You never hear about ‘aiding and abetting misconduct in public office.’ Then twice in the same week…

December 3, 2008

Coincidentally, the Thames Valley Police case against former police officer Det. Sgt. Mike Kearney, his son and journalists Sally Murrer and Derek Webb collapsed on Friday 28 November, the very day of the Damian Green arrest (Thus passim). Ms. Murrer and associates had been charged 18 months ago under the (no longer) obscure count of ‘aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office,’ by accepting and using information leaked by a civil servant, in this case a police officer. The judge ruled that the defendants had every right to protect their sources under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that the police had exceeded their remit in undertaking complex surveillance to ascertain, amongst other things, the source of evidence as to whether a semi-professional Milton Keynes footballer had been rowdy in a nightclub. Ms. Murrer, a veteran local newspaper journalist, was subjected to a strip search and implied threats of ‘life imprisonment’ unless she disclosed the source of ‘leaks’ relating to this case and, coincidentally, another local story about the death of an alleged drug dealer whose secretary was, coincidentally and completely unrelatedly, the partner of a local MP. In both cases, virtually all the details were already in the public domain.

You can read more about all this from much better sources such as Silobreaker, which reported the collapse of the case on Monday. Ms Murrer herself was on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour today. In another extraordinary and completely unrelated coincidence, Peter Mandelson, the scrapping spinmeister general New Labour peer and Business Minister, declared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the Conservatives were within their rights to call for a debate on the Damian Green affair, but that the ‘alleged’ fact that the Immigration Office junior civil servant who leaked over 21 pieces of information to the Shadow Minister was canvassing for a job with the Tories. he said the same on Sky News: ”I understand the anger expressed by some MPs because it touches on what they see as their rights and privileges. ‘I also have to say I think that for many Conservatives, it is a self-serving smokescreen, behind which to hide their own apparent collusion with a Home Office official who was allegedly systematically leaking Home Office papers to the Conservative Party, in order to pursue his own personal political ambition.’ Mandelson, who is not a member of the House of Commons, added: ‘I would like to know from the Conservatives whether their frontbench and their leader knowingly colluded with that civil servant in riding a coach and horses not only through the Civil Service code but also through the law.’

These allegations themselves, though legally qualified, are deliberately tantamount to accusing the Tories of breaking the law – or ‘aiding and abetting’. I observed the interesting coincidence of Mandelson’s re-emergence and the outbreak of renewed parliamentary violence earlier (Thus passim). Today’s masterful intervention makes the link explicit.

The most striking and relevant coincidence through all this smoke is that Damian Green has been threatened with the same charge as Ms Murrer: ‘aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office.’ Lord Mandelson’s musings now go further. By implying that ‘their frontbench and their leader may have knowingly colluded,’ in an attempt to deflect heat away from what is almost certainly turning out to be a serious constitutional crisis, he has almost certainly raised the stakes to Defcon 2. Thus has heard, meanwhile, that Jacqui Smith has ordered an investigation of the police investigation. By the police, of course.

I’ll be relieved to leave this subject and get back to the real world. There is smoke and fire on all sides, but the overall implications of these curious coincidences are valid: either the police have gone unilaterally troppo, someone is urging them to go troppo, the government is having a series of senior moments, or this is part of a dangerous, concerted attack upon HM Opposition to deflect attention from evident failings of the Immigration Department which may have implications for National Security. Allegedly.