The starkly written document was marked "urgent" and it was clear, without much debate, that its publication was in the public interest. It was apparent after reading the first few sentences that it revealed incompetence which could endanger public safety and, what's more, a government cover-up.
The memo, dated January 31, set out how a Brazilian national called Elaine Chaves Aparecida had just been arrested by police after attempting to gain entry as a cleaner into the Houses of Parliament by using another person's security pass. It was sent to Liam Byrne, the then-immigration minister, and warned him that the woman had absconded from Heathrow airport three years earlier and had been missing until her arrest that day at Parliament.
She had been working there since December 3. This alone was a shocking security breach. It was surely a matter of public interest to expose problems that allowed someone with no security clearance to gain entry to what is supposedly the most tightly-guarded building in Britain.
Mr Byrne had been informed about the incident on the day of the arrest, and yet by the time we published the memo on February 10, he had still not chosen to come to the Commons with the information, which ought to have been the subject of a ministerial statement.
Normally I would only reveal that I received the memo through a trusted source. But the Tories have now said that this story was one of four put in the public domain by Damian Green, and that this may have led to his arrest.
I believe Mr Green did the public a service. Voters trust the government to ensure the safety of those representing them in the Houses of Parliament, and indeed of tourists and other visitors to that building. We assume security is being well taken care of, and when it emerges that it is, in fact, so fallible that an illegal immigrant can con their way in using a pass bearing someone else's photograph, people have a right to know.
Leaks form an essential basis of journalism. In a perfect world, they would not have to. But in a system where people try to cover up mistakes for personal or political reasons, we rely on finding out the most inconvenient truths in ways which are necessarily covert.
So long as national security has not been put at risk, there is no excuse for the police coming down like a ton of bricks on people who are basically "whistle blowers", holding a light to mistakes in the hope that the publicity will lead to them being put right. That is public service, not criminality.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Melissa Kite: I Was Right to Publish Green's Leaked Documents
Melissa Kite was the recipient of one of Damian Green's leaked Home Office documents. It concerned the case of an illegal immigrant working in the Commons. Liam Byrne, the then Immigration Minister was alerted but failed to come to Parliament to explain himself. The document then appeared in the Sunday Telegraph. Can amyone seriously argue that this was not a legitimate matter of public interest. Here's Melissa Kite's comment piece in full. I defy anyone to disagree with either Damian Green's or Melissa Kite's actions...