Sky's Martin Brunt hits back at terrorism media leak claims

Martin Brunt, crime correspondent, Sky News

The night before the terror arrests I got wind of something happening. That's what specialist reporters do.

But I didn't know exactly what or where. If I had, I would have popped up at Birmingham police headquarters. One newspaper, acting on the same vague intelligence, apparently sent a team to Manchester.

None of us had a specific address – so the leak wasn't that good – and we would have been daft to go there if we had.

I headed for a 6am start at Scotland Yard (sometimes I feel my body has been secretly programmed to go there anyway).

The only advantage I had that morning was to be next to a live camera. The only life at risk, at that stage, was mine – getting up so early is not easy at my age.

I wasn't going to reveal anything until there was some confirmation that the operation was over. Within an hour – much earlier than I'd expected – the arrests were announced by West Midlands police.

And the operation was still going on, the final suspect wasn't held until some hours later. The LibDems' Nick Clegg is urging the chief constable to investigate a breach of the Official Secrets Act which, he insists, "prohibits the release of information that impedes the… apprehension or prosecution of suspected offenders". The chief might like to start with his own press office.

From then on there was only one mission for me: What was it all about?

The next three hours were spent on the phone and computer, badgering anyone who might know the answer. Cops, Home Office, spooks, colleagues home and abroad, and websites all got beseiged.

Those who did know what was going on weren't prepared to share it. Others gave vague steers on what it wasn't about. It became a process of elimination. It's almost always like that.

Very rarely does anybody phone me with the details. It's like piecing together a jigsaw and trying to see the picture before it emerges on a rival channel or paper. Then you follow your instincts, call the newsdesk, take a deep breath and go with it.

The alleged plot, as far as I can remember from reporting the updates, went from "major" to "unusual", to "chilling", to "kidnap", to "beheading" to "soldier" to "Muslim soldier". I was asked not to reveal the military angle, but someone else later did.

Has it done any damage? None that I'm aware of. Were lives put at risk? Well, nothing leaked before the police press statement, so no suspect was forewarned.

And the dangers of prejudice recede as trials take longer to come to court. I think Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke's concern is about the next time.

But if I remember rightly, it was Clarke who changed the police policy of never revealing details of on-going operations when he announced what his officers had found during one major terror raid.

Another time he detailed the number of seized computers that needed examining. That, I figured at the time, was part of the police campaign for an extension of custody limit.

In a recent series of charges, the wording of the indictment included the kind of targets of an alleged terror plot. We never used to get that detail.

Many sources I talk to believe the public still don't appreciate the terror threat to the UK, or that they are complacent about it.

So publicising some details of alleged plots might instil a bit more awareness, particularly as they may not emerge in court for a couple of years. That certainly isn't an official view.

I accused a senior officer recently of wanting it both ways. "Yes," he replied, indignantly. "Why shouldn't we? We're the police."

It's a bit dodgy for journalists to write about leaks. I know of one senior TV correspondent who refused to do so last week. Too close to home.

The political row prompted by Clarke's speech has been kept alive by media organisations that were not up-to-speed on the day. There's a whiff of sour grapes in the air. But where would any of us hacks be without leaks? Certainly not smelling of roses, as we do occasionally.

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