Note: This is an article by journalist Michael Gillard published on the Belgium-based website MaoMagazine in 2001. That website has been offline for several years, and despite attempts to access it via the Wayback Machine and Google caches, I have previously been unable to do so. However, having recently located a printout of the article which I made at the time and which was stamped with the full URL, I have been able to bring up this one page, thus saving me the trouble of retyping it out.
I have not edited or trimmed or ‘corrected’ the text. I have formatted it as close to the original printout as possible, except in two areas of style: (i) The first paragraph originally contained the bolding of words and phrases, which I have not replicated; (ii) I have italicised all newspaper names, where the original did not. In addition I have added annotations to provide context, in particular for non-UK political trainspotters. I reproduce the entire article without claim to its authorship or copyright, on the basis that it relates to matters of great public interest at the moment, but is essentially unavailable. BristleKRS.
Who can you trust?
The Guardian, the journalists and the letter…
When the Guardian newspaper in the UK lost two of its award winning investigative team1 few people noticed. But behind this seemingly ordinary happening lies a tale of police letters, denials, security services and off the record briefings…by Michael Gillard.
Recently Guardian2 editor, Alan Rusbridger3, complained about an ancient law that could theoretically be used by the government to imprison editors who campaign in their newspapers for the establishment of a republic by lawful means.4
The Guardian‘s challenge to the 1848 Treason Felony Act- on the grounds that it was incompatible with new Human Rights legislation, in particular freedom of expression – was in reality little more than a transparent publicity stunt. Ramping up a non-existent threat against the editor.
Undoubtedly there are some who would have enjoyed the fantasy of the Guardian editor cowering in the prison showers with disgraced minister Jonathan Aitken or even the great storyteller, Jeffrey Archer. But this was never on the cards.
However when Scotland Yard wrote to Rusbridger informing him that fellow investigative journalist Laurie Flynn and I were under investigation for a serious criminal offence, one which carried an automatic prison sentence, there was no clarion call to defend a free press against this smear campaign. Instead the letter remained in the Guardian‘s files as the nation’s self-styled sleaze-buster continued to secretly kill our troublesome investigation into police corruption.
What follows is a sordid story of the Guardian‘s betrayal of core journalistic principles in the face of a real and continuing assault on press freedom by Scotland Yard.
In March 2000 Laurie Flynn and I led the Guardian with a lengthy investigation of a secretive anti-corruption unit inside Scotland Yard called the Untouchables. The front-page and inside articles revealed the truth behind the biggest anti-corruption probe in the history of British policing.5
Only a handful of very senior officers and Home Office mandarins knew about the secret corruption offensive when it was first launched in 1993. Four years later London’s Metropolitan Police commissioner revealed to the House of Commons that he had up to 250 bent cops in his ranks.6
It was a startling public admission. The figure was based on ‘intelligence’ gathered by the Untouchables7. Excitable crime correspondents were told these anti-corruption crusaders had bugged, followed and secretly integrity tested the suspect detectives.
But our articles revealed a different reality. After seven years and millions of pounds the Untouchables had in fact only secured nine convictions for serious corruption. None of them were senior officers.8
The articles questioned whether the low conviction rate meant the ‘intelligence’ about 250 corrupt cops was poor and over-exaggerated. Financial deals to secure the co-operation of supergrass witnesses had been hidden from the courts. And an illegal filtering process, known internally as “cleansing”, meant inconvenient allegations of corruption against senior or well-connected officers could be easily buried.
We also revealed some of the so-called Untouchables were themselves under investigation for unethical, illegal or corrupt behaviour9 – facts that clearly reinforced the need for a new independent system of investigating police misconduct.10
Crude police pressure on the Guardian began almost immediately after this first series of critical articles were published. Keeping the media on message is a key Scotland Yard strategy confirmed Chris Webb, a senior spin-doctor.11 This was achieved, he said, by a round of discreet “visits” from the Met commissioner and others to key media bosses.
They were asked to trust the Yard to carry out its internal investigation unhindered by inquiring reporters. The Untouchables’ targets, editors were told, were in every case cunning, experienced detectives who had gone native armed with the latest anti-surveillance techniques. They were ruthless and would use anything, including the media, to avoid detection or prosecution.
In reality it is Scotland Yard which is using the media, largely through the grubby lobby system of authorised correspondents, most of whom will not bite the hand that regularly feeds them and the appetite of news desks for ‘sexy’ crime stories.
Unsettled by the Guardian articles, in March 2000 the Yard asked the Attorney General’s Office12 to prosecute the newspaper on the grounds that our stories jeopardised future corruption trials. On this occasion the Attorney General declined.
However, by July the position changed after the Yard became aware we were preparing two further articles this time investigating the links between the Stephen Lawrence scandal13 and the Untouchables’ anti-corruption crusade.
Police sources and lawyers had suggested to us that the launch of the secret anti-corruption probe in late 1993 was a damage limitation exercise following the bungled police investigation into the racist murder in April that year of Stephen Lawrence.
The parents of the black teenager continue to believe that corrupt links between Scotland Yard and organised criminals linked to the murder suspects14 partly explains the failure to make early arrests.
Their campaign culminated in a landmark public Inquiry in 199815 that severely criticised the police for incompetence and institutional racism. On the issue of corruption however the Met assured the Lawrence inquiry that its squad of Untouchables was “scoping” the problem with ruthless efficiency.
We had already shown this was not the case in our March investigation. Now we were trying to publish in the Guardian a major article documenting well-supported claims by the Lawrence Inquiry that it had been “bugged” and “burgled” ahead of publication of its landmark report in February 1999.
