The decision to drop charges against former GCHQ translator Katharine Gun shows that the Official Secrets Act should be scrapped, says the NUJ.
Charges were dropped against Gun last week, although she had admitted leaking an e-mail from the National Security Agency in the US asking GCHQ to bug the UN delegations of other countries to put political pressure on them. She had passed the e-mail to a friend and it was later given to The Observer.
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There has been intense speculation that the decision was taken by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, not to prosecute Gun because the trial would have involved the disclosure of information that would have been embarrassing for the Government.
The NUJ also claims there was a risk that the Official Secrets Act would have been further discredited.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “In the current climate the public and possibly the jury would have sympathised with the obvious honesty of Katharine Gun. Even if they couldn’t acquit her, a conviction would have been politically damaging.”
The NUJ has called for a “public interest” defence to protect whistleblowers who give stories to the media to expose official lies, dirty tricks or corruption. It has supported whistleblowers, including most recently the former MI5 officer David Shayler, jailed for leaking stories in 2002.
Dear said: “At the very least there should be a public interest defence, but this affair has shown that the act is untenable. There is an accused person who admits her guilt but they can’t prosecute her. It’s time to get rid of the OSA altogether.”
By Jon Slattery