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Report into MP bugging: MP was bugged, no laws broken

Plods really do have wider powers than MI6 - for now

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Details of the government investigation into police bugging of an MP's conversations with a prison inmate have leaked, ahead of an expected announcement to Parliament this afternoon.

The report by Sir Christopher Rose reportedly says that MP Sadiq Khan was indeed taped by police twice, while visiting his constituent and friend Babar Ahmad in Woodhill prison. In the view of Sir Christopher - an experienced senior judge - no law or regulation was broken by the bugging operation. It is understood that his report calls for the complex UK bugging rules to be re-examined.

The details of the Rose investigation emerged this morning in a report by the Guardian. It appears that previous reports, emanating ultimately from former Thames Valley Police special-branch detective Mark Kearney, were substantially correct.

Khan was recorded while visiting Ahmad on two occasions in 2005 and 2006, by a small team of Thames Valley officers who routinely taped conversations between prisoners and their visitors at Woodhill. The bugging of Khan was requested by the Metropolitan Police, and correctly authorised by senior plods in accordance with the rules. Unlike spies from the intelligence and security services, who require a warrant signed by a cabinet minister for bugging/wiretap operations, UK police chiefs can sign off on bugging without political oversight.

Bugging - in particular, wiretap intercepts - against MPs are also subject to the obscure "Wilson doctrine". Originally implemented as an executive order 40 years ago, it forbids surveillance against MPs in most circumstances. However, it is the government's view - and apparently Sir Christopher's - that the Wilson doctrine applies only to ministerially-authorised spook surveillance, not to plod-approved operations.

So the cops and the government are probably off the hook so far. There has been some suggestion that legal privilege was violated, Khan being a former solicitor and having offered Ahmad advice on a civil suit he wanted to bring against the Met for alleged brutality during an earlier arrest in 2003. (Ahmad was released without charge on that occasion; he is now being held pending extradition proceedings by US prosecutors who want to charge him with web-terror offences in the States).

However, it seems that in Rose's judgement lawyer-client privilege was not violated in the case of Khan and Ahmad. Apparently Sir Christopher has not examined the accusations by various other lawyers that they too have been bugged during jail visits. According to Kearney and his friend, local journo Sally Murrer - both of whom face charges over Kearney allegedly leaking confidential info to Murrer - this last issue remains live. The accused pair have said that "hundreds" of police buggings have occurred, and that some privileged lawyer-client talks must have been included.

This has permitted broadsheet scribes and high-profile lawyers to speculate that hundreds of prisoners may now have to be released, including child murderers and terrorists, and that therefore the government should resign or something. In fact, the prospect of a few retrials at most seems more realistic.

Today's Rose report apparently doesn't address this last point, which suggests that the issue isn't going away soon. Furthermore, the current rather lackadaisical supervision of police bugging may very well need to be brought into line with the spook regime. If it isn't, after all, spies wishing to avoid political oversight need only phone up the Met's vast SO15 secret-police organisation in order to bug anyone they want, with just a signature from the relevant chief constable. ®

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