Police Searches on the Parliamentary Estate - Committee on the Issue of Privilege Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 440-459)


23 NOVEMBER 2009

  Q440  Sir Alan Beith: But this was not a leak that you attributed to Mr Galley?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: At that stage no, Sir.

  Q441  Sir Alan Beith: At any stage?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: No, Sir.

  Q442  Mr Howard: If you had not received the letter from Mr Wright which referred to a danger to national security, would the police have got involved?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: It depends on the phraseology and the potential seriousness of the offence. It is conceivable that we may not have got involved. At that stage we were being asked to investigate what appeared to be a string of leaks that dated back over a period of time. Our initial scoping investigation tended to take us towards an individual who may be responsible for four, five, maybe more, of those leaks. Clearly the language contained in the letter gave us a view as to how seriously this was being regarded by senior people in government departments.

  Q443  Mr Howard: But the police do not act at the behest of government departments.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: No, Sir.

  Q444  Mr Howard: Was that description in the original letter from Mr Wright ever challenged by the police?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: It was not challenged by me. Whether it was challenged by others, I do not know. I did not conduct the initial scoping investigation. I think the language used clearly gave an impression that there was a very serious matter to be investigated.

  Q445  Mr Howard: I wonder if you can help me on one aspect of all this which is puzzling me. In Mr Johnston's report he refers to the letter from Mr Wright, he says dated 8 September but I think we now know it was 8 October, the original letter which we have just been discussing.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I believe that is correct, yes, Sir.

  Q446  Mr Howard: He says: "In a letter dated 29 October 2008, Chris Wright wrote to DAC Cressida Dick agreeing that a scoping exercise would be undertaken by the MPS in the first instance" and that the MPS would, if appropriate, do a number of things. That implies there had been at least some contact between Mr Wright and the MPS between 8 and 29 October.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes.

  Q447  Mr Howard: Can you shed any light on that?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I am afraid I cannot. I would assume that contact was between Mr Wright and now Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, or her staff, with a view to how that scoping exercise may be taken forward.

  Q448  Mr Howard: What was your responsibility in respect of this investigation?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Initially the allegations were received by the Assistant Commissioner, I believe. The then Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Cressida Dick, was asked to conduct a scoping exercise to try and ascertain whether it looked as though offences had been committed and the seriousness potentially of those offences. It was later in November, I believe, that I was actually briefed. The course of these sorts of investigations generally is that there is a very tight inclusion list of those who are made aware of what is actually taking place, I think for obvious reasons, that there are potential sensitivities attached and, therefore, the wideness of those who are briefed tends to be minimised. At some point, I think it was in November, Cressida formally handed over the responsibility for that part of the investigation from herself to me and at that point I was then made aware of what the investigation was all about and where it was heading at that particular time.

  Q449  Mr Howard: So at that point you assumed overall responsibility for the investigation?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I did, although clearly up until that point I had not had any idea of the scope of it or the scale of it, it was very much a case of that was done by Cressida and then I took over that responsibility from her.

  Q450  Mr Howard: But at that point in time, did you not ask what had happened up until then?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes.

  Q451  Mr Howard: Did you not ask what had happened between the original letter from Mr Wright and the time that you assumed responsibility?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I asked where the investigation was heading and obviously I was then briefed by the investigating officer as to what was likely to take place and what had been discovered up until that point. I was very much, as it were, handed an investigation to continue as I then saw fit, obviously with the agreement of my line command as well.

  Q452  Mr Howard: Did you not ask how it had arisen?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I was told that it had arisen as the result of an allegation being made by letter from Mr Wright and that then officers had gone to see Mr Wright and had negotiated the scope of the investigation. That was what I was made aware of, Sir.

  Q453  Mr Howard: I just want to make sure I have understood that properly. Officers had gone to see Mr Wright and had negotiated the scope of the investigation?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: They had agreed that there would appear to be on the face of what they were told some validity in the allegation and the MPS was to conduct an investigation and that it would look to, I think, narrow the focus of the investigation from the 32 in the initial number to a number that could be concentrated on for the effectiveness of the investigation.

  Q454  Mr Howard: Do you think it is appropriate for the Metropolitan Police Service to negotiate with the Government the scope of an investigation?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I think it is correct for the Metropolitan Police Service to indicate the scale of resource and the scope of a particular investigation which is realistic in all the circumstances.

  Q455  Mr Howard: Would the Metropolitan Police do that to any other victim of crime?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: The Metropolitan Police Service will always seek to follow the evidence.

  Q456  Mr Howard: Exactly. What I would have expected in these circumstances was that once the evidence had been provided, the Metropolitan Police Service would then have decided what was appropriate, not negotiated what was appropriate with a government official.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Perhaps I have not made myself entirely clear, Sir. The nature of the way in which we conducted this investigation was to look at what looked as though would provide us the most investigative benefit, if you like. We started out with a rather wider field of some 32 allegations over a period of years. It would appear from that scoping that there were four or five that looked to be the most obvious points to go and investigate further. I am not saying that if further evidence had not been available or had been adduced in the course of that investigation then clearly we would have followed that as well but, as I am sure you will appreciate, there has to be a start point in any investigation.

  Q457  Mr Howard: I do not think that is my point, Mr McDowall. The start point—correct me if I am wrong—was Mr Wright's letter and the number of leaks which the police were told about. Would not the appropriate course of action then have been for the police to follow the evidence? That is right, is it not?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: That is correct, Sir, yes.

  Q458  Mr Howard: Rather than to hold discussions with a government civil servant and, to use your original term, negotiate with him the scope of the investigation and then receive a letter from him agreeing that a scoping exercise would be undertaken and detailing the actions which the Metropolitan Police Service would then take. I am suggesting to you that it is wholly improper for the Metropolitan Police Service to act in that way in respect of an investigation.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I do not think that "negotiate" is perhaps the best word. Certainly we discussed where we would start the investigation and I think that was the point at which we narrowed it to say, "This is the point to break into this particular series of leaks". I do not for a minute suggest that if evidence had then been obtained that took us elsewhere that we would not have gone there. It is our common practice to follow the evidence as it unfolds before us, Sir.

  Q459  Mr Howard: Whose decision was it to discuss with Mr Wright the scope of the inquiry?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: That I do not know, Sir.

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