Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 820 - 839)



  820. During those raids, was it made clear that they were MDP officers engaged in that raid? Was there any suggestion given during the detention of those civilians that they had rights of appeal and where the accountability lines lay?
  (Mr Geraghty) In fact, it was not just a one-off raid; executives, including the Chief Legal Adviser, were "invited" to a Home Department police force station by MDP officers and interrogated under caution for up to four hours. On another occasion, an MDP van, complete with dogs, was parked rather spectacularly on a yellow line outside the main publishers' building, and instead of walking, as other officers might do, and introduce themselves—there is a style of pressure which MDP seem to exercise rather more readily than would perhaps the Metropolitan Police faced with a similar task.

  821. What I am trying to understand here is why the MDP need to extend their existing powers. Let us be clear: their existing powers allow them—and on at least two occasions have allowed them—to make raids on homes and offices of civilians with dogs in vans, with searches possibly being armed, possibly not being armed. That is quite an existing degree of availability allowed to the MDP to carry out these kind of raids.
  (Mr Geraghty) That begs the question as to whether those actions were in practice lawful. I do not want to go down that route.

  822. That does beg the question of whether they were right or whether they were wrong, but certainly that is what they are doing at the moment, let alone whatever extension they may now be requesting.
  (Mr Geraghty) These are the powers they seem to wish to arrogate to themselves, yes.
  (Mr Gopsill) Can I just add to that? That is correct, and I think this is what Ms Linscott was referring to when she talked about jurisdiction creep; that it is highly questionable whether they have the authority to do that. There is one other point I would like to add, and that is that these arrests we are concerned with are possible prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act. In all other cases with which we are familiar—and as journalists we have had quite a few—the policing agency that has arrested and dealt with people charged under the Official Secrets Act has been the civilian police Special Branch. We have had our problems with the Special Branch police, and their method of operation has sometimes seemed questionable to us, but at least they are part of a local police force. It is quite a mystery to us, actually, why the Ministry of Defence Police were involved in these cases, when we would have expected it to be the Special Branch police and we would be interested in the explanation as to why the local force Special Branch police could not be policing official secrecy cases.

Mr Watts

  823. Chairman, we seem to be having a philosophical discussion about this issue. First of all can you give me some hard examples, because it seems to me that if the powers are agreed in this Bill then the MoD Police will be able to arrest people but they will still be subject to the normal court system. Are you worried that they will be more zealous in the way they arrest people? What is it exactly you are concerned with? They are, obviously, whether it be the civilian police arresting or the MoD Police, still subject to and accountable through the courts.
  (Mr Gopsill) In our legal structure, of course, cases ultimately come to court, although I think they are less responsive to the courts than they would be if you had a continental system, but that is a completely separate argument. The problem, as far as we are concerned, is that dealing with police forces—and we deal with police forces quite a lot, as I said—journalists quite often get arrested in the course of going about their business because they are poking their noses in places, and we, the NUJ, have a very successful record in securing their liberty to pursue their work. It is one of the main functions of our organisation. We do that by liaising with local police forces, both in terms of people being arrested and, also, in terms of policing public order events. If you want specific examples, there was a location in Oxfordshire, a cat farm (this is not a military base but it could easily have been, because it attracted demonstrations) and quite a lot of photographers were arrested—quite heated demonstrations. We saw there was a problem there and we went to see the local Thames Valley Police, and we talked to them about demonstrations. We gave them information about how to recognise the official national press card that journalists are carrying, we agreed to send observers to one of the most contentious demonstrations that was happening and it passed off peacefully and the situation was much improved. I do not think you could do that with the MoD Police.

  824. Why?
  (Mr Gopsill) I just do not think they would be responsive to outside opinion.

  825. Can I push you on this? Can you give me examples where you have attempted to actually build that dialogue and it has been denied?
  (Mr Gopsill) With the MoD?

  826. Or where you have actually contacted the military police when people have been arrested and been rejected?
  (Mr Gopsill) No, because it has not happened, because the powers are in the new Bill.

