review procedures after the investigation is complete?

5. If your answers are mostly (a) do you really think you are ready to be Home Secretary?

1 comment:

Zokko said...

The Green saga needs to be seen for what it is - a carefully orchestrated Tory stunt intended to take the heat off Cameron and Osbourne. You've heard of the 'metric martyrs', now here's the Papillon of Parliament. It stinks, frankly. If there's apologising to be done it should be done not by The Home Secretary but by Cameron.