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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 480-499)


23 NOVEMBER 2009

  Q480  Mr Howard: There is a big difference, is there not, between misconduct in a public office on the one hand, which is a common law offence, and impeding the effective conduct of government on the other hand, which is not any kind of offence?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Absolutely.

  Chairman: Some would say the role of Her Majesty's Opposition!

  Mr Howard: Indeed.

  Q481  Sir Alan Beith: I may have misunderstood you but I took you to be saying that the Government was very exercised about the impediment to its conduct of business of suffering a lot of leaks but that that was not your problem, not one in which you should be engaged. The question for you was whether offences, either against the Official Secrets Act or because of the choice that had been made of misconduct in a public office, had been committed, and only those questions.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes.

  Q482  Sir Alan Beith: If I can just turn to the arrest itself, the Johnston Report makes clear that the conditions set by PACE as amended by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005 are quite stringent that there are necessity reasons which have to support an arrest to allow prompt and effective investigation of the offence or the conduct of the person in question, and I draw the inference that these necessity reasons might include a need to stop material being destroyed or a witness becoming unavailable. However, none of these conditions applied, did they, because Mr Galley had been arrested and released on bail a week earlier? So if Mr Green had any motive to destroy evidence or anything of that kind, he had already had ample opportunity to do so. Why was it necessary to arrest him rather than invite him for interview?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: It is our experience that, even when people have a great deal of notice that they may or may not be arrested—and I understand Mr Green may have said he was not expecting to be arrested—either they are unaware of where evidence exists or, if they have not particularly gone and looked to try and remove it or destroy it or make it unavailable, it is quite often the case that people leave all sorts of things around.

  Q483  Sir Alan Beith: So there was not a problem, because if he did not know where it was, he was not going to destroy it, was he?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I think it comes to whether it is reasonable to suppose that there may be an effort or not on his part to destroy or remove evidence but the point I am making is that that absence of time, that gap in time, does not necessarily have the impact that you may think it does. That is what experience will tell us.

  Q484  Sir Alan Beith: You had had a week, so whether you were aiming to arrest him at nine o'clock in the morning or he appeared voluntarily at the police station in response to your invitation at two o'clock in the afternoon, for example, was immaterial, was it not?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Sorry, I am not sure I fully understand.

  Q485  Sir Alan Beith: You did not need to arrest him because there was not a time pressure. It was a reasonable assumption that, if you asked him, he would come to the police station to talk to you at a mutually convenient time.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Unless you actually exercise that power of arrest, you never know when a person may or may not agree to actually come and speak to you.

  Q486  Sir Alan Beith: Then when you did try to arrest him, you did not tell the Kent Police, and Mr Green alleges you went to the wrong house. Is that so?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: No, it is not so. The search for the address in Kent was narrowed by the investigators down to two premises that were adjacent. It was a deliberate decision not to go to Kent Police, again, for the reasons that I have already outlined, that in these sorts of investigations, where there are sensitivities, the inclusion of people is kept to an absolute minimum. What we did know was that there were two driveways which were very close by. We knew that one of those houses would be the address of Mr Green. Rather than pursue that inquiry, and open up knowledge of this case, it was decided to just take a rather more softly-softly approach, if I can put it that way.

  Q487  Sir Alan Beith: You did not trust the Kent Police to deal with an inquiry as to which was Mr Green's house and driveway without alerting him that his arrest was imminent?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: No, I am not saying we did not trust the Kent Police. I am saying that experience has shown over the years that when you expand the knowledge of certain cases beyond the "need-to-know" basis, if I can put it that way, quite often that information is compromised or people take an interest and that becomes an unhealthy interest. So it was decided, in order to do this in as low a key way as possible—

  Q488  Ann Coffey: That is in criminal cases. This is an MP we are talking about, not a criminal.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes, and it is very much his interests that at that point we were trying to protect.

  Q489  Sir Alan Beith: He would almost certainly have responded to an invitation from you to come in for interview, would he not?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: We did not know that.

  Q490  Sir Alan Beith: So you believed it quite likely that he would evade a police interview by some means or other?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: No, of course not.

  Q491  Ann Coffey: Abscond, leave the country?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Of course not, but the timing of that interview would have been out of our particular gift.

  Q492  Mr Howard: Mr McDowall, does this mean that you disagree with the conclusion reached by the Johnston Report, which says very clearly that the Metropolitan Police's operational aims could have been achieved by the use of less intrusive methods, such as inviting Mr Green to attend a police station for arrest and interview accompanied by his legal representative?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I think that is not a conclusion that I disagree with. I think that the report as written was certainly written at a time when the investigation had not been concluded—in fact, was nowhere near its conclusion—and, as I understand it, the officers who were involved in the investigation were not spoken to. So I would not say that I disagree with that assessment and, with hindsight, clearly perhaps would have done things in a different manner.

  Q493  Sir Alan Beith: You just did disagree with it. You just told us that the Metropolitan Police had to act in a particular way because you could not be certain how Mr Green would behave.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: We certainly felt that the arrest was an appropriate way to ensure that we could secure evidence if it was available.

  Q494  Mr Howard: Do you now accept that it was disproportionate?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes, I think with the benefit of all the discussion that has gone on, I would probably do lots of things differently. I think some of the suggestions around a protocol for the way in which we might investigate these things in future is a very sensible way of approaching things. There are certain other things in the course of an investigation that I would not change, but yes, of course, I would be open to consider any change that appeared to be rational and sensible.

  Q495  Chairman: I am intrigued by the notion that it was difficult to work out which was Mr Green's house. There must be many sources of information—the Electoral Register, for example, or you could have rung up the local authority. It is often a bone of contention in the House of Commons that there are so many sources of information about individuals, and in particular about MPs. How was it that one of these obvious sources was not tapped into in order to be sure that you got the right house?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I think, sir, that the obvious sources would have been tapped into. As I stated a few moments ago, the anxiety was to preclude the widening of knowledge in relation to the investigation, so I think at the point that they had narrowed it down to a certain two dwellings in what I understand to be a relatively rural area, they felt that was good enough for their purposes in the morning, and that would preclude them from having to ring others or go to other agencies or whatever it was.

  Q496  Chairman: Mr Bateman, you have been very patient. Have you been in your present position since before what we call the Tebbit reforms? How long have you held your present post?

  Chief Superintendent Bateman: Since November 2007.

  Q497  Chairman: That is after Tebbit—is that right?

  Chief Superintendent Bateman: Yes.

  Q498  Chairman: So you have no direct knowledge of the relationship between your predecessor in office and the previous Serjeant at Arms. You do not know how that worked.

  Chief Superintendent Bateman: That is correct.

  Q499  Chairman: Can I ask you this: perhaps you could describe for us in operational terms what your relationship is with the current Serjeant at Arms based upon the Tebbit reforms which preceded your taking up your present post.

  Chief Superintendent Bateman: It is close. I have three access points to Parliament. I have Black Rod, I have the Serjeant at Arms and I have the Parliamentary Security Co-ordinator. On a daily basis I will talk with the Serjeant at Arms and Black Rod.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 22 March 2010