Saturday 2 December 2017

Mr Damian Green's Office Computer

Updated 20.50 hrs - Statement by HM Inspector of Constabulary

The Rt. Hon. Damian Green MP is First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office in the present UK government.  His Wikipedia entry records - "Green entered Parliament in the 1997 election by winning the seat of Ashford in Kent.  He served in several shadow ministerial positions, including Transport Secretary and Immigration Minister.  Green came to national prominence in November 2008 after being arrested and having his parliamentary office raided by police, although no case was brought.  He was the Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice until 14 July 2014. He was appointed as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by Prime Minister Theresa May in July 2016. Following the June 2017 general election, he was appointed First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office.

The Guardian 1st December 2017 reports
that Mr Green is accused of inappropriate behaviour towards a young Conservative activist, Kate Maltby.

Separately, two former senior Scotland Yard officers have claimed that pornography was found on his office computer when he was in opposition. The discovery was made in 2008 when Mr Green was shadow immigration minister as part of Operation Miser, an investigation into Home Office leaks.  Mr Green strenuously denies both inappropriate behaviour towards Maltby and accessing pornography on his work computer. The allegations are the subject of a month-long Cabinet Office inquiry.

It seems unsatisfactory that the Cabinet Office is conducting an inquiry into the conduct of its own Minister.  However that may be, there are other concerns.

A retired Police Officer informed the BBC that he had seen "thousands" of  "thumbnail" images on a computer that was located in Mr Green's office - The Telegraph 1st December.   Also see The Independent  2nd December where it is reported that  "Neil Lewis, a former Scotland Yard detective who examined computer equipment in Mr Green’s office almost a decade ago, said on Friday that there were “thousands” of thumbnail images of legal pornography on the politician’s computer."

The computer had been examined as part of the 2008 / 2009 Metropolitan Police investigation into leaks from the Home Office - BBC News 12th October 2009.  No charges were brought in relation to the leaks against either Mr Green or the civil servant, Christopher Galley, who passed unauthorised material to Mr Green - see Guardian 16th April 2009.

It is inevitable that, during their investigative work, Police Officers will come across all manner of information and material.  The Police Conduct Regulations 2012 Schedule 2 set out Standards of Professional Behaviour and these include a requirement that Police Officers treat "information with respect and access or disclose it only in the proper course of police duties."   In 2014, the College of Policing issued a Code of Ethics which emphasises the confidentiality requirement.

The same confidentiality requirement was included in the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 and also in the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2004 Schedule 1 although in the 2004 Regulations the wording was somewhat different - "Information which comes into the possession of the police should be treated as confidential. It should not be used for personal benefit and nor should it be divulged to other parties except in the proper course of police duty. Similarly, officers should respect, as confidential, information about force policy and operations unless authorised to disclose it in the course of their duties."

The Police Conduct Regulations apply to members of a police force or special constables.  The position of retired officers seems to be different.  It is possible for such officers to be bound by confidentiality agreements though I do not know how widespread such agreements are.  Whether the retired officer in question here is subject to such an agreement is unknown.   Nonetheless, given that the confidentiality clause has been part of Police Conduct Regulations for many years, it appears to be particularly unethical to reveal this information in this way.  Such revelations undermine public trust in the Police.

Another concern merits mention.  The mere fact that something is on a computer begs the question of how it got there.  It is dangerous to jump to a conclusion that a particular individual put it there.  To reach that conclusion entails a detailed investigation.  For example, one obvious point is that there could be several users of a particular computer.

Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of Great Manchester Police, has condemned the statement by the retired officer - The Independent 2nd December 2017.  Asked if the leaks were “wrong”, Sir Peter commented: “I personally believe that they were. I think most police officers and police chiefs would think that they were and would be dismayed at the way this case has developed.”

Accessing pornography is not necessarily illegal though in some instances it can constitute a criminal offence. At the end of this post is a set of links to some of the relevant legislation.  Whether accessing pornography is morally right is a very different matter on which opinion will differ.  In many workplaces, employers often set out an Internet Policy and breach of it could amount to misconduct and merit disciplinary action - see, for example, The Guardian - Pornography at work: grounds for dismissal?

Mr Green Green strenuously denies both inappropriate behaviour towards Kate Maltby and accessing pornography on his work computer.

UPDATE 20.50 hrs

HM Inspector of Constabulary issued this statement and includes at pata 5 - "The obligation of confidentiality, and the duty not to break trust, is an enduring one. It does not end when a police officer retires." 

Unlawful material:

Some forms of material are unlawful under various Acts of Parliament - e.g. indecent photographs of children.  Here are some links:

Protection of Children Act 1978 section 1 - Indecent Photographs of Children

Criminal Justice Act 1988 section 160

CPS Guidance on POCA s.1 and CJA s.160

Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 section 63 - Possession of Extreme Pornographic Images 

Coroners and Justice Act 2009 Part 2 Chapter 2

CPS Guidance on Coroners and Justice Act

Sentencing guidance - Magistrates' Court - Indecent photographs of a child

Also worth noting is the Digital Economy Act 2017 which contains provisions relating to Online Pornography and, in particular, section 14 imposes a requirement to prevent access by persons under age 18.

Update 21st December:

Damian Green left the government having been asked to resign by the Prime Minister - post of 21st December.

The Metropolitan Police issued a statement saying that they have asked the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to investigate the apparent disclosure to the media of confidential material gathered during a police investigation in 2008 by two former officers.

1 comment:

  1. Am I right in thinking that breaches of the code of conduct s defined in the Acts referred to above are not, in themselves, criminal offences?