The Director of Public Prosecutions has now published his decision on the Damian Green case. Many people will no doubt be saying that they knew it all along, but it is worth noting that the DPP does say:
“I considered an alleged offence of misconduct in public office against Mr Galley and an alleged offence against Mr Green of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the alleged offence against Mr Galley, and of conspiring with Mr Galley for him to commit misconduct in public office. …. I have concluded that there is evidence upon which a jury might find that there was damage to the proper functioning of the Home Office. Such damage should not be underestimated.”
He also makes clear that he applied a “high threshold” test before making his decision (ie. a higher standard of proof was required than would have been necessary for others) and warns:
“This should not be taken to mean that in future cases, a prosecution on other facts would not be brought. My decision is made on the particular facts of this case and the unauthorised leaking of restricted and/or confidential information is not beyond the reach of the criminal law.”
So the message seems to be: Damian Green could have been prosecuted and was close to being prosecuted, but not this time and don’t do it again.
Nick Cohen in the Evening Standard has made some interesting points about why the police may sometimes have to undertake “muddy and unsatisfying” operations in an effort to combat terrorism.
The nature of the terrorist threat has altered compared with, say, the IRA attacks in the 1980s. Modern international terrorism has as its objective mass casualties, there is no “political” objective that may be set back by abhorrence of the deeds committed in its name, and those perpetrating terrorist acts expect or may even wish to die as a result of what they are doing. This means that the police must intervene earlier to disrupt possible terrorist plots. If they wait to get more evidence, the consequences of delaying too long and an atrocity being committed are far worse. To disrupt a terrorist cell by means of deporting individuals who are in this country illegally or by charging individuals with offences other than terrorism where the evidence may be clearer, may well have had the effect of preventing an appalling attack but this is not likely to be apparent to those outside the operation.
Troubles come in threes for Mayor Johnson.
Yesterday’s tally: first, the joint meeting of the MPA and GLA Standards Committee ruled that he and his team should be sent for “re-education” (like call centre operatives who deliberately mis-sell products to the public) so that they can understand what the Codes of Conduct that they have signed to certify that they will abide by actually say; second, BBC London revealed that he has been ticked off by London First, the organisation representing all the major businesses in London, about his failure to promote London; and third, he attempted a David Blunkett impersonation by attacking the criminal justice system and the judges for being soft on crime at a Crimestoppers dinner (and look what happened to David Blunkett).
What will next week bring?
It was refreshing to see David Miliband is today shifting the Government’s line on the “War on Terror”. Most UK officials stopped using the phrase some time ago on the grounds that it helped provide a justification for those who use terrorism as a tactic in pursuing their objectives by glamorising them as enemy combatants in the “war”, and unhelpfully lumped together all sorts of groups whose only common feature was a willingness to use terrorism. Now, however, David Miliband has confronted the issue head-on, sparking the debate at an international level, about the extent to which the measures taken to combat and pursue terrorists run the risk of alienating communities (indeed whole nations) and make individuals more likely to fall prey to those who want to recruit them to the cause of violent extremism.
This is not to say that any of the authorities should go soft on pursuing those who are terrorists, or who are planning terrorist acts or who are recruiting terrorists. It is clear that in the UK alone there are many hundreds (2,000-plus, according to successive Director-Generals of MI5) who are engaged in terrorism in one way or another. They have to be identified, their activities disrupted and the individuals brought in to the criminal justice system. However, in the planning of every police operation an assessment has to be made of the appropriateness of the tactics used and the risks that are being confronted – not only of the potential terrorist acts themselves but also what effect individual responses will have on the future flow of those tempted to go down the road of violent extremism.
This is already – I believe – very much part of policing practice in the UK: senior officers planning operations routinely assess the PREVENT implications of individual PURSUE operations (to use the jargon of the CONTEST counter-terrorist strategy). Thus, the impact of the use of Section 44 stops and searches (the random power that the police can deploy under the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop people to deter would-be terrorists) is being reviewed, so as to minimise the sense of alienation felt by many young people when it is used in a widespread fashion – as recommended by the Metropolitan Police Authority in its “Counter-Terrorism: The London Debate” report.
The issue raised by David Miliband, of course, raises wider issues and is timely – just days before President Obama’s inauguration – in that US foreign policy needs to be tested against the same template. Drone bombing raids in the FATA areas of Pakistan may have been effective in removing senior people in the leadership of al-Qaeda but what effect are they having on young men in Pakistan (or for that matter on the future direction of Pakistani politics)? To say nothing of the impact of abstaining on the UN resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.
As part of my preparation for a new role chairing an independent panel looking at ways of reducing deaths in custody, I spent the day in Holloway and Pentonville Prisons. I had never previously been inside a prison – a fact treated with incredulity both by the civil servant accompanying me and by a group of prisoners I spent some time talking to in Holloway (the latter group assured me that I looked as though I would fit in very well – a remark clearly capable of a variety of interpretations).
I won’t prejudge here any of the conclusions of the panel I will be chairing, but I was struck by the differences in the architecture of the two prisons.
Pentonville was built in 1842 and was the model for another 54 prisons built around Britain (and the Empire, as it was then). It is built with five wings, radiating star-like from a central hall. Holloway was built ten years later in 1852. It was originally a mixed prison – being converted to women-only in the 1860s. The feel and layout of the two prisons are not at all alike. Pentonville would be familiar in appearance to those reared on BBC’s Porridge. Holloway, by contrast, although very different, also seemed very familiar. I only realised what it reminded me of when I was told that the prison was initially built to be a hospital, but when it was completed it was then decided that there was a greater need locally for a prison. There is at least one nearby hospital in North London that before its recent refurbishment ….