A photographer, a policeman and the State

Bob Quick had to resign because his lapse in security threatened a serious state operation. Why doesn’t Steve Back, the photographer who exposed him, face the same opprobrium?

I can’t see why the photographer Dave Back isn’t facing either shame or charges over his pictures which compromised a vital police anti-terrorist operation. (At the end of this piece there’s a little passage about why it is becoming difficult for the state to take the high ground in such matters.)

But we should perhaps take a moment to wonder if Bob Quick was quite as he is being cracked up to be.

Bob Quick was supposed to be a superbly safe pair of hands. Not in my book, he wasn’t. In the Dominic Grieve Case, he ordered his men to clomp about the House of Commons with as little understanding of the feel of the place as Westminster’s own senior officials showed. That was depressing. In the My Wife’s Car Hire Firm Case, he was extraordinarily big-girl’s-blousey when the press breathed down his neck about the family business. He raved on about Tory conspiracy this and media plot that. And yes, I do sympathise with him that the press in effect exposed his home address. And then I wonder why the business was run from there if it was all so sensitive.

I imagine Mr Quick has got a bit used to being “In The Bubble” and has forgotten that actually, everyone now does their business in a goldfish bowl. He should have known that not least because there was a previous Back snap to make the point. I am drawn to people who make careless cock-ups and would cut him all the slack I could. But was this Alpha Male aggressive carelessness from someone who thought himself a bit above ordinary caution? I could imagine it.

Anyway. About Steve Back. If I’ve got this right, he had a picture which compromised vital state activity. He let this be widely known and in terms which scuppered the careful timing of a delicate event. I think he should have thought: “This is a document marked SECRET. I’ll tell the relevant authorities that I’ve got it and sometime later I can have the delicious fun of publishing the thing and ruining a copper’s career and proving myself a sensible and thoughtful person at the same time.”

Mr Back is – according to the Daily Telegraph website – a magistrate. I automatically see him as public -spirited. It also makes his behaviour doubly inexplicable to me. Because he chose to act in the way he did I think he and everyone who handled the document thereafter should be mortified at their folly. I’d like to see them charged with something.

If there was such a charge, there would be an immediate problem. The upper echelons of British society – its Establishment – has so thoroughly lost its reputation for competence, decency, honour and truthfulness that it is becoming difficult for its institutions to act. The snipers can say, who are Westminster and Whitehall, or the Police, to get high and mighty and prosecute the media, who at least are bringing this awfulness to our attention? Of course, there remain great swathes of respectability in the political, judicial and civil service. But the general narrative, the mood, and in some cases the reality, need to be addressed very swiftly.

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Publication date

10 April 2009