When spooks target human rights lawyers

The Wilson doctrine forbidding surveillance of MPs without Prime Ministerial approval was originally imposed, according to Chapman Pincher, because Harold Wilson feared that "MI5 was anti-Labour and over-zealous to identify any left-wing Labour Parliamentarian as pro-communist."

It didn’t work of course, as Ramsay and Dorril recounted in detail in their book Smear: Wilson and the Secret State. MI5 officers labelled Wilson himself a KGB agent and plotted to overthrow his Government.

Fast forward 40 years and its Islamism rather than communism that is the pretext for the spooks and their apologists to target inconvenient politicians:

As a former chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain’s
legal committee, Mr [Sadiq] Khan remains the most Islamist-friendly of MPs. Compared
with other Labour Muslim MPs – such as Khalid Mahmood – he has too often
catered to the “victim mentality” in the community.

But Mr Khan is also highly ambitious. Is this really the cause for which he
wants to be remembered? And will he continue to dance like a cat on a hot
tin roof when the Government pushes for a further extension in police powers
under the new counter-terrorism Bill? (Dean Godson, The Times)

That’s him told, especially given the role of the security services
in vetting ministers. Dominic Lawson, AKA Smallbrow,
is not to be outdone: 

Just for example, does anyone really believe that Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness were suddenly made exempt from bugging during the period in which they were Members of the House of Commons? It would be inconceivable – and yet that is what MPs seem to want to believe, in their strange parallel universe. (Independent)

Lawson’s introduction of an Irish angle is particularly apposite given the central issue here, the surveillance of lawyers.

Sadiq Khan is a former partner in Christian Khan, one of the country’s leading human rights practices. Simon Creighton of Bhatt & Murphy, another top firm, has revealed his privileged communications have also been bugged.

What is most disturbing is the security services have little compunction about identifying lawyers with their clients.

Sources have told the BBC that Khan, though not the formal target of
the bugging, was of "significant interest" to the police, some of whom
regarded him as "subversive". Mr Khan has chosen not to comment on the
reports since his interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday. He won’t be
surprised that some in the Met are not fans of his given his role as a
high profile lawyer and campaigner for civil liberties. (BBC News: Nick Robinson’s Newsblog)

This kind of briefing has happened before:

My Enquiry team also investigated an allegation that senior RUC officers briefed the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Rt Hon Douglas Hogg QC, MP, that ‘some solicitors were unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA’. Mr Hogg repeated this view during a debate on the Prevention of Terrorism legislation in the House of Commons. Within a few weeks Patrick Finucane was murdered. Mr Hogg’s comments about solicitors’ support for terrorism made on 17th January 1989 aroused controversy. To the extent that they were based on information passed by the RUC, they were not justifiable and the Enquiry concludes that the Minister was compromised.

Lord Stevens went on to conclude that the security forces had colluded in Pat Finucane’s murder:

I have uncovered enough evidence to lead me to believe that the murders of Patrick Finucane and Brian Adam Lambert could have been prevented. I also believe that the RUC investigation of Patrick Finucane’s murder should have resulted in the early arrest and detection of his killers.

I conclude there was collusion in both murders and the circumstances surrounding them. Collusion is evidenced in many ways. This ranges from the wilful failure to keep records, the absence of accountability, the withholding of intelligence and evidence, through to the  extreme of agents being involved in murder. (Stevens Report)

It is just as well there are no UDA death squads operating in London, but when the same institutions that colluded in the death of Pat Finucane turn to smearing solicitors in England, schadenfreude at the plight of a New Labour MP is not the most far-sighted response.

Protecting privileged conversations with constituents or clients is not putting MPs or lawyers above the law. If anyone is above the law, it is the security services, who it appears can intimidate MPs, lawyers and journalists with impunity.

[Journalist Sally Murrer] believes the current charges she faces – and for which she
is due to stand trial next year – may stem from the revelations that
[Thames Valley Special Branch officer Mark] Kearney was involved in the bugging of Khan.

She said: “I clearly
remember him saying in May 2005 and June 2006 – ‘they’d made me do
something illegal’ and I kept asking him what it was.

“He said it
was something to do with the bugging of an MP. When it came up again he
said he was losing sleep about this, and said something about the
Wilson Law.

“He now says that towards
the end of 2006 everything was getting too much and the one thing that
was stressing him out was this.”

She believes that it would have
been obvious to colleagues at Thames Valley Police that Kearney was
becoming increasingly agitated about the bugging episode – and that
there was a risk he would blow the whistle.

Murrer said it was around this time that the investigation into her and Kearney – code-named Operation Plaid – began. (Press Gazette)

Old habits die hard, it seems:

None of those who became well known whistle blowers in the 1980s and 90s, Wright and Wallace, John Stalker, Captain Fred Holroyd, Cathy Massiter, David Shayler and Richard Tomlinson wanted to be whistle-blowers. They were converted into whistle-blowers by the stupidity of their employers in the state. Wallace, Holroyd and Wright, for example, were loyal Queen and Country men to a fault, right-wingers through and through. Unfortunately, our secret state has only one response to internal dissent or the possibility of public revelation of its own errors: smash, crush, smear, destroy, frame, cover-up and lie. The secret state perceives itself to be defending the national interest and in the national interest anything is permitted. (Robin Ramsay, Variant)



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2 responses to “When spooks target human rights lawyers”

  1. WorldbyStorm avatar

    My God. Dean Godson again. Got to say the point about SF struck me when this story broke. MPs must be a fairly naive lot – which clearly they generally aren’t – if they think MP status accords them any protection. I was sort of intrigued by Liberty’s stance, but then on reflection wasn’t!

  2. Tom Griffin avatar

    It’s only going to get worse, WBS. I’ve just seen Splintered’s latest piece and am in the process of rushing out to get Private Eye.

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