Clearly our recent posts about Alistair Carmichael and the Official Secrets Act vote have caused enormous interest. We are a little blog run from a burrow at the back of Stromness that normally gets a few hits a day but over the last week it has been something like 10,000. We are all thrilled. Mrs Vole has put out the flags and the volets are bragging to all their children.
We are glad that Alistair Carmichael has responded with his rationale for the vote. Various people have been kind enough to send us what he said to them and we thought it appropriate to quote him in full. I can understand why he did not want to contact me himself, I am only a vole and so not entitled to parliamentary representation until ARS (additional rodent system) is adopted, a policy no party has yet suggested.
This is what Carmichael said,
“The vote concerned was a proposed amendment to the Official Secrets Act which would have created a defence for anyone charged with unlawful disclosure under that act. The defence was for the accused to show that the disclosure was made in relation to an official enquiry into child sex abuse. I voted against it because a disclosure of this sort is already permitted and therefore a defence is not necessary.
As the Solicitor General explained in the House of Commons, “The Official Secrets Act is intended to protect certain classes of particularly sensitive information such as security and intelligence matters, and it provides for a number of offences that prevent current or former Crown servants or government contractors from disclosing certain information without lawful authority. It does not prevent protected information from being disclosed to an officer of an official investigation or inquiry into historical child abuse.”
I understand that this issue will have come to your attention through an anonymous blog from a nationalist campaign group. The same story is being used by SNP activists in other parts of Scotland so it is obviously part of a concerted campaign of misinformation.
Having worked with the victims of child sex abuse, both as a lawyer and as an MP, I have seen for myself how it can ruin lives. I also know how difficult it can be to get victims to come forward and I am afraid that suggesting that there is a barrier to proper investigation where none exists will make that more difficult still.
This was not an amendment to “allow investigation of historic child abuse cases” as the headline in the article states. There is nothing in law that prevents such investigations taking place.”
And Peter Kennedy has commented on the previous post, kindly providing us with part of Carmichael’s text and saying that as a family lawyer, he believes that he is right. We respect this and accept that our statement saying that Carmichael blocked the investigation was rather crude. Indeed, there is nothing to block an investigation from taking place and one has now been created. The question is about what would stop potential witnesses giving evidence to it. Under normal circumstances, I am sure Peter Kennedy is right, it is widely understood that there is no duty of confidentiality more important than the protection of the child. These are not usual circumstances.
The need for a specific defence
This vote was about creating a particular defence for government employees who may have been involved in cover ups who now what to speak up – people who want to give evidence to the Inquiry but are nervous about doing so in case of getting prosecuted or persecuted. . Some of them clearly feel that this specific defence is needed even after the assurances have been made by the Home Secretary. When questioned by Keith Vaz on 17th March 2015, she said that she ‘hopes and expects’ that those who contravene the Official Secrets Act will not be prosecuted, but it must be for Justice Goddard and the Attorney General to decide.” It is clear from her reply, that if people did speak to the inquiry without due authority or if that had been refused, they may actually break the law and so be at risk. They would be dependent on assurances being made not to prosecute. That would not make this vole feel safe. Nor indeed does it work for many Special Branch officers, watch what John Mann said in the House of Commons as he supported the amendment.
Mann makes it very clear that a number of Special Branch officers have spoken to him and will not speak out without specific protection. Since the debate took place more information has come to light about further involvement of the Security Services in controlling the Police. One senior officer explained to Newsnight why many will want to stay quiet; they are afraid for their jobs, their pensions, their families. The broadcast, several weeks after the Commons vote is shocking. It makes it very clear, that even after all the assurances made by Government some Special Branch officers are very afraid.
This is not about individuasl who were victims being silenced. Many were heard, arrests were made. No, this is about deliberate collusion in the political classes to protect their own at the highest level. Chris Hobbs wrote in the Huffington Post,
“Reports that former Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw ordered the cessation of police abuse enquiries and the fact that the Margaret Thatcher’s highly respected police body guard, Barry Strevens, personally warned her that there were concerns that her most trusted aid was involved in abuse, serve only to confirm the belief that this is an establishment cover up rather than a police one.”
Consider the case of Lord Janner, a highly respected Labour MP with an admirable campaign record, no less a figure than Lord MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions said,
Lord Macdonald said he had never been notified about the 2007 police investigation, for reasons which he “did not understand”. “It was apparently a serious police investigation, and it should have been absolutely clear to the lawyers in Leicestershire that this case should have been sent to London.
“I would have undoubtedly taken a look at it personally, and would have undoubtedly myself have considered the question as to whether or not Lord Janner should be charged, and I very much regret that that didn’t happen.””
Janner was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2009, 2 years after this, the last opportunity was lost. Even the DPP himself was not allowed to see all the relevant information. If he could not access it, well then who can. The people who made the decisions not to pass the information on to him will be very busy now doing everything they can to protect themselves. 2007 is not that long ago. Many of them will still be in post or newly retired. They will not be happy.
So why pick on Carmichael?
Carmichael is a member of the Liberal Democrat party and it has a difficult history on these issues. In 1975, the Liberal Party had 14 MPs. Two of them have been tarnished with sexual scandal. Thorpe had to stand down after been accused (and acquitted) of trying to murder a lover. No less a figure than Tom Driberg warned him to be less discrete about his use of rent boys and then there was Cyril Smith. In such a small party the rest of the leadership, including our own Jo Grimond, must have been at least aware of the risk that was being run to their reputations, even if they did not particularly care about the damage being done to the young people. In 1983, the party contested the Bermondsey by-election against Peter Tatchell and won through a homophobic campaign calling their candidate, Simon Hughes, the ‘straight choice’ . He has, to his credit, since apologised for his behaviour and acknowledged having gay relationships. Was there a culture in the party that was prepared to fight dirty elections and yet at the same time allow its senior figures to engage in the abuse of young boys? All the political parties have significant reason to be alarmed as to what may come out about how they maintained this culture over a number of years.
:“Anyone with any sense who was in trouble would come to the whips, and tell them the truth […] It might be debt, it might be a scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal […] and we would do everything we can because we would store up brownie points. That sounds a pretty nasty reason, but it’s one of the reasons. If we could get a chap out of trouble he’ll do as we ask forever more.”
Party machines worked by pulling strings and blackmailing MPs – keeping them grateful. The current Labour Party is in a better position because of the number of its MPs who have since fought hard to make sure that abuse is exposed and people punished, even when this has gone against their own vested interests, John Mann and Simon Danczuk are obvious examples.
Mr Carmichael is our local MP. We have a right to ask him his rationale for his decisions. He answered and we think he is misguided. No one is suggesting that he is in any way personally curropt, he came out of the expenses scandal well. He is far too young to have been involved in the affairs of the 1970 and 80s and presume he is as horrified as the rest of his us. So Mr. Carmichael is right, he has not blocked the enquiry but the actions of the Government he is part of, have served to make it harder for people to testify in public about what they have done.
I would like to thank him for the delightful compliment he paid us. I am thrilled to be “obviously part of a concerted campaign of misinformation.” I did not know I had it in me.