NI editor in call for Offical Secrets Act review after trial collapse

By Jean Morgan

The Sunday Times’ Northern Ireland editor Liam Clarke has called for
a review of the Official Secrets Act after yet another prosecution
under the act has collapsed.

Recent prosecutions under the act have failed, he said, but have had
a chilling effect on any public servant who wants to speak to the press.

The
most recent case concerned Peter Adamson, a retired detective, who was
found not guilty at a court in Ballymena last week of breaching the act
by leaking documents to Clarke and his journalist wife, Kathryn
Johnston, when the Crown offered no evidence.

The Crown maintained that the prosecution was not considered in the public interest.

The
documents were transcripts of tapped phone conversations recorded by
MI5 and Special Branch at the home of Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s
chief negotiator from 1998 to 2001, to the late Mo Mowlam, then NI
secretary, and Jonathan Powell, the prime minister’s chief of staff,
among others.

The day after Adamson’s home was raided by armed
police and he was arrested in 2003, the home of Clarke and Johnston,
who had published the transcripts in a book, was also raided and they
were questioned over a 20- hour period.

Now Clarke says the prosecution should never have been brought.

“It’s
another blow to the Official Secrets Act – these cases seldom go the
distance. I cannot think of a recent prosecution that has succeeded. It
points to a need for the review of the law,” he said.

“It’s
terrible that Peter Adamson has been put through this for two and a
half years. I think these cases are brought in the knowledge that they
probably won’t succeed, but that the person can be punished by being
put through two years of having to pay lawyers and having their house
searched. It has a chilling effect on other public servants and anybody
who may want to speak to the press.”

Kathryn Johnston said: “The
vengeful and punitive decision of the State to prosecute Peter Adamson
was out of all proportion and clearly showed that its intention was not
to discover either the source of the document, but to gag journalists
and those who seek to expose injustice and wrongdoing.”

Both Clarke and Johnston want to thank The Sunday Times, editor John Witherow and their legal teams for their support.

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