Senior inquiry sources believed a draft version of the report had been stolen and then leaked to the right-wing Sunday Telegraph.16 The police or intelligence services were suspected. Indeed the Inquiry had been tipped off that the police planned to bug its offices.17
The second article concerned worrying and detailed allegations of police corruption that surfaced before, during and after the Lawrence Inquiry but which the Untouchables had mysteriously failed to properly investigate or raise with the Inquiry.
On bended knee
We had already spent two weeks in increasingly tense conferences with Rusbridger and his number two, Paul Johnson18, when in July we discovered indirectly the Untouchables were seeking another injunction against the newspaper. They were especially concerned about the second article.
Again senior officers claimed publication would jeopardise an on-going police corruption trial. This was nonsense, as the articles contained nothing to do with that trial. But the way the injunction threat was made guaranteed the prejudice argument advanced by the Yard. Rather than notify the newspaper directly, Treasury Counsel19 instead stood up in front of the jury in the police corruption trial and announced the intention to gag the Guardian over some forthcoming articles.
In general the media has been asked by the Yard to suspend any critical analysis of this unprecedented anti-corruption crusade until all the trials are concluded. This will be some time next year.
The oppressive use of injunctions and blanket contempt orders to gag the independent media during these trials has been very effective largely because newspapers, including the Guardian, refuse to challenge this real threat to press freedom.
On 14 July the Attorney General’s office faxed Rusbridger a warning against publication of our articles.
We had already noticed a change in the Guardian‘s appetite for our follow-up investigation of the Untouchables. Rusbridger was more directly involved. He and the Guardian‘s legal team were by now also having significant meetings without us.
We had come through many tough debates with them during the previous two years. But this was the first time that an adverse legal opinion on our copy was given even before the lawyers had seen the police responses to our detailed questions and allegations. Rusbridger and his lawyers seized on the threat of an injunction and the Attorney General’s letter as further reason not to publish.
On 2 August, a date that will become very significant in this grubby tale, we were told the Guardian had “hit the brick wall” and no rewrites or any further inquiries would change the editorial decision not to publish our articles.20
The Yard was snorting that it had derailed publication, Graham McLagen21 of the BBC, one of the Yard’s most trusted reporters, told us. On bended knee McLagen would later oblige the Untouchables with a Panorama ‘documentary’ that was the journalistic equivalent of fellatio.22 This novel form of deep throat journalism did not attract an injunction threat even though the programme was broadcast during two major police corruption trials.
The double standard was clear: Those who swallow the Yard’s line can publish or broadcast during corruption trials without fear of injunctions, those who pose a threat will be threatened.
We had also received word from two sources that the Yard was briefing against us and claiming we had been “sacked” from the Guardian.
Undeterred, we continued our investigation but with increasing strain inside the newspaper. A police source warned us we were under investigation with a watch on our bank accounts. This squared with earlier information that the Untouchables were also looking at unauthorised relationships between independent journalists and police officers.23
In early September, shortly after these tip-offs, a very senior establishment figure told us he heard that Rusbridger had reassured the Met commissioner there would be “no more stories” about the Untouchables in The Guardian.
Of course editors can reasonably end investigations. But the Yard and government pressure, difficulties with Rusbridger, precipitous legal advice, rumours of being sacked or under investigation were all impossible to ignore. But still we didn’t have a clear picture of what was going on inside the Guardian.
It was only when I saw hard evidence that the Yard’s campaign to derail our investigation had reached into the belly of the editor’s office, that I realised we had been betrayed by our own in the high politics of media manipulation and self-censorship.
The Guardian had kept from us an explosive letter it received from the commander of the Untouchables stating we were under investigation for a serious criminal act that carried an automatic prison sentence.
The letter was marked “strictly confidential” and not intended for publication. It was addressed to Rusbridger and dated 2 August 2000. The date was important for several reasons. It came shortly after the injunction threat and the Attorney General’s letter to the editor. In addition, it coincided with Johnson’s irreversible decision that our investigation had “hit the brick wall.”
The letter was written by Commander Andy Hayman, an officer who appears to have risen without trace within the Yard. Commander Hayman is responsible for operations and investigations by the Untouchables.24 He had invited himself to the Guardian in March last year to try and blunt our first expose of his secret squad. He claimed then that corrupt cops, who he refused to identify, were using us. Unspecified intelligence I reminded him, is not evidence.
This time the tactic was different. Hayman would not have written the letter to Rusbridger without higher authority and possibly some sense of how it might be received.
The two-page text was subtitled “RE: PROPOSED ARTICLE BY GILLARD AND FLYNN” but strangely Hayman didn’t go on to discuss which article he was referring to. Instead he suggested to Rusbridger that we were under investigation for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by “unethically or unlawfully” helping one of his targets to escape serious charges of the same nature.
The target was a private investigator25 whose trial was not due to begin for another eight weeks. We had never written, nor proposed writing, anything about him. Hayman appeared unbothered by these inconvenient facts. His letter was building up for the kill.
Commander Hayman not only threatened us with prosecution, he boldly requested from Rusbridger his assistance in obtaining confidential journalistic information to aid that prosecution. Namely, details of our sources and when we met them. A file would then be submitted to Treasury Counsel for a decision on whether to proceed against us.
To cap it off, Hayman offered Rusbridger a confidential security briefing where he would see secret intelligence of an alleged “campaign” by unnamed individuals to undermine unspecified prosecutions.
