Two charged over leak of Blair-Bush conversation on conflict

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Indy Politics

A civil servant has been charged with trying to leak a transcript of a confidential and controversial conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush about the Iraq war.

A document containing a transcript of a conversation between the two leaders was sent to a rebel Labour MP, allegedly in an attempt to cause Mr Blair embarrassment over Iraq.

But the MP returned the document to Downing Street, who called in the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch to investigate.

The transcript of the conversation, understood to have taken place in a face-to-face meeting in the US, is believed to reveal that Mr Blair disagreed with Mr Bush about aspects of the war in Iraq.

The document also revealed details that, if disclosed, could have endangered the lives of British troops.

A civil servant at the Cabinet Office is accused of sending the document to a former researcher for a Labour MP. The civil servant and the researcher were charged yesterday under the Official Secrets Act with unlawfully obtaining a confidential document about sensitive international relations.

The MP, Tony Clarke, who had rebelled on the issue of Iraq, claims he immediately contacted the authorities when, as he alleges, his researcher gave him the document in April or May last year. Mr Clarke, who lost his seat of Northampton South at the general election earlier this year, told The Independent: "My researcher was worried about the content of the report and did entirely the right thing.

"Having read the document, I realised it was highly sensitive and it was clear the lives of British troops would have been under threat if it had been made public. As a consequence, I placed it in the hands of the authorities."

David Keogh, 49, a communications officer at the Cabinet Office, is accused of sending the document to Mr Clarke's researcher, Leo O'Connor, 42, between 16 April and 28 May 2004.

It is understood Mr Keogh had been on secondment at the Cabinet Office from the Foreign Office at the time of the alleged offence. Mr O'Connor will be accused of giving the document to his MP at his constituency office in Northampton.

In August last year, Mr O'Connor was arrested at an address in Northamptonshire in connection with investigations into alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1989. He was later bailed. Mr Keogh was held the following month. The two men could be jailed for up to two years if they are found guilty.

Both men were released on police bail yesterday to appear at Bow Street magistrates' court on 29 November.

Mr Keogh, from Northampton, is charged under section 3 of the Act which makes it an offence if a crown servant, without lawful authority, makes a damaging disclosure of information or a document relating to international relations.

Mr O'Connor is charged under section 5 of the Act, which makes it illegal to have come into the possession of government information, or a document from a crown servant, and if that person discloses it without lawful authority.

Mr Clarke, a former left-wing councillor, chaired the Northampton Town Football Supporters' Trust. He entered Parliament for the normally safe Tory seat of Northampton South in 1997, unseating the Tory deputy speaker Michael Morris.

He was a low-profile figure, although he rebelled against the whips 11 times during his two terms in Parliament. He served on the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which scrutinised the work of the Northern Ireland Office between 1999 and the 2005 election.