The Tories dump their mole

Unlike most media commentators, with their vested interest in encouraging leaks by civil servants who betray their duty of confidentiality and loyalty to the elected ministers for whom they work, I have very little time for Mr Damian Green, the Conservative MP and shadow minister.  Over a period of about two years Mr Green received more than 20 official documents stolen by the home office mole whom he encouraged, at best implicitly, in this nefarious and probably criminal activity. (In deciding not to prosecute either Mr Green or his mole, the Director of Public Prosecutions made it clear that the decision did not imply that no offence had been committed — only that there was insufficient prospect of getting convictions.)

I have written before about this case (e.g. here, here and here) and responded to others’ comments, so I shan’t go over all that ground again. My excuse for returning to the subject now is a remarkable, and little noticed, interview with the mole, Christopher Galley, published in The Times on 19 May under the heading, “‘I did their dirty work and then Tories dumped me’” (heading slightly changed in the online version). The article starts:

For more than a year Christopher Galley, a civil servant, had put his job on the line for the man who had become his political mentor, Damian Green, the Shadow Immigration Minister. Mr Galley, 27, the most prolific Tory mole of modern times, had taken huge risks to smuggle sensitive documents out of the Home Office. But now he had been caught, threatened with imprisonment and fired from his job. It was time, he thought, to call in a few favours.

During one meeting with Mr Green, Mr Galley remembered the MP telling him: “If you are fired, we will look after you.” So, last month, Mr Galley e-mailed him for help. It took four days for the reply to come and when it did it was as cold as ice…

It was an astonishing brush-off for a man whose leaks to the Tories on crime and immigration had repeatedly embarrassed the Government. That ended on November 19 last year when Mr Galley was arrested. Eight days later, police also arrested Mr Green and carried out a raid on his Parliamentary office.  Last month, both Mr Galley and Mr Green were relieved to be told by Keir Starmer, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, that they would not face charges over the leaks.

But for Mr Galley there was little reason to celebrate. In an interview with The Times this week, he said that he now felt betrayed by the Conservatives and claimed that he was cynically cultivated as a mole. “I think I have been terribly naive,” Mr Galley said. “I feel as though I have been dumped and they are treating me as political poison, as if they don’t want to touch me now that I have done their dirty work.”

On April 24, the day that his brief Civil Service career ended, Mr Galley wrote to all 193 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons explaining his predicament and asking if any might give him some work. To date, none has been offered.  He received no help with the £3,400 legal bill he racked up as a consequence of his arrest and he expects to have to give up his home in Feltham, West London, and move in with his parents. He says his life is in ruins.

“I find it very painful to see the way my leaks have boosted Damian Green’s career while leaving me jobless, broke and with limited prospects,” he said. “Frankly, I feel the Tories have hung me out to dry.”

Christopher GalleyRemember that the hapless Mr Galley was not a classic whistle-blower in the sense of an insider so angered by knowledge of government wrong-doing that he thought it should be exposed, and risked his career to expose it. For such often worthy people there’s anyway a confidential procedure to be followed within the civil servant’s department, and ultimately in an approach to the head of the civil service, to bring to the attention of the highest official authority the evidence of alleged wrong-doing, before resorting to the ultimate sanction of passing the information to the media, directly or indirectly, without authority. Galley followed no such procedure and it seems quite clear that as a Conservative Party supporter he was mainly concerned to give political ammunition to a front-bench Tory shadow minister for use in embarrassing the government, not primarily publicly to expose wrong-doing.

