A British soldier has been arrested for allegedly leaking information on civilian casualties in Afghanistan to a former BBC journalist.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that a soldier – named by The Sun as Lt Col Owen McNally – had been arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act.
According to the paper, the army officer had access to the casualty figures through his work for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force, which is running military operations across the country.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lee of Trafford asked defence minister Baroness Taylor of Bolton at question time yesterday to comment on the reports that the solider had been arrested by the Royal Military Police and is being brought back to this country to face charges.
Lady Taylor replied: “So far as the particular case is concerned, it is of course extremely difficult to comment on a case which is a very active one.
“I think all I can do is confirm that a British army officer has been arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act.
“He is being returned to the UK for questioning and the investigation has been referred from the MoD to the Metropolitan Police and I think it would be improper to have any more details discussed at this time.”
If charged, the officer will appear at the Old Bailey in London, which hears all such Official Secrets cases. He faces a maximum sentence of 14 years if convicted.
Reports have claimed that McNally supplied the controversial figures to Rachel Reid, a former BBC journalist now working for the Human Rights Watch campaign group, and speculated about their relationship.
Reid’s lawyer, Mark Stephens of Finers Stephens Innocent, said the human rights campaigner acted with “professionalism” and claims that their relationship was close were “utterly false”.
“Ms Reid has only met the colonel on two occasions, both of which were authorised meetings at the Nato base in Kabul,” he said.
“The meetings were conducted in the presence of other officials. At these two meetings this colonel and other officials voluntarily answered Ms Reid’s questions about Nato’s knowledge and responsibility for civilian casualties.
“Ms Reid acted throughout with propriety and professionalism. Any suggestion or imputation made to the contrary – that she had a relationship with the colonel that was other than at arm’s length – will be met with legal proceedings.
“Ms Reid is an experienced former BBC journalist and it appears very likely that someone at the MoD is engaging in black propaganda, dishonestly spinning that there was a ‘close relationship’ – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
“This behaviour by an agent of the British government is truly shocking, and the person concerned must be unmasked and punished.”