The New Statesman has called on the government to launch an inquiry into the failed prosecution of a Foreign Office official accused of leaking documents to the magazine.
The case against Derek Pasquill collapsed today after the Foreign Office accepted that his disclosures had not caused damage.
In a leader to be published in tomorrow’s issue, the New Stateman argues that the failure of the case calls into question the future of the Official Secrets Act and calls for an inquiry to establish if politicians or officials ‘played a role in perverting the course of justice”.
The leader states: ‘It was apparent to us from the outset that charging Mr Pasquill under the Official Secrets Act was nothing less than an abuse of state power, designed merely to spare the embarrassment of some ministers.
The New Statesman said that the tactics ‘appear designed to intimidate anyone in the civil service who has reservations about dangerous policy, and who might be minded to expose it in the public interest”.
Calling on prime minister Gordon Brown or foreign secretary David Milliband to launch an inquiry into the case, the leader adds: ‘This case has exposed the malice and hypocrisy at the heart of Whitehall’s approach to whistleblowers.
“The public interest is best served by promoting this kind of debate, rather than by seeking to criminalise individuals who have acted to expose dangerous policy.”
Pasquill was first arrested in January 2006 and suspended from his job, accused of leaking documents about Government policy on extraordinary rendition and on radical Islam. The Observer and New Statesman published a series of articles about the issues in late 2005.
The New Statesman articles, written by political editor Martin Bright, included an exposÃ© of British acquiescence in the secret and illegal “rendition” of terrorist suspects by the US, and a number of disclosures about Government policy towards radical Islam.
The articles earned Bright the exclusive of the year award at Press Gazette’s Magazine Journalism Awards in 2006. The pieces also gave rise to a number of questions in parliament, leading to cross-party support and shifts in government policy.