Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780 - 799)



  780. I fully understand that clause 6 is for Service Police but it still has not quietened the journalists who feel that there is now a new threat to them. They also must understand that clause 6 is about Service Police not yourself; why do they continue to be concerned?
  (Mr Comben) I hope my careful explanation this morning will filter back to them because it is not in their interests or in anybody's interests to get it wrong. If they link clause 6 to the MDP they are getting it wrong.

  Chairman: You clearly have a great deal of faith, Mr Key, in journalists' ability to take in factual evidence in a matter. Are we going to move on to investigating crime? Mr Key, I certainly have your name down here as having questions you wanted to come in on.

Mr Key

  781. Thank you very much, Chairman. Could I turn now to the whole of question of who instigates criminal investigations. We are quite clear that in a Home Office force a member of the public might go to the police station and make an accusation and a police officer, ultimately the Chief Constable, decides whether to investigate. We have heard time and again that the Ministry of Defence Police Chief Constable is completely independent and it is entirely up to him whether any investigation is conducted or not and it is quite possible that an official in the Ministry of Defence or a member of the public might make a suggestion. That was the position that we ended up with last time. I therefore would like to try and discover the role of the Ministry of Defence Police Committee and also the role of something called the Ministry of Defence Police Advisory Board. Is there such a thing as the Advisory Board?
  (Mr Legge) The Advisory Board has now been subsumed within the Police Committee so it no longer exists.

  782. When did that happen, Mr Legge?
  (Mr Legge) My recollection is about three years ago, but that is speaking from memory.

  783. That has really cut out the bureaucracy and it has focused the purpose of the Committee?
  (Mr Legge) It was a simplification, indeed.

  784. Right. Am I right, Mrs Craig, that you are the Clerk to the Committee?
  (Mrs Craig) That is right, yes.

  785. So you are responsible for the day-to-day liaison between the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Defence Police?
  (Mrs Craig) No, I am responsible for making sure that the processes of the Committee run smoothly. I am not responsible for every contact between the Ministry of Defence Police and the MoD.

  786. But are you not responsible for the administration and finance of the police?
  (Mrs Craig) No.

  787. Nor of day-to-day supply of money?
  (Mrs Craig) No.

  788. You have no financial responsibility?
  (Mrs Craig) No.

  789. That is Mr Crowther's responsibility?
  (Mrs Craig) That is right.

  790. Please can you explain how it works. You walked into that one, Mr Crowther!
  (Mr Crowther) I am the Secretary of the MDP Agency and one of my responsibilities is for financial and budgetary aspects of the force. In that context I report to the Chief Constable. The Ministry of Defence Police has a higher level budget within the budgetary hierarchy of the Ministry of Defence and the higher level budgets are aggregated together as top level budgets and the top level budgets are aggregated together to form the defence budget as a whole.

  791. Mrs Craig, I think you said you are responsible for the day-to-day smooth running of relations?
  (Mrs Craig) Not of relations generally. I am responsible for the times when the Police Committee meets, essentially, which is four times a year. I have very little to do with the policing side of things outside of those occasions other than to deal with complaints against senior officers, of which fortunately there are very few.

  792. What are your other functions?
  (Mrs Craig) My main function is that of departmental security officer. That is about 70 per cent of my job. The Police Committee functions are perhaps about five per cent.

  793. Does that mean you are responsible, for example, for vetting Ministry of Defence employees?
  (Mrs Craig) Yes.

  794. And contractors?
  (Mrs Craig) Yes.

  795. So you would be in a position, for example, to withdraw security vetting from a Ministry of Defence employee if you felt they were perhaps out of time, had left the Ministry of Defence for too long?
  (Mrs Craig) I would be responsible for that decision ultimately. There are obviously many people involved in that decision before we get to that point.

  796. Even if, for example, a serving officers retires and goes into the private contracting world but has a security clearance, that security clearance goes with the person for a number of years. Is that right? Is that how it works?
  (Mrs Craig) Yes. He may need to be recleared if there had been a long period between his service with the Ministry of Defence and outside.

  797. What I am trying to establish is whether there is really quite a close relationship between the Civil Service and security in the wider sense in the Ministry of Defence. I think that is important not least because on Monday 1 March 1999, George Robertson, the Secretary of State, as he then was, answered a question to Mr Austin Mitchell who had asked to what extent the Ministry of Defence Police Agency was answerable to him. The answer was that ". . . the Chief Constable has, however, exclusive statutory authority for the professional direction and control of MoD police officers and the force is independent from political or departmental influence in the maintenance of operation of the law." Is that correct?
  (Mrs Craig) Yes.

  798. So, Chairman, I wonder if we could just go back to something Mr Comben said last time he was before the Committee because I questioned him about an interim report that had been sought from civil servants of the Ministry of Defence Police and, Mr Comben, you said: "I cannot confirm that an interim report was asked for or provided because I do not think it was." Was that the position? Have you had any second thoughts about that?
  (Mr Comben) I had some second thoughts, not on the actual answer because that stands, but perhaps it is an understanding of language. When Mr Rucker, the then Assistant Under-Secretary, reported to us a suspected offence he was making an allegation on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. He was the potential complainant. He was much like the secretary of a large company suspecting that some offence had been committed against the company, but he reported it to the MDP. I know that he had to report back to others the result of his conversation with me, quite properly, like the secretary of a company would report back to the full board. The decision to investigate that case was an MDP decision alone and I reported back to him orally to the effect that I felt that it was a matter that required investigation and a matter that should be investigated. I was thinking when you talked about an interim report at some stage long into the inquiry were we required to give some written interim report to the Ministry. That is not so. We worked with the Crown Prosecution Service throughout that case. I think that is a good example of what we are talking about when we are talking about operational independence. Just like a member of the public when their house has been burgled or a director of a large company, you report your suspicions, your allegations to the police and thereafter they investigate it. It is good practice to keep your victim or complainant informed of progress of the investigation in very broad terms but you do not go back and give interim reports to your victim on everything that happens, but the persons you do keep informed about progress (if they are already involved) is the Crown Prosecution Service and that is exactly what happened in this case.

  799. I think this is crucially important because we are talking about the operational independence of the Ministry of Defence Police, independence from the same people to whom they are accountable. I have in front of me and will make it available to the Committee a loose minute dated 4 November 1998 to Mr Comben from Mr Rucker, Mrs Craig's predecessor saying: "I am writing to request that you undertake a preliminary investigation into how Mr Geraghty obtained access to these documents. In addition we need to ensure that no copies of these documents, which contain passages more sensitive than those quoted in the book, remain in the possession of Mr Geraghty or his publishers. A copy of the relevant pages of the book is attached together with references to the MoD sources from which the text was taken. The assessment of HQNI, M02 and Sec(HSF) is that the information disclosed is more of an embarrassment rather than a serious operational compromise . . .". Remember this is a case that took some two years to get to trial and was dropped before trial. He went on: "Accordingly, it may not be necessary to undertake a full investigation and your findings will form the basis of my report to the Cabinet Office". Chairman, I suggest this is not requesting as a member of the public that the Ministry of Defence Police might pursue a case. It seems to me pretty clear that Mr Rucker was telling the Ministry of Defence Police to take certain actions as a result of which consequences would or would not happen which would be decided not by the Ministry of Defence Police but by the civil servants who are answerable to their Secretary of State.
  (Mrs Craig) Can I come in there, Chairman.

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