Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Gillian Linscott and Tony Geraghty

  The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) is the eighth largest force in the country.

  It was set up to police Ministry of Defence property and personnel.

  It is at present covered by the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987.

  On 1 April 1996 it was made a Defence Agency.

  (The Chief Constable of the MDP, as head of the agency, is unique among chief constables in being on a bonus system, receiving more pay if he runs his force efficiently. See The Times, 1 April 1996 "Military police chief gains right to bonus.")

  The agency operates under the Secretary of State for Defence, who has ultimate responsibility for determining the size, policy and resources of the force. These responsibilities are delegated to the 2nd permanent under secretary of state at the MoD who is also chairman of the MoD police committee. He is also the owner of the agency. The chief constable has direct access to the Secretary of State for Defence, to whom he is ultimately responsible.

  A Home Office circular HOC 17/99, issued 25 March 1999, sets out agreed guidelines for "efficient and effective working relationships between Ministry of Defence Police and Home Office police forces." (This circular was to have been updated annually from the time of the MDP Police Act in 1987, but this was not done and the 1999 circular is the only update.)

The Debate in 1987

  When the present Act was debated 14 years ago, doubts were already being expressed by some MPs eg Sir Eldon Griffiths that its powers were too wide. (See Hansard, 6th series Volume 109—27 January 1987 Columns 278 and 279.) He was especially concerned about Section 2, Subsection 3(c) which gives MDP police the powers and privileges of constables "In relation to matters connected with anything done under a contract entered into by the Secretary of State for Defence for the purposes of his department or the Defence Council." The Minister, Archie Hamilton, reassured him that the reason for extending MDP powers to things done under a contract was to protect sensitive pieces of defence equipment while they were being manufactured by private firms. Mr Hamilton said in the same debate that he wanted to make it absolutely clear "that the Home Department police have prime responsibility for the enforcement of law and nothing in the bill changes that . . . There is an absolute requirement for the Ministry of Defence Police to pass serious crimes such as murder or rape to the Home Department forces."

Doubts about jurisdiction after 1987

  The then chief constable W E E (Walter) Boreham OBE (who has recently retired) published a five-year corporate plan for his agency, 1997-2002. In it he expressed the following concern about the agency's jurisdiction:

        "The basis of MDP jurisdiction as set out in the MDP Act of 1987, is sound but it does need come clarification and revision for it to remain effective. The progress of the force is being hindered, individual officers are apprehensive about what they can and should do in situations beyond the boundaries of Establishments as the likelihood of legal challenge, judicial review or civil action is increasing."

Misuse of MDP powers in raiding and arresting writer Tony Geraghty, 3 December 1998

  At 6.30 am on 3 December 1998, six plain clothes officers of the Ministry of Defence Police (with no Home Office police officers present) raided the home in Herefordshire of a civilian, Tony Geraghty, an author and journalist. They made it clear that the arrest was in connection with a book of his published two months before The Irish War. They arrested under the Official Secrets Act, searched his home and locked him in a cell of a local police station before questioning him (again with no Home Office police force officers present.)

  At the same time, and under similar circumstances, with no Home Office police officers present, MDP plain clothes officers arrested and searched the home of Nigel Wylde in Surrey. Nigel Wylde is a former army officer who had been employed in work under contract for the MoD but is also a civilian.

  No MoD documents relating to the allegations were found in the searches.

  A year later, the case against Tony Geraghty was dropped on the instructions of the Attorney General.

  23 months later, the case against Nigel Wylde was dropped, also on the instructions of the Attorney General. Defence costs were awarded against the Crown. The defence case—that no damage to security or military capability had been casued by Tony Geraghty's book or Nigel Wylde's alleged disclosures was accepted.

  (It should be noted that a few weeks before the MDP raid on Geraghty and Wylde, the MDP had also carried out raids in November 1998 on the homes of two former Gulf War veterans (then civilians) investigating the alleged theft of a medical report on the Gulf War syndrome. No charges have resulted.)

  Significantly, the Home Office Circular of 1999, (HOC 17/1999) referred to above makes the following points in paragraph 4:

  4.(1)  When MoD police officers are exercising their lawful powers of arrest and search outside places specified in section (2) of the MoD Police Act 1987, the Chief Constable MoD Police will ensure prior consultation with the local Chief Constable before such powers are exercised. Where circumstances of extreme urgency preclude such consultation the local Chief Constable will be notified of the event as soon as possible.

  (2)  Outside the places described in section 2(1) of the MoD Police Act 1987, Ministry of Defence Police do not have any constabulary powers not specifically provided for by section 2(1) of that Act. Therefore, any assistance to local Home Office police forces can only take place as a consequence of a prior request by a Home Office police officer. There is no evidence that any such request or consultation took place in the Geraghty/Wylde case.


  The above are matters of fact and public record. The conclusions drawn are as follows:

    (1)  The undertakings given by the minister, Archie Hamilton, to the Commons in 1987 that serious crimes would remain a matter for local Home Office police forces have already been broken at least twice, in the cases of Geraghty and Wylde and arguably also in the case of the Gulf veterans.

    (2)  The requirement to act in consultation with local police forces was also broken at least twice. Ministry of Defence Police acted on their own, against civilians, with no local police officers present.

    (3)  In at least four cases (Geraghty, Wylde, the Gulf War veterans) prosecutions were dropped or charges not brought. In the Geraghty/Wylde cases this was because the prosecution accepted that there was insufficient evidence. (In reality, everything Wylde/Geraghty had allegedly disclosed had been published already elsewhere.) This suggests a low standard of police work on the part of MDP that casts some doubt on their competence in comparison to Home Office police forces. Or alternatively, that good police sense was overridden by the instructions of the MDP's employers, the Ministry of Defence.

    (4)  Even under existing legislation, MDP have taken action against civilians on the instructions of the Ministry of Defence in regard to allegations of serious civilian alleged crimes, in direct contravention of undertakings given by a minister to Parliament.

    (5)  In the light of this, any proposed extensions to the powers of the Ministry of Defence Police should be critically examined and any ministerial assurances regarded with caution.

    (5)  The fact that MDP, as an agency, are accountable to the Ministry of Defence and not to the Home Office is an anomaly that must be tackled if they are to act in conjunction with (or even as a substitute for) Home Office police forces as set out in Section IV of the Armed Forces Bill.

January 2001

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