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

Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 920-939)


14 DECEMBER 2009

  Q920 Chairman: Mr Quick, good afternoon, you have been very patient, thank you very much for coming to give evidence. Would you be good enough just to identify yourself for the record?

  Mr Quick: Yes, Robert Quick.

  Q921  Chairman: And you were previously?

  Mr Quick: Previously an Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan Police Service, Assistant Commissioner (Specialist Operations) at New Scotland Yard.

  Q922  Chairman: And you had had how many years of police service?

  Mr Quick: 31 years.

  Q923  Chairman: You have been good enough to provide us with a very comprehensive statement, and I do not think it is necessary for us to burden you by inviting you to read all of the terms of it, but perhaps I could offer you the opportunity of making a short opening statement, if you are so advised, or are you content to rely on the terms of what you provided in writing, which will, of course, be published as part of the evidence submitted to the Committee?

  Mr Quick: Perhaps I could make a very quick observation, having heard the previous witnesses, with regard to this dilemma, in a sense, about whether this investigation involved Official Secrets Act offences, or indeed other criminal offences, namely misconduct in public office. I think in order to be helpful, I would just make the observation that we received a complaint from the Civil Service regarding a series of leaks, I had an initial meeting with civil servants from the Cabinet Office, and as a result of that, agreed in principle that the police would look at this matter, and actually asked that the matter was scoped. That took a number of weeks to occur, and the scoping exercise did reveal two things: one, that a series of more recent leaks appeared to offer investigative opportunities, if you like, a foothold on the investigation, with regard to a particular suspect; and secondly, that the scoping exercise revealed the existence of at least one serial leaker, possibly more, who had access to secret material, who were prepared to steal material from a private office safe in the Home Office, which I believe was used to store secret material, and that this person was apparently prepared to intercept letters without authority from a Minister or Secretary of State with responsibility for national security to the Prime Minister. So those matters were seen as quite serious, and it was on that basis that the investigation was launched.

  Q924  Ann Coffey: Serious in terms of—you understood you were investigating a breach of the Official Secrets Act; what did you think you were investigating?

  Mr Quick: Well, it was quite clear, although you can separate the law, the facts of the case are less clear, because, of course, we could have been investigating both. I believe a duty was created for the police to investigate on the facts as the scoping report revealed them to be, that we had the existence of someone prepared to enter a safe and remove, take, steal documents, call it what you like—

  Q925  Ann Coffey: Yes, but when you applied for a warrant, what were you investigating? What was the basis of your investigation?

  Mr Quick: Well, the basis for the investigation was we were looking at Official Secrets Act and subsequently offences or an offence of misconduct in public office.

  Q926  Ann Coffey: When did you stop investigating an offence under the Official Secrets Act and start investigating an offence of misconduct in public office?

  Mr Quick: Well, I do not think we ever stopped investigating an offence or the potential for offences under the Official Secrets Act to have been committed, the fact is—

  Q927  Ann Coffey: When you applied for a warrant, did you say that you believed there had been offences committed under the Official Secrets Act?

  Mr Quick: I did not apply for the warrant.

  Q928  Ann Coffey: Whoever applied for the warrant, sorry.

  Mr Quick: I cannot tell you precisely the words used on the warrant, but I do believe they made reference to the potential for secret material, but I believe the warrants detailed that the investigation was under an offence of misconduct in public office. That is my understanding, yes.

  Q929  Chairman: When did you personally reach the conclusion that there was no scope for prosecution in relation to the Official Secrets Act, but only in relation to the public office offence?

  Mr Quick: Well I guess ultimately, at the time when we were able to examine all of the material that had been recovered during the course of the investigation, and that was not until the end of March/early April of this year, following some issues that needed to be resolved in relation to the status of that material, as it was claimed to be the subject of Parliamentary privilege.

  Q930  Ann Coffey: Did you tell the Speaker or Jill Pay at the point at which you were no longer investigating a breach of the Official Secrets Act?

  Mr Quick: I think it is a slightly academic point in a sense, because I do not think we ever stopped investigating the potential for official secrets to have been leaked, because of the facts that were presented to us.

  Q931  Ann Coffey: You can always investigate the potential for something, that gives you infinite opportunities to investigate anything. Anything has a potential.

  Mr Quick: Well, I am not sure I would agree with that. I think that the thing that governs the investigation is our powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which give the police powers if there is a reasonable suspicion to suspect an offence has been committed.

  Q932  Ann Coffey: Why were you investigating misconduct in public office? It is a very odd offence. Why were you investigating that?

  Mr Quick: Because my colleagues, the senior investigating officer and members of his team, had liaised with the Crown Prosecution Service at different stages of the investigation.

  Q933  Ann Coffey: So it was a Crown Prosecution Service idea that you should investigate this under misconduct in public office, was it?

  Mr Quick: Well again, I think it may be confusing to put it in those terms. We started an investigation which clearly embraced a suspicion that Official Secrets Act offences may have been committed. As the police progressed the inquiries first through a scoping exercise, let us just establish the facts as we know them to be, and take some legal advice from Crown prosecutors—

  Q934  Ann Coffey: It is one thing getting a warrant and arresting a Member of Parliament on a suggestion of breach of the Official Secrets Act, and an entirely different thing doing that because of an offence which is called misconduct in public office.

  Mr Quick: Well, both are quite serious offences, they are offences that are used from time to time to prosecute people.

  Q935  Ann Coffey: When was the last time somebody was prosecuted under the offence—

  Mr Quick: I should think there have been several this year, I know of cases awaiting trial at the moment for those offences.

  Q936  Sir Alan Beith: One case collapsed during the course of these proceedings, did it not?

  Mr Quick: I am sure that may well be the case, but it is not an uncommon offence, and I have encountered it several times in my career. Not in relation to leaks, in relation to breaches of public office duty.

  Q937  Mr Howard: But not in relation to leaks?

  Mr Quick: Not to my knowledge.

  Q938  Chairman: Mr Quick, you are an experienced officer, 31 years in the force, you have a nose for a case. Surely your nose told you at a much earlier stage perhaps than you have acknowledged to us that there never was any question of an Official Secrets Act prosecution here, and that something else would have to be found. That is a matter of instinct, is it not, built up over 31 years in the profession?

  Mr Quick: I think we were simply confronted by facts that were very serious and very worrying: there was a leaker, at least one, in the Home Office prepared to steal documents from a safe in the Secretary of State's private office, and intercept letters to the Prime Minister. I was not in a position to say, "This is a responsible leaker who is only leaking non-secret material", I think that would have been quite reckless. I think the duty of the police was to recognise a level of suspicion had clearly been reached and exceeded which created a duty on us to investigate the facts of these leaks, namely what has been leaked, and to whom.

  Q939  Chairman: But you knew what was reaching the public domain, questions about immigration, questions about statistics on immigration. Presumably you were aware of those?

  Mr Quick: Certainly in relation to a narrower group of leaks that were prioritised early in the investigation, which were subsequently linked to Mr Christopher Galley, you are absolutely right, but the wider series of leaks, as we know, did involve secret material. Indeed, I also was struck by a comment of an Opposition MP just a few days into the inquiry who suggested that secret material was being leaked.

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