Remember Sally Murrer: My suggestion for the UK government’s “Your Freedom” campaign
The UK government has today launched an interesting new crowdsourcing initiative, asking the public to submit proposals for scrapping or amending laws which impede freedom and restrict civil liberties. Here’s my submission:
In May 2007 a Milton Keynes local journalist was arrested, stripped searched, detained for 30 hours and told she faced a potential life sentence in prison: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=38464
Ms Murrer’s home and office were raided and her private files seized. She learned that her car had been bugged for a number of weeks and her conversations recorded: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/21/pressandpublishing.police
Murrer was accused of illegally obtaining confidential information from a longtime friend, police officer Mark Kearney. She was told that she would have committed a crime just by hearing privileged information from him, whether or not it could be proved that she had solicited that information.
Murrer never denied receiving information from Kearney, but pointed out that it was quite normal for a local journalist to have police contacts, and that the information she had received and gone on to publish was just the normal stuff of local news journalism. Kearney, his son, and another friend, were also arrested and charged in connection with the case.
It subsequently emerged that, prior to Murrer’s arrest, Mark Kearney had been raising concerns with his police superiors after he was ordered to bug an MP, Sadiq Khan, during meetings between Khan and a jailed constituent,Babar Ahmad.
This eventually became public, causing huge political embarrassment: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-512353/Whistleblower-detective-warned-bug-wrong.html
Mark Kearney’s involvement in the Sadiq Khan case led to speculation that the harassment of his friend and press contact Sally Murrer might have been a clumsy attempt to increase the pressure on him. In Murrer’s words:
“They tried to discredit the whistleblower and the journalist they thought he was going to blow the whistle to and destroy the story that way.
“It seems like a huge hammer to smash a very small nut and I think this could be one of the biggest cover-ups this country has ever seen. They were trying to ruin him, destroying me in the process.
“The way I was treated it felt like they wanted to crack me and stop me writing anything ever again – they nearly did, I was a gibbering wreck for a while.”: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=40165
The case dragged on for more than 18 months, running up millions of pounds in costs before it was finally thrown out. “I don’t feel victorious, I feel violated”, Sally Murrer told the media. “We have been through all of this for nothing. There was no evidence to warrant an investigation never mind a prosecution”: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article5254372.ece
Sally Murrer appears to have been harrassed by the UK police over an 18 month period in a case that cost millions and ultimately came to nothing, simply for doing her job.
We urgently need to review the crime of “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office”, a seemingly vaguely worded law which formed the basis of the failed case against Murrer – and which was also used in the arrest and judicial harrassment of Damian Green (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article5251363.ece).
We also need to amend the powers given to the police to bug the public. We need to bring in much stronger checks and balances to ensure that cases like these get shut down before the police have wasted 18 months of an innocent person’s time, and run up millions of pounds in costs.