Presumably this was not the sort of letter that comes into the Guardian every day. It demanded the immediate attention of senior editors and probably the legal department. They would have had to respond somehow to Commander Hayman’s imperious assault on press freedom, the threat of prosecution and the formal request to help the Untouchables with its inquiries into two Guardian reporters.
Whatever the nature of any subsequent discussions between the Guardian and Scotland Yard we do not know, because the newspaper won’t come clean. We do know however that no one from the Guardian told us about the letter or discussed with us its serious implications.
By the time we found out about the Hayman letter already a significant number of weeks had passed since it was sent. Yet despite numerous opportunities to do so, Guardian managers remained suspiciously silent.
Assault on a free press
We later discovered that Paul Johnson, our direct line manager, had received a copy of the Hayman letter but he too never sought to raise it with us. Instead on 2 November, twelve weeks after the letter was sent, Johnson told us we must “stop investigating” the Yard and its squad of Untouchables.
The Met’s smear campaign against us and the Guardian‘s deafening silence over the Hayman letter is deeply disturbing, but we continued to investigate this clear public interest story in our own time.
Eleven days later I attended a committal hearing of three detectives arrested by the Untouchables.26 I was the only reporter at Bow Street Magistrates Court. It was a tiny courtroom and I was sitting directly behind three Untouchables. There was no reporting restriction in place and both the court and the police knew I was a journalist. But on the second day when the usher handed out headphone sets – we were about to listen to a secret recording the anti-corruption squad had made of the defendants – one Untouchable decided the freedom of the press was a freedom too far.
No sooner were the headphones in my hand when detective sergeant Sean Buckland lent over the bench separating us and grabbed me violently, shaking me as he tried to snatch the headphones back. At my request the judge intervened and reminded him that it was an open court. He turned to me and said: “I’ll see you outside.”27
I took statements from witnesses and the next evening made a formal complaint to the Met commissioner, Sir John Stevens.28 The decision to complain about Buckland was not taken lightly. Investigative reporting is a rough and tumble business. But I was determined this common assault would be the last in the series of attacks by the Yard on my right to investigate the activities of its much-vaunted anti-corruption squad. If DS Buckland would behave like that in open court, what would he do with a warrant at 6 am at my front door? The National Union of Journalists could see the issues and backed me immediately. At the Guardian it was a very different story.
Stop investigating or resign
As I was still on contract to the Guardian I informed them of the complaint letter and requested an immediate meeting with Rusbridger to discuss the events leading up to the assault. It had now been fifteen weeks since the Hayman letter was sent to the paper. Despite frequent opportunities to do so, its existence had still not been revealed to us and none of our many articles on the Untouchables and police corruption had been published.
On 22 November we met first with Johnson and then later that afternoon with Rusbridger. The two men had spoken about the situation after morning conference and clearly had an agreed line. Immediately Johnson went on the offensive. The Guardian had read my complaint with “increasing anxiety and worry”, he said. He then accused me of not being “collegiate” by complaining about the assault without first seeking their permission, which would not have been forthcoming, he admitted.
Johnson was clearly unaware that we knew he had not been exactly “collegiate” with us over among other things the Hayman letter. But then Olympic sanctimony and even hypocrisy have become an unfortunate trademark of the Guardian in recent times.
Johnson ploughed on. As a result of my complaint, the “guillotine” had come down, he said. We were not to investigate Scotland Yard or police corruption, even in our own time. If we couldn’t accept this we’d have to resign.
It was clear my complaint was being used as a pretext to now formally justify what had already been secretly killed off. Johnson denied this. But Laurie then asked if he knew anything about an attempt by the Yard to open a split between the Guardian and us. This was Johnson’s last chance. He paused. The paper had “never ever come under any pressure under anything you have written,” he said boldly. The Guardian is “not malleable to pressure,” even from Commander Hayman, he assured us. Yet for all his collegiality, Johnson again forgot to mention the Hayman letter.
Sword of truth
Some hours later we interviewed Rusbridger in his office. We sat opposite each other across a big table strewn with newspapers. It was a picture postcard. Mounted on the wall behind Rusbridger’s head was the so-called “Sword of truth” – a memento from the Guardian libel victory over disgraced Conservative minister and liar Jonathan Aitken.29
We told Rusbridger our police sources had informed us there was a “back channel” between him and Scotland Yard. Our question was partly prompted by an earlier conversation when he had claimed he could “get to” the Met commissioner, Sir John Stevens. Nervously rubbing his chin, Rusbridger told us it was “categorically untrue”. There was no back channel.
We then described to him the smear campaign against us and informed him that only recently his own well-respected home affairs editor30 had taken an anonymous call asking whether it was true that we had left the Guardian because the Attorney General was very disturbed by our activities. Rusbridger rubbed his chin some more and shook his head.
Had he been told formally that we were under investigation by the Untouchables, we asked. Had he been written to asking for details of our sources? Someone was “winding us up”, he replied. “I’m not that kind of editor.”
Rusbridger however did recall that four months earlier in July he had spoken to the Attorney General31 at a Society of Editors32 bash. He claimed they only discussed why the government was going for the Guardian over an innocuous email sent by MI5 whistleblower David Shayler33. It was remarkable that only two days before this bash the Attorney General’s office had taken an unusual step and written to Rusbridger warning him against publishing our articles yet none of this came up in their conversation.
We then asked Rusbridger whether the Untouchables had offered him in writing a confidential security briefing? He said no, but volunteered that he had recently taken one from MI634, at their initiation. The spooks wanted to discuss the Guardian’s coverage of the security services he said, but the Liberal crusader instead took them to task over their levels of “openness.”
