The credibility of the Security Services was severely damaged yesterday after it emerged that a senior judge had suggested MI5 officers could not be trusted to tell the truth.
In a ruling that raises questions about the conduct and regulation of MI5, the Court of Appeal said officers had suppressed evidence of their alleged involvement in the torture of Binyam Mohamed while he was imprisoned by America.
The judicial criticism was made fully public yesterday after The Independent and other media groups successfully challenged a decision by the court to remove a paragraph from a draft judgment because of an objection raised by the Government.
Mr Mohamed had gone to court to try to prove British complicity in his torture and secure disclosure of evidence that might help win his case. The media supported him in his quest for the release of the material. He says he was tortured in Pakistan in 2002 while held by the US, with the knowledge of MI5.
Yesterday the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, agreed to restore the original judgment although he narrowed his criticism to Mr Mohamed's case. In the restored judgment the judge accused officers of having a "dubious record" over the "coercive interrogation" of the former Guantanamo Bay detainee. Lord Neuberger said some officers had been less than frank about what they knew about Mr Mohamed's ill-treatment.
The paragraph in question explains how MI5 had stressed to a parliamentary committee that it "operated in a culture that respected human rights and that coercive techniques were alien to the service's general ethics, methodology and training".
Lord Neuberger's final paragraph says: "Yet in this case that does not seem to have been true: as the evidence shows, some Security Services officials appear to have a dubious record relating to actual involvement, and frankness about any such involvement, with the mistreatment of Mr Mohamed when he was held at the behest of US officials."
The judge then added that while the good faith of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was not in doubt, a question mark now hung over some of the legal statements he had made, based on MI5 advice. The judge's published criticism yesterday led to calls for a public inquiry into the security service's role in torture.
Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the all-party group on rendition, said the case showed that MI5 had also misled MPs: "The [Commons] Intelligence and Security Committee has been misled by the Secret Services on their knowledge of Binyam Mohamed's mistreatment.
"Every bit as troubling, the passages released yesterday reveal concern among senior judges that Foreign Secretary David Miliband may also have been misled by the Security Services. This would render the Foreign Secretary's assurances on rendition wholly unreliable."
The shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said a "cloud had been cast over the intelligence services" and the Government needed to do "everything possible to restore public confidence".
But the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling. He said the UK's security and intelligence services did "outstanding work" and the Government "totally rejected" any suggestion of a systemic problem in respecting human rights or "any interest in suppressing or withholding information".Reuse content