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Bugged police bugger bugged by silent telephone

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The former Thames Valley detective at the centre of allegations that police bugged MPs' and lawyers' visits to prison inmates says he still hasn't heard from the official enquiry. This has reportedly led "a friend" of his to brand the enquiry "meaningless".

This morning's Telegraph quotes an unnamed chum of Mark Kearney, the former Thames Valley special-branch officer whose job was the bugging of conversations between inmates and visitors at Woodhill prison. Then-sergeant Kearney reportedly says he bugged MP and former human rights solicitor Sadiq Khan during 2005 and 2006 - at the behest of the Metropolitan police.

The government launched an inquiry into the allegations. Now it appears that Sir Christopher Rose, investigating the affair on behalf of government, has not asked to hear Mr Kearney's version of the affair.

"It will be difficult for the public to have confidence in the inquiry," said the Telegraph source.

"Mark is frankly baffled that he has not been contacted. It's meaningless."

Mr Kearney is currently facing charges that he leaked confidential information to local journalist Sally Murrer. She too is awaiting trial regarding this matter, and has spoken to the Telegraph regarding her belief that she and Kearney were themselves subjected to a "massive surveillance operation" aimed at discrediting the former detective before he could reveal wrongful surveillance against MPs and - possibly - defence lawyers.

The Telegraph has previously quoted sources who claimed that hundreds of conversations had been bugged over the years - permitting the paper to speculate about hundreds of convictions being rendered invalid and jails being emptied by a vengeful judiciary. It was even suggested that convicted child murderer Ian Huntley might be released.

However, police intelligence operations would not on the face of it have any reason to target Huntley, unless they thought him part of an organisation of evildoers. Nor does it seem likely that even the angriest judge would simply release him if a retrial did become necessary. In fact, bringing up his name in the first place seems rather unjustified.

All that is actually clear is that Mr Kearney claims he was told to bug Mr Khan's visits to Babar Ahmad - who has not been convicted of any crime - and that he did bug them. The government seems to say that in fact this would not have contravened the current version of the "Wilson doctrine" forbidding surveillance against MPs, and Kearney himself says the visits were considered to be social rather than lawyer-client in nature - so the government may be off the hook there too.

Legal commentators have suggested that a wise lawyer would never simply take it on faith that police wouldn't eavesdrop on them while talking to a client. The outrage and suggestions of jails emptied from prominent lawyers such as Geoffrey Robertson caused raised eyebrows among some defence briefs, at least.

Sir Christopher's investigation - which is merely supposed to establish what bugging took place, and whether any of it was illegal or against executive doctrine - is expected to report later this week. ®

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