Rusbridger was in his stride. The decision not to carry on our investigation was an editorial one based on legal advice, he claimed, and not in any way influenced by outside pressure.
A serious breach of trust
Overdosed on collegiality, we left the editor’s office having asked that his extraordinary order – to stop investigating the Met, even in our own time, or resign – should be put in writing. It came almost three weeks later, again without any mention of the Hayman letter.
In our reply on 22 January we told Rusbridger he was trying to “gag” us. His “improper” order was “an unacceptable restriction of our freedom of inquiry and at odds with the declared policies of the nation’s leading liberal newspaper,” consequently we refused to accept it.
We asked for our contracts to be paid out. But first, after laying out a precise summary of the Hayman letter, we challenged the Guardian to continue to deny its existence or that there had been any pressure from the Yard.
We wrote: “Clearly such an approach should have been shared immediately with us so we could defend ourselves. Your decision not to do so left us dangerously exposed and constitutes at the very least a serious breach of trust and good faith.
“It is also worrying that five months have passed and although we have presented you with several opportunities we still have not been told the truth about a matter that severely impacts upon our professional lives. It is with sadness we now realise our suspicions over the last five months that the Guardian was backing off, discouraging independent investigation of (police) problems and censoring our work were well founded.”
Come as clean as you can
While we waited for a reply, over at Westminster the favours-for-passports scandal35 had gone from bad to worse for government minister, Peter Mandelson.36 The Guardian decided to offer some advice.
In a lead editorial entitled ‘The price of prevarication – Mandelson should have come clean,’ the minister was excoriated for his “incurable deviousness”.37
“We have recommended this precept for people in government,” crowed the Guardian. “At times like this, do not try and wriggle your way out of trouble, come as clean as you can as soon as you can.”
The editorial gave us hope the paper would heed its own advice. It didn’t. Rusbridger wrote back on 29 January with a truly remarkable explanation.
He said he was “truthful” when he claimed he had come under no pressure and had not been offered a confidential security briefing. But he thought we were so certain about the existence of the Hayman letter that he immediately asked his colleagues to comb their offices. “On searching through their files,” he wrote, “they have (his italics) unearthed a letter Mr Hayman wrote to me dated August 2, 2000.”
Imagine our surprise. But Rusbridger went on to claim he “knew nothing” of it and hadn’t even seen the Hayman letter until the search discovered it buried in the files of unnamed colleagues.
Rusbridger wrote that he and his PA were on holiday when the letter arrived. It was “passed by the temporary PA to Paul Johnson who was himself about to go on holiday. He placed it in a file and forgot about it until yesterday. No-one within the Guardian responded to the letter or gave it any thought until your letter,” he explained. There was “no conspiracy”, not even a mystery, he added helpfully. The letter simply “went astray”.
It is true Rusbridger was on holiday by 2 August. But it is also true that he was still in the UK when the letter arrived. Furthermore, internal emails show the editor was in regular contact with Johnson at this very time. One of the things they were discussing was whether to put on the front page our article on the bugging and burglary of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
Rusbridger helpfully concedes that Johnson, not he, saw the damaging Hayman letter. So it is remarkable Johnson will not explain why he decided not to tell Rusbridger about the Hayman letter. Or why he failed to tell Laurie when they met soon after it had arrived to discuss the bugging story. The Guardian subsequently refused to publish that story too so we gave it to The Independent to splash soon after we left.38
A knowledgeable source close to the editor’s office told us that all Rusbridger’s important mail and faxes would have been given by the temporary PA to the acting editor Georgina Henry39 while he was away. But she too refused to say whether she had seen the Hayman letter or spoke to Rusbridger about it.
There was however one good thing about the Guardian‘s Mandelsonian response. Rusbridger sensibly rescinded his improper order that we stop investigating the Yard even in our own time. He asked if we would like to continue working the remainder of our contract but on other subjects.
Free thinkers not welcome
The Guardian‘s fantastical explanation – that no one paid any attention to the Hayman letter, that it was put in a file and forgotten about – could just be true, like a well-crafted X-files script. But any newspaper, the Guardian included, receiving such an explanation from a government minister or spin-doctor would not believe it without further and better particulars to help close, well, the credibility gap.
So alongside requesting a copy of the Hayman letter, in February we replied to Rusbridger asking ten routine questions of the kind Guardian reporters every day are encouraged to put to public bodies and private companies. In whose dusty drawers, for example, were copies of the Hayman letter unearthed?
The reply was disappointing for a paper that runs its own ‘Open Up’ campaign for government departments and encourages errant ministers to come clean.40 There were no answers to any of the questions. And no copy of the now far from private Hayman letter. But instead Rusbridger agreed to pay out the remainder of our contracts.
Rusbridger’s position more than justifies the comments of his valued columnist Henry Porter41 who wrote recently in the Guardian that “editors are less answerable to the public than any other group, and it is time they were made to explain their actions.”
In the absence of transparency and professional decency came informed speculation from a veteran staff reporter who suggested there had been a “deal” between the Guardian and Scotland Yard.
