London’s police force admitted Wednesday it was wrong to invoke a harsh secrecy law to force The Guardian newspaper to reveal the source for its reports on the phone hacking scandal.
The Metropolitan Police Service announced on Tuesday that it had dropped an application for a court order against The Guardian, which led the uncovering of hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s now-closed News of the World.
“The view I came to when I looked at the matter was that the Official Secrets Act was not an appropriate element of the application, and that was the basis of the decision to withdraw the application at this time,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mark Simmonds told the BBC.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger welcomed the decision to drop the application, but criticised police for saying that they would still pursue the investigation into the alleged leaks by police staff.
“They should just stop that,” Rusbridger told the BBC.
“These are reporters who are just doing their ordinary business. If you are going to criminalise reporters who talk to public officials on an unauthorised basis, you would be locking up most journalists in Britain.”
The left-leaning Guardian revealed in July that the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked into.
The story led to a public outcry and Murdoch’s News International closed the News of the World shortly afterwards, while Scotland Yard’s chief and another senior officer resigned over their links to Murdoch’s empire.
On Friday the force said it had applied for a production order against The Guardian and its reporter Amelia Hill over claims that a senior detective leaked the information to the paper.
It said the application was “in order to seek evidence of offences connected to potential breaches relating to Misconduct in Public Office and the Official Secrets Act”.
But on Tuesday the force backed down, saying that after meeting with the director of public prosecutions and taking further legal advice it had “decided not to pursue, at this time, the application for production orders.”