Damien Green arrest ‘a surprise’

Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the civil service, told MP’s today he was surprised Damian Green had been arrested over the investigation into Home Office leaks.

Mr O’Donnell staunchly defended the police and the decision to arrest Mr Green, saying it was solely interested in stopping the leaks, not who the investigation would lead to.

When asked if he was surprised by the arrest, he responded: “I was surprised, to be honest, yes.

“Our interest is in stopping the source of the leaks… precisely where they [the police] go is neither here nor there.”

Police are called in to deal with fears over national security, not political embarrassment, and were only called upon if the leaks were “serious and persistent”, he insisted.

In defence of the decision to ask the police to investigate, Sir Gus told the public administration committee: “We were worried that certain information was getting out which was potentially very damaging to national security.

“And to have access to some of the other things that had come out in the newspapers the kind of person that had access to that might well also have access to quite secret stuff.”

David Davis was pointed at as part of his defence. Mr Davis admitted, the day after Mr Green was arrested, that the Tories did not release most of the material they received as it was too sensitive.

He bolstered his position by using a previous case of a civil-servant, working in the counter terrorism unit, who was jailed for leaking sensitive material to a Sunday newspaper.

Charles Hendry, Conservative MP, suggested Sir Gus was happy to allow leaks that helped the government but took a stricter line on those that caused embarrassment.

Sir Gus emphatically denounced the sentiment saying: “I completely refute that.”

He added: “I’m very upset by all leaks. It is important that the civil service is politically impartial and it’s important we don’t leak anything be it embarrassing, not embarrassing or national security.”

Mr Hendry gave a witty retort, which hinted at Gordon Brown’s links with leaked material: “I would strongly suggest, even advise… that you have every single special adviser in the Treasury investigated by the police because some of them have clearly been leaking information that is helpful to the government.”

Sir Gus gave assurances that the prime minister was told of the arrest as soon as he knew of the arrest, which was after the event and home secretary Jacquie Smith, who was in Brussels at the time, was also informed.

The question of why opposition leader David Cameron and Boris Johnson were given advance warning about the arrest went unanswered.

When asked about Christopher Galley’s history as a Conservative activist and if this should have raised questions during an internal leaks inquiry, Sir Gus said previous political activity was no bar to working in the civil service.

A letter was released published today from the Cabinet Office to assistant commissioner Bob Quick regarding the leaks.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: “It is astonishing that a criminal investigation involving counter-terrorism police was initiated on such vague basis, without any specific grounds to believe that a criminal offence had been committed.

“The suggestion of national security concerns has now been wholly undermined by the fact that no-one has been arrested under the Official Secrets Act.”