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Local copper: Met secret police requested MP bugging

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Fresh revelations emerged overnight surrounding allegations that police bugged conversations between Labour MP Sadiq Khan and his constituent, Babar Ahmad, in a visiting room at Woodhill prison. The former Thames Valley police officer at the centre of the case has said that the surveillance was carried out at the request of the Metropolitan police, who had put him under "significant pressure" to do so.

Mark Kearney, a former sergeant in the Thames Valley force, was assigned as an intelligence officer at Woodhill when the eavesdropping occurred, in 2005 and 2006. This means that he was working for the force Special Branch, traditionally tasked with intelligence-gathering.

Since that time he has been charged with leaking confidential information to a local newspaper, in a case apparently unrelated to the bugging of Mr Khan. His statements on the Khan-Ahmad surveillance came in a document prepared as part of his legal defence, which has been seen by BBC political reporter Nick Robinson.

Robinson quotes Kearney as saying the Metropolitan police had requested "that we covertly record a social visit between a terrorist detainee and a member of Parliament... Sadiq Khan, the member for Tooting, and indeed the constituent MP for the suspected terrorist... I did record the visit but have never felt it was justified in these circumstances."

Mr Ahmad is being held at Woodhill pending appeal against extradition to the US, where prosecutors want to try him on terror-related charges. It is alleged that Mr Ahmad ran a US-hosted website promoting terrorism.

Mr Khan is said to have been childhood friends with Mr Ahmad, and to have offered him legal advice in the past. Before entering parliament, Mr Khan was a high-profile human rights lawyer who had tangled with the Metropolitan police many times.

It appears that the then-Sergeant Kearney at least, and perhaps his superiors, considered that Mr Khan's visit to Mr Ahmad was "social" and not one between lawyer and client, thus permitting them to ignore the privileged nature of such conversations and record it secretly.

The so-called "Wilson doctrine" preventing eavesdropping on MPs might still apply to a conversation between Mr Khan and his constituent. However, in his speech to Parliament yesterday Justice Secretary Jack Straw appeared to suggest that this protection did not apply to police bugging authorised by chief constables; only to ministerially-authorised operations by the intelligence and security services.

Whether or not the Wilson doctrine applies is a slippery issue, as it is an executive order by successive governments rather than a point of law and its details are sketchy, only usually confirmed in answers to Parliamentary questions.

Whatever the outcome on that score, Mr Kearney appears to suggest that the Met was specifically targeting Mr Khan. This was probably not just the ordinary Met, but the secretive specially-empowered Counter Terrorism Command (SO15), created in 2006 by merging the former SO13 national anti-terror force and Met Special Branch.

SO15 work all across the UK and even beyond, not just in London, and operate hand in glove with the intelligence and security services - the spooks - who are unequivocally forbidden to listen in on MPs.

It's possible to speculate, then, that the use of Thames Valley special branch to do the bugging might have been a way for SO15 and their shadowy colleagues to get round the Wilson doctrine. The Beeb's Nick Robinson reports that sources have told him of views within the Met that Khan was of "significant interest" or even "subversive".

It has also emerged overnight that officials at the Home and Justice departments were aware of the case as early as last December, but apparently failed to inform their ministers. The Tories claim to have told the government about it by post some time ago, too, but the Brown administration has denied receiving any such letter.

Beeb coverage here. ®

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