The Mail on Sunday has been delving a little into the business dealings of the controversial Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, now in charge of the Metropolitan Police Service Counter Terrorism Command, formerly the Chief Constable of Surrey.
Given the new "thought crime" provisions brought in by the Labour government, through the recent Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, will such investigative journalism, or any further analysis by bloggers etc., which mentions current or former military, intelligence agency or police personnel, be legally possible in the future ?
The original Mail on Sunday scoop:
By Martin Delgado
Last updated at 9:35 AM on 21st December 2008
This well researched story (checking the world wide web, companies house, magazine advertisements and classic car experts etc.) originally ran on the Mail on Sunday website (updated 11.30pm 20th December) on Saturday night, illustrated with a photo from showing Judith Quick, the wife who runs the business, with one of the wedding cars. This was later censored to pixelllate out her face, and now the whole photo has been removed.
Remember to make "Save As" copies of interesting online newspaper or blog articles, instead of just adding the URLs to your web browser's Bookmarks or Favourites - they could, as in this case, be altered or censored later
Bob Quick complained to the media about the intrusion into his family life, claiming some sort of unspecified "security risk", and accusing the Conservative Party and their friends in the Press of "corruption" and " intimidation". He now seems to have retracted his use of the word "corruption".
Given the information of the vintage Rolls Royce and other vehicles available for wedding hire or for other "VIP" occasions, and the approximate geographical area, published by the Mail on Sunday, it takes only a few seconds using a web search engine and online business directories to find the "search engine optimised" website, and the business address and phone number and mobile phone details.
If these represent a "security risk" to Bob Quick and his family, then perhaps the family business (not necessarily a bad thing of itself) should be running from commercial offices rather than from his home on the Surrey / Kent borders.
It cannot be pleasant having a tabloid newspaper, and the following press pack and blogosphere investigating your private life and business dealings, but such a high profile public servant, in a position of immense trust and power, in charge of the leading anti-terrorism Police unit in the UK, is paid a lot of money to shoulder such responsibility and risks, and should have "nothing to hide, nothing to fear".
A soon as Quick's statement to the press mentioned the word "corruption", a couple of obvious questions sprang to mind:
- Have any of these vehicles, driven by ex-police chauffeurs, ever been magically "let off" from speeding tickets, parking fines or congestion charges etc. ?
- Have any of these "VIP" vehicles been fitted with electronic location tracking or bugging devices, at the expense of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command or, that of Surrey Police (Bob Quick used to be their Chief Constable) ?
More worryingly, we also have to ask:
Will the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command now attempt to arrest anyone who has read (or re-published) this article Mail on Sunday article, or this example of further analysis by one of our favourite bloggers Postman Patel, under the "thought crimes" sections of the vast and complicated arraty of anti-terrorism legislation ? e.g. Terrorism Act 2000 section 58 Collection of information
Surely any such investigative journalism by the mainstream media or by bloggers etc.,
will be further chilled, when the new Terrorism Act 2000 section 58A Eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc, comes into force ? This was sneaked onto the statute book, without any effective scrutiny by Parliament, via to the recent Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 section 76 (currently awaiting Commencement by Order):
58A Eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc
(1) A person commits an offence who--
(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been--
(i) a member of Her Majesty's forces,
(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or
(iii) a constable,
which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or
(b) publishes or communicates any such information.
Note that this applies to all current and former police constables not just to people like Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick who are assigned to anti-terrorism or other national security duties.
(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action.
N.B. This statutory defence requires that a person has actually been first arrested charged and brought before a court.
"attempts to elicit information" is an excessively wide, "catch all" power, and should never have been allowed into the wording of the Act, but Parliamentary scrutiny , such as it was, was successfully diverted by the Government towards the controversial "42 days internment without charge" debate, allowing this, and other controversial sections of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 through without opposition.
A mainstream media outlet, freelance journalist or blogger, political activist, street or demonstration photographer or any innocent member of the public, might be able to claim that their research or photograph (or conceivably, even their perfectly legal Freedom of Information Act 2000 request) etc. was in the public interest, but, once they have been arrested on a Terrorism charge, it will be too late to continue with a normal life - they will have been branded as terrorists, even if they are entirely innocent.
The threat of forced arrest, perhaps via a dawn raid by armed Counter Terrorism Police, followed by DNA sampling, fingerprinting, photography, and searches of your property, confiscation of your computer equipment (often for months on end, whilst it awaits forensic examination) and the subsequent blacklisting as a "terrorist suspect" on UK and foreign government and police databases, must surely frighten many people from daring to comment or publish on this, or similar stories.
This Section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000 should never be commenced, and should be repealed as quickly as possible.
It does nothing to deter real terrorists, and will be used to harass political opponents and to try to suppress embarrassing facts about military, intelligence agency or police personnel, forces and agencies, especially those with lax or inept or treasonous operational or computer or communications security. Similarly, based on previous scandals, it will be used to try to hide or cover up individual or institutional corruption or other abuses of power, from public scrutiny.
Who is going to investigate the fitness for office of Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick ? He certainly is not now seen to be politically impartial, as he is supposed to be.
Such a lack of political neutrality would be bad enough, even for a low level Police constable, but for such a senior Police officer, supposedly leading the UK's anti-terrorism investigations, with all the extraordinary power which that role wields, it is intolerable.
Will former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, use this new section 58A to try to suppress any further investigations of the Metropolitan Police Service contracts with Hitachi Consulting, run by his friend Martin Samphire ? These may be perfectly legal and ethical, but they were the subject of legitimate newspaper investigations over the last couple of years.