Lunchtime No News

Paul Foot

  • Kill the messenger by Bernard Ingham
    HarperCollins, 408 pp, £17.50, May 1991, ISBN 0 00 215944 9

Can you tell the difference in principle between these two leaks? In 1983, a young civil servant at the Ministry of Defence was so outraged by her Secretary of State’s plans to head off a demonstration against Cruise missiles that she copied the relevant document and delivered it in an anonymous envelope to the Guardian newspaper. In 1986, if Bernard Ingham’s book is to be believed, during the crisis about the Westland helicopter company, Leon Brittan, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, allowed his head of information, Collette Bowe, to read out to the Press Association a letter from the Solicitor-General to the selfsame Secretary of State for Defence (Michael Heseltine). Neither the Solicitor-General nor Heseltine knew of the leak. The letter, like the document about the Cruise missiles demo, was entirely secret. Though neither document was a threat to national security, both were plainly covered by the terms of the Official Secrets Act which was then in force.

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