A key question in assessing the possible criminality of both Mr Galley’s and Mr Green’s activities is whether Damian Green actually asked or encouraged Galley to steal and pass over official home office documents, or whether Galley acted spontaneously, without encouragement, with Damian Green purely a passive recipient. The Times interview casts valuable new light on this:

Mr Galley’s painful foray into the world of political dirty tricks began with an astonishing meeting with David Davis, then the Shadow Home Secretary, and ended unceremoniously with a dawn raid by anti-terror police.  Mr Galley … had been a civil servant for only three months when he was invited to Mr Davis’s office at the Commons in May 2006. …  Mr Galley was working at the Border and Immigration Agency, now the UK Border Agency, in Hounslow, West London, helping to process applications from asylum seekers.  He had read an article on immigration posted by Mr Davis on the Conservative Party website and left a message on the site agreeing with the article and making a few suggestions. To his amazement, he received an e-mail asking him to meet the Shadow Home Secretary. “The invitation was to Davis’s Commons office,” said Mr Galley, who was then aged 24 and in the lowest rank of the Civil Service. […]

“In the invitation it said, ‘Our immigration spokesman wants to be there as well’,” Mr Galley went on. “At the time I didn’t have a clue who he was. So this balding bloke turns up at the meeting. It was Damian Green.  I felt pretty intimidated. You had two senior politicians and a researcher sitting in a room and you have all this imposing architecture around you. And you have one of them sitting at one side and another at the other side and you’ve got questions coming from one and then the other.

“David Davis started off with the introductions and he basically wanted an explanation of what my role actually was. I told him I was only an admin assistant and I explained what I felt was wrong with the reporting centre where I worked. Damian Green then spoke about how he wanted to improve immigration and he said to keep in touch in the future.”  Asked whether he was ever explicitly asked to leak items by Mr Green, Mr Galley said: “He didn’t say that. I said that I could send some ideas in on how things could be improved. He said he would like that.”

In the following months, Mr Galley says, he wrote about seven letters to Mr Green with ideas and suggestions, and the MP wrote back encouragingly. “I got replies throughout the year,” said Mr Galley. “He sent two or three letters saying, ‘Keep up the good work’ and there was a letter at Christmas.”

In July 2007, Mr Galley was promoted to administration officer at the Home Office and told Mr Green of his progress. He was responsible for administration in the private office of Tony McNulty, then the minister responsible for policing and crime, and Vernon Coaker, an under-secretary of state and government whip.  “One day, I was sitting in Vernon’s office and . . . a private secretary to Vernon and one of the assistant private secretaries were dealing with a matter relating to the Security Industry Authority [which licenses workers in the security industry],” he said. “They were looking at this document to do with how licences had been granted to asylum seekers to work in the SIA. But rather than trying to put a stop to that, these two people were actually trying to co-ordinate . . . a damage limitation exercise on how to keep it quiet, which I didn’t think was right.  I got my hands on that document . . . copied it to my hard drive, then saved it and copied it to my Hotmail address and sent it to Damian Green. A day later it was published in a newspaper. I was pretty shocked. Damian telephoned me and said, ‘Well done. This is pretty explosive stuff’’.”

Buoyed by the encouragement, Mr Galley continued to leak.

This is only one side’s version of events:  Damian Green denies parts of it.  But the general pattern seems clear enough.

Some conclusions can be drawn, I think, from all this.

First, good and coherent government, which depends among other things on a relationship of mutual trust between ministers and their officials, would be impossible if all, or a significant number of, civil servants felt free to steal official information and pass it to opposition MPs for party political purposes, claiming the right to substitute their own political opinions for the judgement of elected ministers as to what information should be released and when.

Secondly, Mr Galley doesn’t seem to have initiated the relationship with David Davis and Damian Green, who began it with their surprise invitation to Galley to go and meet them.  The two Tory MPs seem to have been careful not to ask Galley explicitly to send them documents without authority, presumably knowing that to do so would risk laying them open to criminal charges.  But the distinction between an explicit request and implicit encouragement is surely rather blurred — as the DPP implied by stressing that the decision not to prosecute didn’t necessarily mean that no offence had been committed.

