Surveillance chief to probe MP 'bugging'

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The Chief Surveillance Commissioner Sir Christopher Rose is to carry out an inquiry into allegations that a conversation between Labour MP Sadiq Khan and an inmate in Woodhill Prison was bugged, the Government confirmed today.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said the "fact-finding" inquiry would be into whether any form of surveillance took place at Woodhill Prison, Milton Keynes, in 2005 and 2006 and, if so, who authorised it.

In a Commons statement, Mr Straw said Sir Christopher hoped to complete the inquiry in two weeks and he would make a further statement to MPs on its findings.

According to weekend press reports, police listened in to private conversations between Mr Khan and a man awaiting deportation to the US for trial over allegedly running a website to raise funds for Chechen separatists and Afghanistan's Taliban.

The Sunday Times said Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist squad eavesdropped on conversations between Mr Khan and Babar Ahmad at Woodhill Prison in 2005 and 2006 using a microphone hidden in a table.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said Mr Straw, who insisted no minister had played any part in authorising the alleged bugging, had set out what should happen, rather than what had happened.

Mr Davis said it was clear that the alleged action was in breach of the spirit of the Wilson doctrine, which precludes the tapping of MPs' telephones.

Mr Straw said he learned of the allegations on Saturday afternoon and decided on the inquiry after discussing the matter with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

He said authorisations were not granted "unless by law they are necessary for the detection or prevention of crime or the protection of national security" and the information could not be obtained by other means.

Any authorisation for interception of phone calls required a warrant personally signed by the relevant Secretary of State.

The regime for intrusive surveillance operations by the police and other domestic law enforcement agencies was different, with a "hierarchy of approvals" depending on the nature of the operation.

In the case of eavesdropping operations authorisation was required by a Chief Police officer. Ministers played no part in these authorisations.

"Where any operation involves the use of premises of HM Prison Service, neither the service, nor the Minister concerned are asked for any additional authorisation for the particular operation."

Mr Straw said the aim was to conduct the inquiry "as quickly as possible consistent with the thoroughness required".

The Wilson doctrine had been endorsed by successive Prime Ministers including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Mr Davis said: "You have told us what should happen - not what did happen.

"You've also confirmed that this alleged action was in breach of the spirit of the Wilson doctrine.

"By now you should be able to answer the question who authorised this. Was it a minister? Was it a policeman? If a policeman, at what rank was it authorised?

"In what ways did the authorities fail to follow proper procedure. Were the breaches of the applicable protocol accidental, or deliberate and premeditated?

"Was it known in advance that an MP would be bugged and if so was an explicit decision made not to switch off the recording equipment?"

Mr Davis questioned whether breaches to the procedures were "accidental or a deliberate and pre-meditated short circuit of the system".

The shadow home secretary said yesterday he had written to the Prime Minister informing him of a suspected breach of the Wilson Doctrine - but Downing Street said it could find no record of receiving the letter.

Mr Davis said there would be "lessons to learn" from the case and the Government would need to establish whether it was an isolated incident.

But there was an issue about what would happen if an MP did become implicated in a terror plot because the Wilson doctrine was "silent" on that possibility.

He added: "This case has exposed two very serious risks. The first is that it is possible for the executive to ride roughshod over the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents - the very basis of parliamentary democracy.

"Second - that the necessary authorisation for secret anti-terrorist activity may be being ignored."

Wilson himself, Mr Davis said, recognised that there was a "delicate balance" between the needs of security and democracy.

Mr Davis told Mr Straw: "It's a duty of Government to find and maintain that balance, it's your job in the next two weeks to re-establish that balance."

Mr Straw said it was not known whether the allegations were true, but insisted no ministers had given approval.

He said: "In so far as there was any authorisation of anything in this area, no ministers played any part in these authorisations."