The question was how far did the Met really need to push the ‘new’ Guardian under Alan Rusbridger? One clue comes from the prescience he displayed soon after the Guardian‘s libel victory in February 1997 against detectives from Stoke Newington police station who had caught the eye of the anti-corruption squad following allegations of drug dealing.42
Although victorious, Rusbridger wrote at the time in the Evening Standard how “many editors reading (the) judgement will think twice in future. The next time they learn of wrongdoing in the police they will remember the hundreds of thousands of pounds The Guardian risked and they will instruct their reporters to forget stories about police corruption.”43
The Stoke Newington case certainly shaped, perhaps even permanently scarred, the Guardian’s editorial view of investigating the police. This is partly due to the awesome war chest the Police Federation control for suing journalists that upset its rank and file members.44
But the libel case in 1997 had another more interesting consequence: It brought Rusbridger and the Guardian very close to the upper echelons of Scotland Yard and to the intelligence chiefs running its anti-corruption squad – a special relationship that we would cut across two years later.
The anti corruption squad had sourced the Stoke Newington articles and senior Scotland Yard officers were also willing to come to court for the Guardian.
Conversely, we were two reporters outside the control of the crime correspondents’ club45, who by 1999 were investigating double standards and even allegations of corruption inside the secret anti-corruption squad itself. Senior Scotland Yard officers were apparently prepared to use their relationship with the Guardian to threaten us with prison, and the newspaper kept this from us.
Under Rusbridger’s editorship, the ‘new’ Guardian appears to have been seduced further into the security loop of unattributable briefings from spooks in oak-panelled rooms that was once the reserve of the right wing press and honourable correspondents.
The former bastion of civil liberties journalism has even decided there is no danger or conflict in using senior ‘retired’ MI6 officers like Michael Oatley46 to do the work of journalists and dig into the finances of disgraced minister, Jonathan Aitken.
Perhaps Cambridge luminaries such as Rusbridger are comfortable with retired spooks who, like guests at Hotel California, check out but never leave. But what would his readers make of this?
Of course with its Media website, thankfully the Guardian is now on hand 24-hours-a-day to keep an eye on the unholy alliances and unethical behaviour of other media organisations.
But will this self-appointed watchdog be allowed to post the Hayman letter on its website and ask reporters and editors what should be done when a secret police unit sends such correspondence?
A senior Guardian executive told a colleague that the newspaper had now “become part of the story”. Our investigation into police corruption continues and will be published as a book next year.47
I recently confronted the newly appointed deputy assistant commissioner Andy Hayman about his letter to Rusbridger. He provided an illuminating answer that underscores the depth of the Guardian‘s treachery.
Before running away to his chauffeured squad car, Hayman said Scotland Yard wanted to ensure the security of its operations so it decided to “fire a shot”, clearly to see how the Guardian would react. Now they know. Muckrackers beware.
© Copyright 2001 MaoMagazine, postbox 1483 in 2000 Brussels – Belgium
1 Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn.
2 The Guardian is a liberal-leaning daily newspaper in the UK, published six times a week. Its sister paper is The Observer, which is published on Sundays. Both, alongside the Guardian.co.uk (formerly Guardian Unlimited) website, are published by Guardian News & Media (GNM) and owned by Guardian Media Group (GMG), which is controlled by the Scott Trust.
3 Editor of The Guardian since 1995, on the boards of GNM, GMG and the Scott Trust. Via Wikipedia: “Rusbridger was born in Northern Rhodesia, the son of B.E. (née Wickham) and G.H. Rusbridger, the Director of Education of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). He was educated at Cranleigh School, a boys’ independent school in Cranleigh, Surrey, and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read English.” See also the lengthy biographical article, ‘Alan Rusbridger: The quiet evangelist‘ by Peter Wilby, New Statesman, 30/5/12.
4 See The Guardian, 6/12/00: “The paper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger wrote last week to the attorney general, Lord Williams of Mostyn, asking for an assurance that he will not be prosecuted, given that he has no intention of advocating overthrow of the monarchy by force. In his letter, he argued the Treason Felony Act breaches article 10 of the European convention, the right to freedom of expression.” See also The Guardian, 7/12/00: “The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, last night wrote to the attorney general challenging him to prosecute him under the Treason Felony Act of 1848 for supporting a republican government.” Note the conflicting dates of the letter to the Attorney General.
5 ‘Corruption squad under fire‘, The Guardian, 4/3/00
6 On 4/12/97 the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Condon, claimed that there were 100-250 corrupt officers within his Force whilst giving evidence to the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee. HAC records that far back are not published on the Parliamentary website, but there are references to Condon’s evidence elsewhere, including (ironically perhaps) Inside Time, a national newspaper for prisoners.
7 ‘The Untouchables’ were members of CIB3, a secret unit within the Metropolitan Police’s Complaints Investigation Bureau tasked with tackling police corruption. See ‘Untouchables‘ by Michael Gillard & Laurie Flynn (Mainstream, 2003; Cutting Edge Press, 2004; Bloomsbury Reader, 2012); ‘Bent Coppers‘ by Graeme McLagan (Orion, 2003).
