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December 17, 2008

Damian Green inquiry reveals one law for MPs and another for journalists

By Dominic Ponsford1

A report by assistant police commissioner Bob Quick into the arrest MP Damian Green is expected to criticise police for being “heavy handed”, call into question the “proportionality” of the operation and call for charges against the MP to be dropped.

What a difference from the way journalist Sally Murrer was treated after being wrongly subjected to far worse treatment by Thames Valley police after being arrested under the same charge of “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office”.

She was put through 19 months of hell after police doggedly refused to back down until a crown court judge eventually ruled last month that they had driven a cart and horses through human rights legislation by tracking and bugging her to discover the sources for what she said were “run of the mill local paper stories”.

Let’s compare the cases of Murrer and Green for a moment.

  • Green, the shadow immigration spokesman, was arrested and held by the Metropolitan Police for nine hours earlier this month. His offices in Kent and in the Houses of Parliament and his home were also searched.
  • Local newspaper journalist Sally Murrer was arrested under the same charge as part of a Thames Valley leak inquiry in May 2007. She was held by police for 30 hours, her home was searched as was her office, her bank accounts were probed and her notepads, contacts book, computer and mobile phone all seized (yet to be returned).
  • During interrogation police repeatedly warned her she could be jailed for life for the offence she was accused of (something which bizarrely is true).
  • Five weeks later she appeared at Banbury Police station again. This time time she strip searched and then subjected to another six hours of interrogation.

Thames Valley Police’s response to the fact that its £1 million plus investigation against Murrer and her alleged police source had been thrown out was to issue a statement last month stating that it had behaved “entirely properly”.

One shudders to think what Thames Valley Police officers would consider improper behaviour.

It would seem that there is one law for those in power, like Damian Green, and another law for more ordinary folk like local paper reporter Murrer.

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MPs are important and what happened to Green was a scandal.

But journalists are equally important to the functioning of society and also need support when the police over-reach their powers undermining the very freedoms they are charged with protecting.

Surely there must be an equally robust inquiry into the treatment of Murrer.

Questions need to be answered by Thames Valley Police because the reputations of all its officers are being traduced by the actions of a few.

Remember this is the force which authorised the bugging of MP Sadiq Khan. What else has it been up to?

Press Gazette will be asking more questions on this.

Click here to read all Press Gazette’s reports on the Sally Murrer saga.

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