The insipid David Leigh used space in Friday’s Guardian to moan and bluster about what he is portraying as an ‘unprecedented move’ by the police to force the paper to reveal its sources in the so called phone hacking affair. He told readers:
“The Metropolitan police are seeking a court order under the Official Secrets Act to make Guardian reporters disclose their confidential sources about the phone-hacking scandal.
“In an unprecedented legal attack on journalists’ sources, Scotland Yard officers claim the act, which has special powers usually aimed at espionage, could have been breached in July when reporters Amelia Hill and Nick Davies revealed the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. They are demanding source information be handed over.”
Leigh is deliberately appealing to the vested interests of journalists everywhere to rally to the Guardian’s aid and whip up public disquiet about the Met’s actions. But you have to get to paragraph 12 of Leigh’s piece before you get a clue that this is not an assault on the press and their desire to keep their sources confidential. For it is there that Leigh explains:
The application, authorised by Detective-Superintendent Mark Mitchell of Scotland Yard’s professional standards unit, claims that the published article could have disclosed information in breach of the 1989 Official Secrets Act.
What has the Met’s Professional Standards Unit got to do with journalism? Nothing at all. This is not about an attack on the Guardian, it about a tightly focused police investigation trying to uncover evidence that at least one police officer – and possibly one or more employees of the Crown Prosecution Service – who corrupted their office and committed misconduct in public office by leaking confidential investigation details to the newspaper. Not just any information, but details that still have the potential to undermine subsequent prosecutions over the very hacking for which the Guardian wanted people held to account.
The Guardian’s nose has been put out of joint since its police mole / one of its police moles was arrested, putting an end to their scoops about arrests that were yet to be announced or had even yet to be made, and details of material in police possession that was used to undermine a rival newspaper – the News of the World. Leigh’s piece is the manifestation of the indignation its editorial team are feeling about that.
In no way is this about the Guardian challenging an injustice to protect the public interest. The public interest element was concluded when the police re-opened its hacking inquiry after the initial scoop. This is about the Guardian trying to protect a source(s) who knowingly broke the law to provide details about the investigation that were not in the public interest. For example, what was the public interest in announcing the impending arrest of Andy Coulson a day before it happened? There was not only no justification, the story could have prejudiced the investigation and may yet undermine a prosecution. This was all about ego and wanting to be first with the scoop. Nothing more.
While this blog opposes police over reaching their powers and laws that infringe civil liberties and privacy, the Metropolitan Police’s action is entirely appropriate. This blog highlighted the Guardian’s mole(s) inside the Met and called for action to investigate them. That is what the Met is doing. The Met Police action could actually go beyond the hacking investigation to include the unrelated matter referenced in the linked piece, concerning the Guardian’s ‘outing’ of an American blogger, ‘Jeff Id’ .
While it does not fall within the scope of the Official Secrets Act, the possibility that a police source used material in police possession to identify the true identity of an anonymous blogger and give that information to a Guardian journalist – David Leigh himself – is a clear breach of ethics and illegal act. Draining the Guardian’s swamp of sources who break the law to leak information is something that is long overdue. It is both necessary and appropriate.