8 The numbers here are not straightforward. During the period when the Ghost Squad/CIBIC and then the Untouchables/CIB3 were starting up through until this article was published (1993-2001), there were nine serving and three retired police officers convicted of corruption offences across five trials. The ball started rolling with South East Regional Crime Squad (SERCS) Detective Constable John Donald, who had been convicted in 1993 of corruption; but he hadn’t been through the Ghost Squad/Untouchables system, so let’s discount him. I doubt either that Gillard is including Duncan Hanrahan, the ex-Detective Constable-turned-private eye who became the first supergrass on the books in 1997, implicating serving officers; no one was convicted on his evidence except himself (sentenced in 1999). Five officers from the Dulwich-based SERCS were convicted on the supergrass evidence of former Detective Constable Neil Putnam (who had himself been sentenced in 1998) and drug dealer Evelyn Fleckney in 2000: Detective Constables Robert Clark and Chris Drury were convicted of conspiracy to supply drugs and perverting the course of justice in a trial in February, whilst Detective Sergeant Terry O’ Connell and Detective Constables Tom Kingston and Tom Reynolds were convicted in August. In January 2001 a further five serving and retired officers – this time from the Rigg Approach Flying Squad – were convicted on a range of corruptions charges: Detective Constables Terry McGuinness, Kevin Garner (retired) and David Howell, plus Detective Sergeant Eamon Harris and ex-Detective Inspector Fred May. In that case, McGuinness and Garner were acting as supergrasses. And Detective Constables Martin Morgan and Declan Costello (Barkingside police station) only faced trial in June 2002. So I suspect Gillard’s total of “nine convictions for serious corruption” encompasses the five convicted at the Rigg Approach trial, and the five convicted at the two contested SERCS trials, minus O’ Connell, who was acquitted of conspiracy, but gaoled for two years for “committing acts tending or intending to pervert the course of justice”. By way of a postscript, Clark and Drury had their convictions quashed in 2010, and were acquitted at their retrial in October 2011. The men’s lawyers specifically criticised then-CIB3 Detective Superintendent John Yates (see note 22), who “devised a system of informal conversations, partially recorded “debriefs”, tape recorded interviews under caution with these witnesses, followed by formal witness statements at the end of the investigation. In these conditions, [Putnam and Fleckney] incriminated various police officers. The opportunity for unfair and unrecorded threats, inducements, promises and pressure was obvious.”
9 Such as John Yates, Andy Hayman, Bob Quick, Chris Jarratt, Roy Clark, etc. See ‘Untouchables’.
11 Chris Webb remains a “senior spin doctor” at the Met, having replaced his former boss at the Directorate of Public Affairs, Dick Fedorcio, who resigned following revelations at the Leveson Inquiry. Webb is also Vice-Chair of the Association of Police Communicators, known as APComm. Despite currently serving as Acting Director of Public Affairs, Webb’s role is not mentioned on the relevant Met web page where previously Fedorcio’s did. Webb’s name also crops up on some documents submitted to Leveson.
12 The Attorney General is the chief law officer for England and Wales within the UK, providing legal advice to the government and to the Crown. As well as holding non-Cabinet ministerial rank, Attorneys General also have a supervisory role over a number of Crown bodies, including the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
13 Stephen Lawrence was a black teenager who was killed by a racist gang in Eltham, south-east London, on 22 April 1993. Despite a number of witnesses naming suspects, a Metropolitan Police murder inquiry failed to bring anyone to trial. The following year, after the Crown Prosecution Service claimed that there was not enough evidence to secure convictions, the Lawrence family initiated a private prosecution. Charges against two suspects were dropped for lack of evidence before trial, which eventually took place in 1996. The judge then directed the jury to acquit the remaining three in the dock. An inquest into the death of Stephen Lawrence took place in 1997, and found that he was a victim of unlawful killing. Later that year the government ordered the establishment of a public inquiry, headed by Sir William Macpherson, to look into the circumstances of the killing and the subsequent investigations. The Macpherson Report, published in 1999, found serious failings on the part of the Metropolitan Police, which it described as “institutionally racist”. Following changes to the ‘double jeopardy’ law which meant that fresh trials could take place of acquitted suspects if significant new evidence was available, two suspects – Gary Dobson and David Norris – were in 2010 rearrested and charged with the Lawrence murder. Following a trial which began in 2011, both were convicted, sentenced and imprisoned in 2012.
14 Such as alleged corrupt links between former SERCS Detective Sergeant John Davidson from the Lawrence inquiry team, and Clifford Norris, a career criminal and father of suspect David Norris. Gillard and Flynn revisited this theme in an article for The Independent more than a decade later, ‘The copper, the Lawrence killer’s father, and the secret files that expose a “corrupt relationship”‘ (6 March 2012). Links were also alleged in the Macpherson Report that Clifford Norris had a relationship with Detective Sergeant David Coles.
15 The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry heard evidence throughout 1998. Its report was published in February 1999.
16 On 21 February 1999, right-wing broadsheet newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, which has close ties to Scotland Yard, published a story by Tom Baldwin based on a leaked copy of the Macpherson Report, three days before it was due to be presented before Parliament. See also ‘Untouchables’ chapter 16 (pp394-405). The issue of the ‘leak’ – suspected by some to involve bugging and burgling of the Mapherson team’s homes and/or office – was revisited at the Leveson Inquiry in 2012, when Jack Straw, who was Home Secretary from 1997 until 2001, said he had been “furious”.
17 ‘Untouchables’ p397: Secretary to the Inquiry Stephen Wells “received an alarming call. Someone with extensive contacts in the police had warned him ‘the Met had a plan to bug the Inquiry’. The Inquiry secretary was horrified.” Wells contacted Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, then leading CO24, the new Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force, which had been set up to reinvestigate the Lawrence murder. Unbeknownst to Wells, Grieve was also a “leading member of the secret anti-corruption management committee and would continue to share intelligence and staff with the Untouchables” (p398). Grieve consulted with the Commissioner, and then relayed back to Wells that Condon “was ‘furious’ the Inquiry secretary could seriously suspect his force.” Grieve then arranged for the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), an elite nationwide law enforcement agency, to sweep the Inquiry’s offices and the homes of its advisers and chairman in search of surveillance devices.
