Whistleblower walks free after charge is dropped

GCHQ case collapses over leaked 'dirty tricks' memo
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A former intelligence officer walked free from the Old Bailey today after an accusation of disclosing information in the run-up to the Iraq war was dramatically dropped.

The Crown Prosecution Service refused to go into the reasons why, after nearly a year, it had decided to offer no evidence against Katharine Gun.

But both Ms Gun, 29, and her legal representatives demanded explanations of the circumstances leading up to today's about-turn.

Her counsel, Ben Emmerson QC, said: "Katharine Gun is entitled to know - and, perhaps more importantly, the public is entitled to know."

Ms Gun, 29, of Moor End Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, had been accused of leaking a memo on an alleged American "dirty tricks" campaign.

She was arrested in March last year and in June she was sacked from her job as a translator at the Government Communications Headquarters, the security service's main monitoring centre.

In November she was charged under the Official Secrets Act, accused of disclosing security and intelligence information.

But another three months passed before the CPS finally informed her lawyers yesterday that the case was to be dropped.

She had been accused of disclosing a request allegedly from a US National Security Agency official requesting help from British intelligence to tap the telephones of UN Security Council delegates in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Ms Gun said at the time: "Any disclosures were justified because they exposed illegality by the US, who tried to subvert our security services."

She left court today saying "I have no regrets and I would do it again."

She had no idea why the charge had been dropped. "But I would like to know why," she added.

Ms Gun's solicitor John Welch added: "It is quite appalling that a whistleblower who had acted in good conscience should have been threatened with two years' imprisonment for exposing that the American Government had asked our Government to do something which was illegal and would have undermined the deliberations of the United Nations."

But the Crown refused to give a fuller explanation of why it had changed its mind – in spite of being continually pressed to do so in court by Ms Gun's barrister.

After the judge formally entered a not guilty verdict, Mr Emmerson said he was "bound to raise issues about the way this case has been conducted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

He said: "Katharine Gun was arrested on March 5 last year following the publication in The Observer newspaper of the contents of an e-mail which she admits having disclosed, having received it through her employment at GCHQ.

"After that, eight months passed during which consideration was given by the Attorney General whether she should be prosecuted."

He went on: "On November 13 she was charged. Her first appearance was in magistrates' court on November 27. It is her first appearance here today. Last Friday, an article appeared in The Guardian newspaper indicating that the case was to be dropped today.

"Apparently, it was sourced to sources close to the prosecution. Those who instruct me rang the CPS and were told it was not possible to confirm that was the Crown's intention.

"Yesterday, on February 24, the defence served on the prosecution a document setting out her defence and making requests for disclosure certain diplomatic communications and certain items of Government legal advice.

"A call was received yesterday afternoon from the CPS indicating a decision had been taken to drop the case. There are two issues requiring serious examination."

Mr Emmerson told the judge the first issue requiring examination was "whether, by whom and why the decision was leaked to The Guardian six days before it was communicated to the defence.

"If a decision was made last Friday, why was it not communicated to the defence and if it had not been taken last Friday, what has happened in between?"

He pointed out that eight months had elapsed between Ms Gun's arrest and the decision to charge her, and another three months since she was actually charged.

Mr Ellison refused to be drawn, apart from saying: "You will understand that consideration had been given to what is appropriate for the Crown to say. It is not appropriate to give further reasons.

"I am reluctant to go further than that unless the court requires I do."

The Recorder of London, Judge Michael Hyam, asked whether there was "any form of inquiry which I would be entitled to make?"

He was told by Mr Ellison that apart from making an order for the defence costs, there was not - as the Crown had offered no evidence.

The judge freed Ms Gun from the dock where she had spent less than 30 minutes after months of waiting.

As she left court, wearing a grey trouser suit and pink top, she said: "I am absolutely delighted and extremely relieved."