  827. Am I right to believe that they can, for example, on a military base, arrest, or in the vicinity?
  (Mr Gopsill) Yes.

  828. It is possible that in the sorts of areas you have been pursuing that these areas are where they could have been arrested and where you need dialogue?
  (Mr Gopsill) I have to say I, myself, do not have any experience of members arrested by MoD Police, except for those people raided at home.
  (Mr Geraghty) I would like to amplify your response to that in this way: Mr Watts, reasonably enough, offers up a sort of perfect paradigm of dialogue between a police force and by the Crown Prosecution Service, of course, to the accused person, and so on. In practice, as I think is common knowledge in relation to, for example, anti-terrorist legislation, there has been a growing tendency, partly as a result of Irish problems, to use legislation (and I see the Official Secrets Act as being one of those) as an instrument of investigation. In other words, there is no legal or judicial end-product envisaged from the very beginning. If you want a police force that is going to be compliant to the military criteria, coming from a military community, then the MDP is the likely instrument.

Mr Crausby

  829. I do not want to put words in anybody's mouth but you do not seem exactly enthusiastic about the present use of the powers of the MoD Police as things stand. Do you see any role for the MoD Police at all? Could we not have a situation where the military police and the civilian forces colluded together and dealt with everything?
  (Mr Gopsill) As a first answer, I can see the logic of it. Obviously, we are quite baffled by quite a lot of the Bill and its relationships, not just between the various military police forces, it also brings in the Transport Police and the Atomic Energy Police. It is a bit of a patchwork. You could devise a structure where the MoD Police did not need to exist because Armed Forces personnel were policed entirely by the military police and civilians by the civilians and overlapping areas covered by Special Branch or co-operation between the military and the civilian police. You could do that. I take it, though, that the option that we have on offer is the Bill in front of us and that the MoD Police does exist. Perhaps it is one of those things where if it had not existed it would not have been necessary to invent it, but we are assuming that it is. I do not know whether Gill, who has studied the MoD Police more than me, can put up an argument for its existence?
  (Ms Linscott) Yes, thank you. Obviously I think it is common ground that within bases and in relation to Service property they have a role. When one is talking about an outside role, yes, the question you ask is an interesting one, because one might foresee a civil disaster in which not only using troops but also using Ministry of Defence Police at the request of a local police constable or a local authority could be very useful indeed. Then, when you ask that question, I think you have to, with respect, ask yourself: "Why Part IV?" Surely, it would be possible to have a mechanism whereby the Home Secretary and the Defence Secretary could come to an agreement without the great extension of general Ministry of Defence Police powers contained in Part IV. So the answer is yes, it is quite easy to envisage a civil, non-criminal emergency in which they might be very useful indeed, but it is very difficult to see why Part IV would be the answer to that question.
  (Mr Geraghty) There is an alternative to Part IV. Incidentally, I certainly accept the historical authenticity and role of MDP on military bases in relation to MoD property. Intellectual property is a more ambiguous case. However—


  830. Briefly, please, Mr Geraghty. We have used 40 minutes of our 45 minute session on the MDP at the moment.
  (Mr Geraghty) There is an answer to the problems you have been discussing. This is to invest MDP officers with the powers of Special Constables in certain areas and at short notice, where these borderline matters arise.

Mr Crausby

  831. You have a pretty strong point on accountability. It all seems to be based on accountability. What is the real difference between a Service person being arrested on a base and by a non-accountable police force and a civilian being arrested outside by a non-accountable police force? Surely the argument is not about the base but about accountability? The Chief Constable of the MoD Police said that he was accountable to the law. Is it sufficient to be accountable to the law, or would you like to see that extended?
  (Mr Geraghty) Accountable in the same way as the Police Complaints procedure. It is difficult in relation to the Home Department forces and the Ministry of Defence Police. For example, the Police Committee, which is part of the MDP organisation, is appointed, I think, entirely by the Secretary of State for Defence. It is a totally different system. Members of the Armed Forces are subject to military law as well as civil law—witness the Clegg case. So there are vast differences here and we should not blur the jurisdiction and accountability of law enforcement on civilians with those of the Armed Forces. That would be a disastrous step.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. I have allowed a great deal of time on the Ministry of Defence Police because that was, clearly, an area of prime concern to yourselves and one that this Committee has spent a lot of time on. Can I now suggest that we allow, at least, some extension of the original time planned for this evidence session so that we can certainly raise with you some of our concerns and questions about Clause 6 of the Bill.

