Letter: Tapping and terror

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Sir: As a former Director General of the Security Service (MI5) and the Chair Designate of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, I write concerning the use of intercepts in UK courts, in response to your report of a recent interview with the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald ("DPP takes on Clarke over phone-tap evidence", 4 February).

I have long been enthusiastic about exploring the possibility of the removal of the bar on the use of intercept. But I am also concerned that we do not jeopardise the close working relationships between intelligence services and law enforcement agencies which could be damaged if sensitive techniques were not adequately protected.

The DPP is quoted in your report as believing that "there is no reason why evidence from phone taps should not be used in court". From your account it is difficult to determine the context of these remarks. If the DPP was referring to the legal technicalities and the practicalities of using such evidence in the courts, I certainly would not wish to contest his professional judgement; indeed the Government's recent exploration of the issue developed a model which it was thought would satisfy due process requirements.

But the legal issues represent only part of the picture, and in making their judgements on the recent review, ministers have had to take into account other points and the views of those currently involved with interception both inside and outside government.

For my part, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that due to the changing nature of telephone technology and the importance, during a period of change, of not sensitising terrorists and serious criminals to particular capabilities that will be important for the future, there are indeed good reasons not to remove the bar on the use of intercept in our courts. Moreover, I believe this to be the view of most of my intelligence and enforcement practitioner colleagues. If the DPP was reported accurately as believing otherwise, I must beg to differ.



Serious Organised Crime Agency

London SW1