Magazine article The Spectator

Where's Freedom of Information If This Journalist Is Charged Next Thursday?

Magazine article The Spectator

Where's Freedom of Information If This Journalist Is Charged Next Thursday?

Article excerpt

In times of peace we supposedly do not have censorship in this country. We have the D-Notice Committee - the Defence, Press and Advisory Committee. A newly appointed editor will receive a visit from a kindly old chap, usually a retired rearadmiral, who runs this outfit. The man will explain in the friendliest manner possible how the system works. If he is worried about the publication of information that might rock the boat, he will serve a DNotice, as a way, as it were, of tipping the wink to an editor. But it's all voluntary. Nothing remotely compulsory about it.

Here is a story that shows how this easygoing British approach to things no longer holds good. On 3 December of last year, a journalist and author called Tony Geraghty was visited at the crack of dawn by five men and one women from the Ministry of Defence police at his house in Herefordshire. They stayed seven hours, removed a huge amount of material which they have not returned, and arrested Mr Geraghty. They then took him off to Leominster police station where he was interrogated for three hours and held in a cell for two hours before being released. The police wanted to know about Mr Geraghty's recently published book, The Irish War.

Ah, so the man is an IRA supporter and potentially subversive! No, he's not. Mr Geraghty served in the British army as a young man, became the Sunday Times's defence correspondent, and was a volunteer squadron leader during the Gulf War. He is the author of several books, including Who Dares Wins, which is regarded almost as a semi-official history of the SAS. My guess is that so far as Ireland is concerned Mr Geraghty is broadly nationalist, but he is certainly no apologist for the IRA. His book is a very well-informed account of the recent (and continuing?) conflict in Northern Ireland. He plainly has excellent sources, particularly in the SAS, which happens also to be based in Herefordshire.

Some months before the publication of The Irish War, Mr Geraghty's publishers, HarperCollins, received a letter from RearAdmiral David Pulvertaft, secretary to the D-Notice Committee. The rear-admiral wanted to see that part of the book describing SAS operations in Northern Ireland. Mr Geraghty was disinclined to co-operate, believing that Rear-Admiral Pulvertaft wanted to uncover his SAS sources. He took the view, which is surely correct, that if the government believed that his book in any way jeopardised national security it should have sought an injunction. It did not do so. The book was duly published, and is freely available. I bought a copy at Blackwell's in Oxford on Tuesday.

So why the cloak-and-dagger dawn raid in Herefordshire? Mr Geraghty believes that the Ministry of Defence wants to flush out his SAS sources. The police were particularly exercised by a passage between pages 158 and 162 that deals with computerised methods of surveillance in Northern Ireland. It is plain that everything Mr Geraghty describes here is already known to the IRA, but it is also obvious that he has got the inside story from top-notch SAS sources. One can understand that this might irritate the Ministry of Defence, which has a perfect right to try to discover the identity of Mr Geraghty's sources. But not, I believe, through intimidating and threatening him with prosecution under section five of the Official Secrets Act, and by removing his files. …

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