Judge's gag order sets 'worrying precedent'

‘Crazy’reporting restrictions imposed after the trial of two men jailed under the Official Secrets Act have been described as a ‘step backwards’for press freedom.

Journalists have been banned from reporting the full story of how civil servant David Keogh, 50, leaked a top-secret Government memo to his friend Lee O’Connor, 44, a political researcher for an anti-Iraq war MP, because he took a ‘moral stand’against its contents.

The ‘highly sensitive’memo is a transcript of a conversation in 2004 between Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush.

The details of the memo cannot be repeated in this story because of the terms of the order – even though they have previously been revealed on the front page of the Daily Mirror on 22 November, 2005.

On 10 May, Keogh was sentenced to six months in jail for putting British lives at risk by leaking the document. O’Connor was sentenced to three months.

The judge, Justice Aikens, imposed an ‘indefinite’gagging order under section 4.2 of the Contempt of Court Act banning the press from reporting an answer from Keogh given in secret – and another order, under section 11 of the same Act, banning any reference to any part of the proceedings which were held ‘in camera”, or in secret.

Judge Aikens said information in the public domain could be ‘recycled’and printed again but only on a separate page to a report of the court case.

The Guardian, Times and the BBC were this week considering whether to appeal against the orders.

Richard Norton-Taylor, security affairs editor at The Guardian, called Judge Aikens’s ruling ‘crazy’and said it could set a worrying precedent for journalists reporting future Official Secrets Acts cases.

‘On one page you can write about the document, without saying what the document is alleged to say, and on another page you can talk about what the allegations are [in the court case]. It’s not just a public interest matter: this seems to be going backwards. The whole thing is bizarre and ludicrous.”

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