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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 560-579)


23 NOVEMBER 2009

  Q560  Chairman: Mr McDowall?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: I do not believe it would have been necessarily easier. It is a very clear process to undertake and it could be a matter of consent for a magistrate to either provide the warrant or not. It is different, clearly, but I am not sure it is necessarily any easier.

  Q561  Ann Coffey: It is a more difficult process. You have to apply for a warrant, you have to go to court, you have to get a hearing. That is much more complex than somebody signing a consent to search an office, is it not?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: It is actually a practice that we are very familiar with and well versed in. Actually, probably the harder thing was working with a scenario that we had not encountered to our experience.

  Q562  Ann Coffey: Sorry, I do not quite understand what you are saying.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Sorry, ma"am. What I am saying is that actually, we are quite used to going to court and getting warrants.

  Q563  Ann Coffey: I am not disputing that you are used to going but this is a very particular circumstance for a warrant because it involves going to court to ask to search a private office in the parliamentary estate of a Member of Parliament. It is not the usual run of applications for warrants, is it? You might not have known what the view would have been of that application as it is so unusual. In the context of that, it is much simpler to get a consent, is it not?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: The information laid before the magistrate to acquire the warrant we would have hoped would have been sufficient to merit the signing of the warrant by the magistrate. If it were not the case, then we would have accepted that we could not have conducted the search. This was a fairly straightforward process in the sense that it was just a walk across Parliament Square to—

  Q564  Ann Coffey: I do not think an application for a warrant to search a Member of Parliament's office is an everyday event.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: No, of course not.

  Q565  Ann Coffey: You just walk across the yard and get a warrant and come back and search the office and this is another day's work done. Even you, Mr McDowall, have to accept it is quite unusual circumstances in the course of the police's work.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes, of course it is. Of course it is unusual, yes.

  Ann Coffey: That is the point I am making, that it is in those circumstances easier to get a consent.

  Q566  Chairman: Did you at any time consider that there might be issues of privilege involved?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes, sir.

  Q567  Chairman: Did you have legal advice about that?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes, we did.

  Q568  Mr Howard: You had overall responsibility for the operation, Mr McDowall, but obviously there were a number of layers between you and the officers who actually came to the Palace of Westminster and were present at the meetings to which Mr Bateman has referred. To what extent did you involve yourself in this question of whether there should be a warrant or whether there was consent?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: The issue of warrant and consent I think was discussed in the Gold Group that was chaired by Assistant Commissioner Quick. In fact, there were two Gold Groups chaired by the then Assistant Commissioner and that was, I think, one of the issues that was addressed, and at that point we were still, I think, taking legal advice as to what our powers included and what they did not include. On the issue of whether we would go for a consensual basis for a search or whether we would go for a warrant, I think we decided that, because of our knowledge of section 8 of PACE and its workings, there would be a requirement placed upon us by the magistrate ultimately to explain what efforts had been made to acquire that consent, and that is the point that we then came and tried to acquire that consent. The first issue was raised probably on the 20th, possibly the 21st. I am not sure.

  Q569  Mr Howard: You have used the word "we"; what I am asking is to what extent you personally were involved in the decision to ask for consent rather than to go for a warrant.

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: My recollection is that I was aware that that was the course of action we were going to take and I was content for that course of action to take place.

  Q570  Mr Howard: Did you say at any time—perhaps you would not have regarded it as your place to do so in view of the layers which existed between you and those who worked in the Palace—"You have to make it clear under the provisions of PACE that consent need not be given"?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: No. I would have expected that to have been made clear. I would have expected it to have formed part of those discussions, certainly.

  Q571  Mr Howard: You would have expected the provisions of PACE to be followed?

  Deputy Assistant Commissioner McDowall: Yes.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. We are most grateful to you both. Perhaps I should just say that Mr Quick's appearance has been postponed. He will appear before the Committee on another occasion but we will adjourn the Committee for a moment or two so that we can change the dramatis personae. Once again, thank you for your attendance and for your evidence.

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