18 Paul Johnson is now deputy editor of The Guardian. A 2009 conference biography notes that he studied at Cardiff University before working as a trainee reporter at the Express & Star in Wolverhampton. On joining The Guardian he worked first as Midlands reporter, then Irish correspondent, and was involved in the paper’s investigation into ‘cash for questions‘, which linked lobbyists Ian Greer Associates and Harrods owner Mohammed Fayed to Tories MPs.
19 Treasury Counsel are barristers who receive briefs from the Director of Public Prosecutions – who heads the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – to prosecute criminal cases on behalf of the Crown.
20 Note the gap between June and September 2000 in this chronological list of articles about the Stephen Lawrence case on the Guardian webiste.
22 The Panorama episode was called ‘The Bent Cop‘, and was broadcast on 3 December 2000. It was based around the evidence of CIB’s supergrass, Detective Constable Neil Putnam in relation to corruption at the South East Regional Crime Squad (SERCS). It featured interviews with CIB3 Detective Superintendents (by then Commander) Dave Wood and John Yates, without mentioning that either were ‘Untouchables’, preferring instead to describe them as ‘investigating officers’ from an ‘anti-corruption branch’. A transcript of the programme is available. John Yates subsequently led the Special Inquiry Squad, before promotion first to Deputy Assistant Commissioner and then in 2006 to Assistant Commissioner, the third highest rank in the Met. He replaced fellow CIB3 alumnus Bob Quick in 2009 as chief of Specialist Operations, under which the likes of VIP protection, counter-terrorism and security functions fall. He conducted the notorious 2009 review of the Met’s earlier phone hacking investigation (which had been executed under the purview of Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman), and concluded no more action was required – an opinion he also put to the Home Affairs Committee that year. By 2011, however, it was shown that he had failed to look into evidence of endemic corrupting or criminal activity, and following another appearance before the HAC, he resigned, to be replaced by Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick (the officer responsible for the operation in which innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police in 2005). Yates later took up a role as adviser to police in the Gulf state of Bahrain at a time when pro-democracy demonstrations threatened to topple the government there. Allegations of brutality and torture carried out by Bahraini police persist from human rights organisations.
23 A similar situation developed in 2011 when Guardian Special Investigations Correspondent Amelia Hill was questioned by the Met in relation to what they considered to be ‘leaks’ from inside Operation Weeting, the new inquiry into phone hacking. Hill was subsequently informed that the CPS would not take action against her.
24 Commander Andy Hayman joined the Met from Essex Constabulary in 1998. He worked in CIB3 and CIBIC – the Complaints Investigation Bureau Intelligence Cell, previously known as the ‘Ghost Squad’ (Gillard & Flynn, passim) from 1999 before taking overall charge of first CIB (McLagan pp322 &326) and then its successor organisation Directorate of Professional Standards (McLagan p409), the latter after promotion to Deputy Assistant Commissioner. He left the Met in 2002 to become Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary, but rejoined in 2005 as Assistant Commissioner in charge of John Yates’ old directorate, Specialist Operations. As such, he led the investigation into the July 2005 London bombings, during which Jean Charles de Menezes was killed. For this he drew criticism, as did his Commissioner, Ian Blair. In 2006 he was responsible for the original phone hacking inquiry, which again was subsequently criticised. In 2007 he left the Met following a number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards Nicki Redmond, female official at the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), questions about his relationship to his staff officer Sergeant Heidi Tubby, and concerns over travel expenses. From 2008 Hayman was a paid columnist for The Times newspaper, owned by the News International Group which also owns the News Of The World tabloid, which he had been investigating in 2006. He made a memorable appearance before the Home Affairs Committee in 2011 when he admitted receiving hospitality from those whom he had been investigating.
25 Presumably Jonathan Rees of Southern Investigations, a suspect in the murder of Daniel Morgan, the founder of the company and Rees’ co-director. In December Rees went on trial for planting cocaine in the car of one Kim James, with the intention of causing her to lose custody of the child she had by her estranged husband Simon. Rees, James and corrupt police officer Detective Constable Austin Warnes (ex-SERCS) were all found guilty in December. The plot to frame Ms James was uncovered during CIB3’s ‘Operation Nigeria’ reinvestigation of the Morgan murder, which entailed extensive surveillance and bugging of the Southern Investigations offices.
26 13 November 2000?
28 Sir John Stevens was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner from 2000 until 2005, succeeding Sir Paul Condon, and succeeded by Sir Ian Blair. Prior to his appointment to the senior position in British policing, he served for two years as Deputy Commissioner at the Met. In addition he had stints as Chief Constable of Northumbria Constabulary, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, and control of the Stevens Inquiry into collusion between police, army and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Following his retirement from policing, he was paid for a column for the News Of The Worldtabloid newspaper (ghost-written by tabloid editor-turned-PR consultant Neil Wallis).
29 Jonathan Aitken was a former journalist who worked for a number of papers, including the London Evening Standard, before following in his father’s footsteps to become a Conservative MP in 1974. After receiving information from former Central Intelligence Agency counter-intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, he alleged in a confidential letter to then-Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher that former Security Service (MI5) director-general Roger Hollis had been a KGB mole. The letter, along with input from senior MI5 officers Peter Wright and Arthur Martin, formed the basis for a controversial book by Express journalist and intelligence conduit Chapman Pincher, ‘Their Trade Is Treachery’ (Sidgewick & Jackson, 1981). Wright subsequently developed the theme further in his own memoir, ‘Spycatcher’ (Dell, 1987), which the government tried (and failed) to suppress. He served in the John Major government first as a defence procurement minister, then as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, a Cabinet post. In 1995, following a story in The Guardian (which was backed up by a World In Action television documentary) alleging that he violated ministerial rules by accepting a stay at luxury hotel the Paris Ritz paid for by a businessman, he took legal action against the paper, infamously stating that “if it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it”. However, documentary evidence that the allegations made by The Guardian and WIA were substantially true was presented, and his libel action collapsed. In 1999 he was convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice, and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.