Thirdly, against the background of systematic leaking from a minister’s private office in the home office to an opposition MP and thence into the public domain, a police investigation was absolutely inevitable — as the DPP himself also said.  A police investigation into the possibility of an offence by Damian Green was bound to involve questioning him and searching his computers and papers in a way which denied him or his staff any opportunity to hide or destroy potentially incriminating evidence beforehand, as any other questioning of a possible suspect must do.  Criticism of the Speaker and other House of Commons authorities for permitting this (one of the charges laid against Mr Speaker Martin) is seriously misplaced.  They would have been open to the charge of obstructing the police in their enquiries, or obstructing the course of justice, had they sought to prevent the police from doing their duty.  It’s true that the police didn’t have an ordinary search warrant, but explicit permission to conduct the search given by a high parliamentary official responsible for security, probably given after consulting the Speaker, was surely even better than a magistrate’s search warrant.

Fourthly, Mr Green is a lucky man to have got away with acting as he did, systematically and over a period of at least two years, with complete impunity, indeed emerging at the end of the process with the wholly undeserved status of both hero and victim of allegedly improper treatment at the hands of the police, when the police self-evidently couldn’t have acted otherwise than as they did.

Fifthly, Mr Galley, who took such personal risks on behalf of the party which he supported, with what sounds like encouragement from two of its senior leaders, has turned out to be a lot less lucky than Mr Green, his mentor.  He obviously behaved badly vis-à-vis his employers over an extended period, inevitably thereby damaging his chances of finding another job after being dismissed from the civil service;  but it’s impossible not to feel just a tiny bit sorry for him.

And lastly, if and when Mr Green and perhaps Mr Davis are appointed ministers in a Conservative government under David Cameron, probably some time next year, it will be extremely interesting to see whether they take the same relaxed view if one of their trusted civil servants turns out to be a committed Labour Party supporter who starts leaking official documents to the Labour opposition front bench, for use against them.


2 Responses

  1. Richard T says:

    This does say a lot about the ethics of the modern conservative party.  First they encourage a man to break his contract of employment but without any of their finger prints on the crime.  Then they take advantage of this to obtain information which is privileged.  As an aside, perhaps if the Britsh government was not so obsessively secretive this might never have arisen but the situation is as it is and not how we might wish it.  They then use the information to try to discredit the government.  When the leaks are exposed and action is taken, they manipulate the quite proper shock at how the lead figure, Mr Damian Green, is treated by the police and at the slackness of the Comons authorities in its handling of the investigation.  Then they hang him out to dry.

    I’d say this was at least as morally reprehensible as claiming for oh let’s say a portico to be built at public expense to embellish your house in the constituency.  But then I’m an ordinary soul who believes a contract of employment is to be honoured unless there is a strong public interest defence where government is acting wrongly – Clive Ponting springs to mind.

    There is a lot to be said about the inadequacy of the British political culture.  The fallacy of government infallibility is far too well entrenched so for example ministers cannot allow mistakes to be admitted and any thinking aloud about the efficacy of policy and practice cannot be done without crying stinking fish  but l suppose an adversarial political system depends on it.   This of course begs a question which our current politics may be answering. 

    Brian writes: Thanks for this, Richard. I agree with everything you say, except that I don’t see anything objectionable about either the Commons authorities’ agreement to let the police search Damian Green’s office or their interrogation of him. MPs aren’t above the law and the police were very properly investigating what looked uncommonly like a crime.

  2. Ronnie says:

    I am just a little bit puzzled by the apparent ease with which he got (himself) into the Private Office and the eagerness of Mr McNulty and Mr Croaker to talk in front of him.

    Brian writes: So am I, although I suppose it’s natural for junior ministers to assume that they can safely talk freely and indiscreetly in front of the staff of their own private offices. Also it seems that most of the material stolen by the mole and passed to Damian Green was in the form of documents which he secretly photocopied for him. (BTW, I’m amazed to see Damian Green’s name being mentioned as a possible successor to Speaker Martin! Can’t imagine Mr Speaker Green allowing the police into the Palace of Westminster to interview an MP suspected of having committed some offence, such as encouraging a civil servant to commit a misdemeanour in public office….)