What’s bugging the police?

The Damien Green story is of course fascinating. But the Home Office leaks are not as extraordinary as the Sally Murrer story. And neither of those can match the bizarre twists of the Mark Kearney story.

Kearney was accused of leaking to Murrer, but the case in which they both featured was nothing compared with what subsequently emerged about police bugging.

You can quickly read about the Murrer/Kearney case for yourself elsewhere and will quite possibly gasp with amazement that a police force could act with such heavy-handedness against a journalist who for good measure is a single mother of three.

I have a feeling that what binds the Green and Murrer/Kearney cases is a very modern lack of good sense. Coppers, like social workers, are driven to play things by the book so whilst some issues are dangerously ignored, others attract a sort of manic thoroughness.

Mark Kearney was the source for some of Murrer’s stories for a local paper (as well as her erstwhile lover and long-time friend) and it was his leakiness which the Thames Valley police sought to bring to court (using the same old law with which they clobbered Damien Green).

The police case was thrown out at first hearing by a judge on the basis that Kearney and Murrer were bugged by the police and the resulting evidence was inadmissable.

Kearney knows a thing or two about bugging. He was the police and security service’s chief bugger at a local high security gaol. He has noted that one of the problems with using intercepts in court is that it reveals the techniques to future suspects against whom it might be used. He says that he was over-ruled by a Home Office Minister when he pointed this out in an earlier case and that since his methods were exposed, their effectiveness was reduced.

This is a lovely twist. There will be those who think it was often wrong to bug prisoners and that Kearney might well have been party to snooping which should offend civil libertarians. Still, that doesn’t mean the police were right to bug him and Murrer. In any case, he insists that he incurred official police wrath by insisting that the authorities stick by the rules in gaol bugging.

Maybe I’m missing something, and these stories are seldom as they seem, but there is something odd about a police force pursuing a trivial case against a policeman and a journalist when (a) it is unlikely to succeed; (b) they pursue it using bugging techniques which it would prefer weren’t well known; and (c) the likely outcome is that much more serious bugging issues then get trailed all through the national press.

All in all, a massive cock-up. It would all of course be much worse were it not for the fact that the police’s silliness and worse was exposed. That’s very modern as well.

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Publication date

30 November 2008