Mr Keetch

  832. Very quickly, Clause 6 of the Bill would give the MDP power to look at what they describe as "excluded material", "special procedure material", and we had explained that that includes journalists' materials. What do you, as journalists, believe to be journalists' material?
  (Mr Gopsill) First I would like to establish something which is not clear to me. Clause 6 referred to the MoD Police or the military police?


  833. It refers to the military police.
  (Mr Gopsill) That is the confusion that we had. We were badly briefed on that ourselves, and perhaps if you have heard any references we have made to the same that was a mistake. The point remains the same, however. The powers that will be given to the military police, in this case, are those under Section 10 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, as I understand it, which determines the circumstances in which the police can obtain material for investigations. There is a special procedure in that section covering journalists' confidential material, which requires an Order of the Crown Court for the information to be handed over. The definition of "confidential material" of journalists is "that which is not published". In other words, the profession of journalism exercises its discretion, according to our codes of conduct and so on, that the maximum information that can be published is that which is in the public interest. Journalists always have other information which either they do not want to publish or which cannot be published, for whatever reason. For instance, the most contentious area is information given to them in confidence—the source and identity of information. The whole function of journalism depends on the preservation of confidentiality in those cases. It is very similar to the confidentiality of the solicitor, the doctor or the priest, which is respected.

Mr Keetch

  834. Would it be fair for me to assume that these kinds of excluded, journalistic materials would relate to an investigation you were carrying out or a story you were carrying out?
  (Mr Gopsill) Yes.

  835. Presumably, from their point of view, that would be concerned with not a trivial crime but a fairly major crime and that one would not imagine you would have excluded materials relating to light car crimes, for example. The kind of material we are talking about here is likely to be concerned with nuclear weapons bases, and all that sort of thing.
  (Mr Gopsill) I can see the concern in this case for military information, but it covers a wide range. All journalists have lots of information, and particularly the identity of confidential sources of information, covering a wide area of very trivial to very serious. Certainly there are very serious matters.

  836. I am just trying to understand why they want this extension of power. From their point of view they want this extension of power because they want to obtain material from you which would be of a classified, highly sensitive nature, not of the kind of nature that would be everyday activity.
  (Ms Linscott) The assumption must be that they would require the material in relation to collecting evidence against Service people. So they would presumably be asking for powers to collect notes or films in support of a possible case against a Service person. Of course, all that Tim Gopsill has said about that would apply in this case, but with the alarming thing that civilians simply do not expect to have to answer to military police.
  (Mr Geraghty) There is another scenario I can offer Mr Keetch in answer to your question. It is a simple historical fact that Gill Linscott and I, at various times in past years, have interviewed members of the Irish Republican Army who are wanted by the Armed Services. Had we been vulnerable to having our notes and sources searched by military police, that very clear and very justified interest in what we are doing would put us, as journalists, directly in the firing line.

  837. Surely if there was the concern of the State that that was happening, one would have imagined that it would be Special Branch that would be carrying out—
  (Mr Geraghty) One would hope so, yes.

  838. An accountable Special Branch as opposed to what we might consider a unaccountable Ministry of Defence Police force.
  (Ms Linscott) Exactly.

  Chairman: Mr Key, you have waited extremely patiently, and I know you have several points that you want to raise.

Mr Key

  839. Thank you, Chairman. There are just two areas I would like to pursue, please. The first is the question of the independence of the Ministry of Defence Police. You mention that you are concerned about their accountability. I wonder if any of you have read, or are aware of, the paper called The Future Strategic Context for Defence, published on 7 February this year by the Defence Secretary? You have heard about it?
  (Ms Linscott) Yes.

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 19 March 2001