What does Scotland Yard do after being humiliated by the excellent investigative reporting of the Guardian UK in regards to the News of the World phone hacking scandal? You might think they’d clean up shop after being busted for ignoring the News of the World scandal for years, but you’d be wrong. Think typical authoritarian stance. Think Scott Walker or George W Bush. Think the Patriot Act. That’s right, they’re doubling down and coming after the messenger.
In an unprecedented move, Scotland Yard is demanding that the Guardian release the names of their sources, using the UK’s Official Secrets Act to justify their actions. The UK’s Official Secrets Act was designed to protect state secrets for national security purposes and is most often used in conjunction with spies, not journalists’ sources. The maximum fine for violating the Official Secrets Act is life imprisonment.
Sky News video:
The Guardian explains, “The clause is aimed at those who deliberately derail investigations by, for example, tipping off a suspect about an impending police raid. But it is being used in this case in an unprecedented way, against individual journalists for publishing a news article. The Guardian’s reporters did not pay any police officers.”
The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger said “We shall resist this extraordinary demand to the utmost.”
The Guardian did not pay the police for any information regarding the phone hacking scandal, and journalists and their sources are protected under article 10 of the Human Rights Act. The Guardian stayed on this story even after Metro Police closed their initial investigation, due in large part to the persistent efforts of Guardian reporters Nick Davies and Amelia Hill, who broke the Milly Dowler phone hacking story. Amelia Hill was arrested earlier this month and questioned about allegedly passing on confidential information from a police source to the paper. The Guardian stories led to the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates.
The BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds said: “It’s highly unusual for the Official Secrets Act to be used in this way; the act prohibits the disclosure of material that may impede the detection of crime.”
The Official Secrets Act is designed to keep government secrets secret, and although its law, people with access to sensitive information are often compelled to sign the Act, although it’s applicable even if not signed. Convictions haven’t been easy to come by. One if the rare successes in prosecution was the conviction of Sarah Tisdall, a “Foreign Office clerk who leaked to The Guardian newspaper details of when controversial American cruise missiles would be arriving on British soil. She was found guilty and sentenced to six months, although she only served three.”
The Met Police stated, “Operation Weeting is one of the MPS’s most high profile and sensitive investigations so of course we should take concerns of leaks seriously to ensure that public interest is protected by ensuring there is no further potential compromise.”
Scotland Yard is going before a judge on September 23 to demand the Guardian turn over documents relating to the scandal. The police claim that their investigation (Operation Weeting was launched in January of this year after previous investigations were dropped) may have been hampered by the release of the information in the Guardian’s stories. Perhaps they intend to imply that they were getting around to that years old investigation if only the Guardian hadn’t stepped on their toes, but their previous efforts don’t lend much credence to that claim.
Image: BSkyB (irony alert)