Senior civil servant, Richard Jackson, pleaded guilty to negligence at City of Westminster Magistrates Court yesterday. The 37 year old Cabinet Office official, was fined £2,500 and will have to pay £250 costs.
Jackson was charged under clause 8.1 of the Official Secrets Act, which deals with safeguarding information.
The court was told that Jackson, who had taken the documents home by accident, was under ‘Extreme pressure’ and was “physically sick” when he found they had gone missing. Prosecutor Deborah Walsh responded saying “There’s ample evidence that Mr Jackson failed to take such care to prevent the unauthorised disclosure of the documents as somebody in his position may reasonably be expected to take.”
A member of public found the highly sensitive Whitehall intelligence files relating to al-Qaida and Iraq on a service from London’s Waterloo to Surrey on 10 June. The lost documents were then passed on to BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.
One of the documents was believed to be a seven-page report by the joint intelligence committee entitled “Al-Qaida vulnerabilities”, the other believed to contained an assessment of Iraq’s security forces commissioned from the committee by the MoD,.
It would seem that there was not one, but a catalogue of errors in June:
Firstly top secret documents were accidently take home, accidentally!. Documents stored in a bright orange folder to identity them as top secret documents, accidentally taken home!
Then having discovered the documents had been accidentally removed, they were returned the following day, via public transport. Knowing the seriousness of the documents they were then left on the train. Presumably knowing he was carrying these documents, Jackson didn’t even both to check he still had them when exiting the train.
Finally having discovered his mistake, he delayed reporting them missing, or trying to locate the documents, as his immediate line managers were abroad.
To make matters even more complicated it would seem that Jackson didn’t even work for the Cabinet Office at the time the documents were lost, but was on secondment from The Ministry of Defence.
Obviously mr Jackson pleaded guilty and was ultimately to blame here, but you also have to question as to whether the system for the storage and handling of such documents key to nation security is fundamentally flawed.