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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 572-579)


23 NOVEMBER 2009

  Q572 Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance and for the evidence which you are going to give. For the record, I wonder if you would identify yourselves, please.

  Sir Ian Johnston: Ian Johnston, formerly of British Transport Police and ACPO Crime Committee, now with the Olympic Games people.

  Mr O'Connor: Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

  Assistant Commissioner Yates: John Yates, Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations at the Met.

  Q573  Chairman: Thank you very much. Perhaps I might begin with you, Sir Ian, because we have had the benefit, obviously, of your report, and I think you were present in the course of the evidence which was just given. On this question of PACE, have you any comment to make?

  Sir Ian Johnston: There was certainly a breach in relation to the search provisions, because they do require that the person you are seeking consent from is informed that they need not consent, and that does not appear to have been the case on this occasion. So there was a clear breach of PACE there, although that breach does not in fact make the search itself unlawful; it is merely a breach of it. Then there are a number of issues of judgment around arrest in relation to Mr Green where PACE and the interpretation of it is important. They also help to inform the judgment around proportionality

  Q574  Chairman: What did you make of the evidence from which an inference might be drawn that there was some anxiety that Mr Green might, if not disappear, at least make himself unavailable? Was that something which you thought was reasonable in all the circumstances?

  Sir Ian Johnston: My view certainly in relation to his arrest was that it would have been possible to undertake that process in a different way and achieve the same operational outcomes, and they could do that by inviting him into a police station, where he could come with his barrister, and they can deal with the matter in that way. My own judgment was that they would have lost nothing in that process given in particular the period of time that had passed between the arrest of Mr Galley and the time taken to get in touch with Mr Green. During that period of time it was known that Galley had been in touch with Mr Green and in fact had informed the police that that did happen. I felt the prospects of recovering any property other than that which Mr Green would want them to recover was unlikely and therefore that basis for an arrest was not a sound basis.

  Q575  Chairman: And not telling Kent Police?

  Sir Ian Johnston: I think there are always judgments to make. I listened with interest to the comments more generally around this. There is a tendency, rightly or wrongly, to operate on a need-to-know basis, and one of the issues I was asked to look at by the Acting Commissioner was the business of inclusivity in this investigation. Certainly, in terms of updating people as to what had happened promptly and appropriately, I think the Metropolitan Police fulfilled their obligations. It is not unusual for a home force not to be told. On the other hand, it is quite often the case that they are. It is an operational judgment and really one that they chose to make in one direction and they need to justify that to you if that is what they want to do.

  Q576  Sir Alan Beith: Do you think they might have been influenced by the fact that quite a lot of their own officers seem to have a practice, which has been commented on in the past, of releasing information about people about to be arrested to the press?

  Sir Ian Johnston: I do not think it is particularly around their own officers. I think the more people who know about anything, the more likely it is for information to get into the public domain, and that is a pretty well established fact, I think. Many parts of society which you would generally expect absolute confidentiality from occasionally let the side down.

  Q577  Mr Howard: On the question of the breach of PACE, Sir Ian, you have said that it did not make the search unlawful, but is there a distinction—forgive me; it is a long time since I practised law and even longer since I practised criminal law—between an unlawful search and the admissibility of evidence produced as a result of a search which was conducted in breach of PACE? Would the breach of PACE have cast some doubt on the admissibility of any evidence which the search produced?

  Sir Ian Johnston: It goes more, I think, to the conduct and credibility of the individuals involved in the process than the admissibility of the evidence that is found. If vital evidence was found, it would be for a court to rule. It would not be excluded as a matter of practice.

  Q578  Mr Howard: It would not be automatically excluded but that would be a factor which the court could take into account in deciding whether or not to admit it.

  Sir Ian Johnston: You are taking me into areas I am slightly light on, sir. I would look to the police for support.

  Assistant Commissioner Yates: It is the scale of the breach a" propos what you actually find in terms of admissible evidence. If it was a dramatic breach of PACE, then I think a court would take the view that they would probably exclude it under section 78 of PACE.

  Q579  Chairman: They would take an overall view of fairness, would they?

  Assistant Commissioner Yates: Yes, exactly.

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