The Metropolitan Police has announced the arrest of a UK government contractor after a tip-off.
According to the police force, the unnamed 65-year-old woman was arrested in north London, England, by constables “acting upon intelligence received”. A search of the location where she was arrested is ongoing.
The arrest was on suspicion of an offence under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. The arrested woman is currently in a police cell somewhere in South London.
The arrest was reportedly made by constables from the Counter Terrorism Command. It is unusual for the Met to announce any information about an arrest before a formal charge is made. Whether the woman is charged with an offence depends upon the Attorney General, who must consent to all OSA prosecutions. Currently the Attorney-General is Jeremy Wright, QC, MP.
A Parliamentary briefing note about the Official Secrets Acts can be read on Parliament’s website. It sets out the distinction between disclosures of information by any current or former member of the security services and “damaging” disclosures made by Crown servants, who comprise civil servants, government ministers, police employees and so on.
It also says: “For government contractors, a disclosure is made with lawful authority only if it is made in accordance with an official authorisation or for purposes of their function as a government contractor and without contravening an official restriction. In any other circumstance, a disclosure is made without lawful authority.”
Section 1 of the OSA 1911 reads as follows:
Penalties for spying.
(1) If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State—
- approaches, inspects, passes over or is in the neighbourhood of, or enters any prohibited place within the meaning of this Act; or
- makes any sketch, plan, model, or note which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy; or
- obtains, collects, records, or publishes, or communicates to any other person any secret official code word, or pass word, or any sketch, plan, model, article, or note, or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy;
he shall be guilty of felony . . . F2
(2) On a prosecution under this section, it shall not be necessary to show that the accused person was guilty of any particular act tending to show a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State, and, notwithstanding that no such act is proved against him, he may be convicted if, from the circumstances of the case, or his conduct, or his known character as proved, it appears that his purpose was a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State; and if any sketch, plan, model, article, note, document, or information relating to or used in any prohibited place within the meaning of this Act, or anything in such a place or any secret official code word or pass word, is made, obtained, collected, recorded, published, or communicated by any person other than a person acting under lawful authority, it shall be deemed to have been made, obtained, collected, recorded, published or communicated for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State unless the contrary is proved.
The case is now active, in the legal sense, meaning reporting restrictions are now in force and speculation about the offence must be avoided in order to prevent the woman's potential trial from being prejudiced. More information on what this means for commentards and social media users alike can be found in our story about the Attorney General's plan to crack down on "trial by social media". ®