Appeal court quashes 'gagging' orders

Arms to Iraq: Businessmen say withheld papers show convictions unsound
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The Court of Appeal yesterday overturned government gagging orders on secret documents which may show that it knew British arms were being supplied to Saddam Hussein.

Lord Chief Justice Taylor told four businessmen appealing against their convictions for selling weapons to Iraq that they could have access to the official documents despite attempts by the Government to suppress them.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, and John Howley, head of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch, all signed public interest immunity certificates to prohibit the release of the documentation into court. It is believed they include intelligence briefings, Cabinet Office papers and Special Branch papers.

The decision may cause deep embarrassment to the Government particularly if, as is widely suspected, the papers confirm the claim of one of the defendant's, Paul Grecian, that he was reporting directly to the secret service while exporting fuse machinery to Jordan. The goods were shipped on to Iraq.

The Lord Chief Justice also ruled that the certificates and relevant papers would be made available to Sir Richard Scott, who is investigating the extent of official knowledge of illegal arms shipments to Iraq.

Sir Richard's inquiry was prompted by the prosecution of three businessmen involved working for Matrix Churchill. They were acquitted after gagging orders were lifted which suppressed disclosure of documents vital to their defence.

The case of Ordtec, a military engineering company, is potentially more explosive. In this instance, three executives of the company - Paul Grecian, Bryan Mason and Stuart Blackledge - and a transport supplier, Colin Phillips, pleaded guilty in 1992 when told that documents would not be made available during their trial because of government prohibitions.

In a plea bargain, three were given suspended prison sentences and one fined. It is these documents that the Appeal Court has now insisted are disclosed ahead of the full appeal hearing, which starts next week.

"There is a very substantial amount of disclosure," the Lord Chief Justice said. "Most of the documents are being disclosed, subject to redactions (censorship) - a word that is new to me ... the guts of most of it is there. There are some security documents which are to be given to you by way of summary ... we are satisfied that these are fair summaries."

He added that the material was for use in connection with the proceedings and, apparently referring to the prospect of leaks to the media, warned appellants that the papers could not be retained after the appeal had been concluded.

Customs, which is prosecuting the case, said it would aim to provide the documents to the appellants by this afternoon. The total number of disputed papers fills about two thirds of a large ring binder. The Lord Chief Justice also ordered that evidence provided by two individuals, identified as Y and Z, be provided to the defence. The individuals, who are thought to be security service personnel or informers, gave this evidence in confidence to the Scott Inquiry.

Lord Taylor said that the two people would not be identified in the released documents.

The Ordtec appellants have already received some documents from Customs. These are believed to show that the Ministry of Defence knew it was allowing a far greater volume of arms exports to Jordan - a known conduit to Iraq - than the country could have required.