#006/2009 – Lessons must be learnt from the arrest of Damian Green MP

The police should only investigate the most serious leaks and leave the remainder for government departments to pursue, an HMIC review into the inquiry and arrest of MP Damian Green recommends.

HM Chief Inspector Denis O’Connor said while the police must continue to show their impartiality and act without fear or favour, they should limit their involvement to national security cases.

These would include breaches of the Official Secrets Act, affecting the wellbeing of the UK or other very exceptional cases of serious criminality.

Mr O’Connor called for the police to base their decisions to act on “an assessment of the likelihood of success and realisation of outcomes”.

He proposes a protocol agreed with the Crown Prosecution Service and others to thoroughly test such cases in the future.

Mr O’Connor added: “Such an assessment will be based on issues such as proportionality, seriousness, public interest and costs.”

The Chief Inspector made this recommendation to improve how the police, Cabinet Office and Crown Prosecution Service handle future government leaks.

He acknowledged the decision to launch a criminal investigation in October, 2008, into a series of leaks from the Home Office was “a complex matter”.

And he said the police were “well motivated” and believed they were acting in the public interest and “had a duty to pursue the evidence without fear or favour”.

But Mr O’Connor said “noble intentions are not good enough on their own when applied to high profile cases”.

He added: “Such cases will always involve making difficult choices and there must be an acceptance that by applying these tests, the police may decide not to investigate or arrest politicians.

“The lessons learned from this and other more recent cases involving Parliament, Members of Parliament, officials and the police should inform a process for an appropriate police response which preserves the dignity of Parliament.

“However, nothing will prevent the police from commencing an investigation into any individual should they believe it warranted.”

Mr O’Connor also called for tougher tests to be applied by The Cabinet Office when involving the police in leak inquiries.

He said: “The frequency of the leaks and the failure to identify the sources or prevent the leaks raises a question about the effectiveness of the Department security regime that was in place over the period of the leaks.

“As we now know, the Home Office leaks were not a threat to national security and yet the police became involved in an investigation. They did this as a result of a convergence of events; concern over the potential threat; and Cabinet Office guidelines which, on some readings, could be seen to have encouraged a police investigation.

“These guidelines allow not just for police investigation but also matters relating to serious interference with the functions of Government. Departments and the Cabinet Office should have the capability to deal with the matter and should not have to rely on the police.

“The smooth running of Government is not an obvious matter for the police. The police are generally considered to be part of the state, but not an instrument of the executive as such.”

HMIC made four recommendations to prevent an unnecessary use of police resources in the future:

  • The Metropolitan Police Service with the Association of Chief Police Officers review and formalise guidance on police investigation relating to high impact cases to fully incorporate the principles of ‘without fear or favour’.
  • The Cabinet Office reviews the Civil Service capability to respond to leaks and facilitate the development of appropriate standards of preventative security and investigation in accordance with departmental risks.
  • The Cabinet Office reviews its guidance to departments on leak investigations to clarify that police will have the lead in Official Secret Act inquiries or other very exceptionally serious criminality, but that the Cabinet Office/ departments will deal with other leaks and agree the guidance with police.
  • The Police, Cabinet Office and Crown Prosecution Service jointly agree a protocol that provides checks and balances for future investigations recognising that decisions on the conduct of investigations must ultimately rest with the police.

Mr O’Connor concluded: “Experience tells us that the investigation of leaks, particularly those involving national security or with a political dimension, are fraught with difficulties.

“In this case, a number of well motivated people inside and outside policing were caught up with dealing with leaks which had come from the Home Office over a four year period.

“When the stakes are high, commensurate measures should be put in place to thoroughly test the value of police involvements and the likelihood of success.”


Notes to editors

  1. In October 2008, the Metropolitan Police Service commenced an investigation into a series of leaks from the Home Office. This led to the arrest of civil servant Christopher Galley and MP Damian Green. In April, 2009, having considered the evidence, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced no charges would be brought against either man.
  2. HMIC’s was asked to review the case by the Home Secretary. The Terms of Reference for the review were set out as: “To undertake a review of the lessons learned from the Metropolitan Police investigation into Home Office leaks.”
  3. HMIC’s review is underpinned by a methodology that encompasses:
    • Interviews with principals in the case.
    • Interviews with other key stakeholders.
    • Analysis of written material relative to the case including
      • Sir Ian Johnston’s Review;
      • Home Affairs Committee report;
      • Public Administration Select Committee Report.
    • Preparation and delivery of a report for the Home Secretary, and
    • Publication of this report and Sir Ian Johnston’s Review of Operation Miser.
  4. The full report and further information on the role of HMIC can be found at www.inspectorates.homeoffice.gov.uk/hmic.
  5. HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest and rigorously examines the effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence.
  6. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the British Transport Police.
  7. The HMIC press office can be contacted on 0207 035 2712.