31 The Attorney General in 2000 was Gareth Wyn Williams, Baron Williams of Mostyn (served 1999-2001).
32 The Society of Editors is a trade body open to “people who work in or with the news media in a senior editorial or policy making role,” with membership extended to “those who work within publications, broadcasting, new media, academia and media law.” It was formed in 1999 following a merger between the Guild of Editors and the Association of British Editors.
33 David Shayler was a Security Service (MI5) officer who turned whistle-blower in 1997, and in 2000 was subsequently prosecuted, convicted and (briefly) imprisoned for breaching the Official Secrets Act.
34 MI6 is a popular name for the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), Britain’s agency for gathering foreign intelligence. Its domestic counterpart is the Security Service (MI5), though there is overlap, with MI5 officers working beyond the shores of the UK, and MI6 officers working within the national boundaries.
35 ‘Favours-for-passports‘ was a scandal which brewed up in 2001 over the involvement of government ministers Keith Vaz (Europe) and Peter Mandelson (Northern Ireland Secretary – see note 36), as well as other MPs, in petitioning the Home Office on behalf of Indian businessmen Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, each of whom were applying for British citizenship. At the time both, along with their other brother Prakash, were under investigation by the Indian government in relation to the Bofors scandal.
36 Peter Mandelson was a prominent senior Labour Party MP at the time, closely associated with Prime Minister Tony Blair and with the ‘New Labour’ faction. He was appointed Director of Communications for Labour in 1985, and ran its general election campaign in 1987. He became an MP in 1992, a seat he held until 2004. On Labour’s general election victory in 1997, he was first appointed minister without portfolio, being promoted to Trade & Industry Secretary the next year. In 1998 he resigned from the Cabinet following a scandal over an undeclared interest-free loan from Geoffrey Robinson MP. Within a year he returned to Cabinet as Northern Ireland Secretary, before resigning a second time over the Hinduja affair (see note 35). He resigned his parliamentary seat in 2004 so that he could take up office at the UK European Commissioner. At the end of this posting, he was ennobled as Baron Mandelson of Foy, and rejoined the Labour government (by now with Gordon Brown at the helm) as Business Secretary.
37 Leader column, The Guardian, 26 January 2001
38 Unfortunately The Independent‘s website search only goes as far back as 2003, so I have been unable to find the article in question.
39 Georgina Henry is the head of Guardian.co.uk website, and assistant editor of The Guardian. From 1995-2006 she was deputy editor, and was on the board of Guardian Newspapers 1996-2006. She is in a relationship with Ronan Bennett, a writer who as a young man was wrongly imprisoned for a murder attributed to the Official IRA, and then later was held on remand for the ‘Persons Unknown’ anarchist trial, where he and his co-accused were acquitted. (See ‘Conspiracy: Law, Class and Society’ by Robert Spicer, Lawrence & Wishart, 1981, for more on ‘Persons Unknown’.) Bennett co-authored the television drama Fields Of Gold with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger in 2002.
40 I have searched the Guardian website for signs of an ‘Open Up’ campaign in 2000 or 2001 but can’t find anything concrete.
41 Currently a columnist for the Guardian‘s sister paper, The Observer, Henry Porter has been London editor of Vanity Fair magazine since 1992, following a stint as executive editor at broadsheet The Independent On Sunday.
42 In February 1997 The Guardian won a libel case brought against it by the Police Federation on behalf of five officers at Stoke Newington police station in east London. The five – Reynold Bennett, Robert Watton, Bernard Gillan, Paul Goscomb and Gerald Mapp – had been among eight described by crime correspondent Duncan Campbell in a 1992 article as having been transferred following allegations of drug-related corruption. Combined costs for that case were put at around £600,000.
43 Unfortunately the London Evening Standard‘s website search only goes as far back as 2003, so I have been unable to find the article in question.
44 The Police Federation of England and Wales is a representative body of all police officers up to the rank of Chief Inspector, set up by a statute in 1919 which also prohibited a police trade union. The Fed, amongst other services, provides a wide range of legal support to police officers. Up to the Guardian‘s 1997 victory, the Fed was said to have had an unbroken run of 95 libel victories, with a 50% increase in cases brought since 1990, and more than £20 million secured in damages.
45 There really is such a club – the Crime Reporters Association. It has been frequently name-checked at the Leveson Inquiry in ways that suggest a cosy relationship between certain top cops and some journalists to the exclusion of other reporters and wider public scrutiny.
46 Michael Oatley was a Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) officer, most notable for his work in Northern Ireland, where he constructed various back channels between the British government and the Provisional IRA from the 1970s to the 1990s. He subsequently joined Kroll Associates, a private investigation company specialising in corporate investigation and risk consultancy.
- Edited 11 June 2012 to correct minor typos in the notes.
- Edited 19 September 2012 to correct minor typos in the notes.
- Edited 16 July 2014 to correct a mistake in the notes (‘Complaints’ rather than ‘Criminal Investigation Bureau’).