With the Metropolitan Police launching a Proper Leak Inquiry after someone made the contents of confidential cables from the UK’s Ambassador to the US available to mercenary hack Isabel Oakeshott - which then appeared in the Mail on Sunday last weekend - the question that has been asked of several newspapers in recent history was being asked again. Would that source’s identity remain a secret?
After Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu openly brandished the Official Secrets Act 1989 as he confirmed that the Met was now playing Hunt The Mole, minds were becoming focused across the Fourth Estate. Protests were made about the freedom of the press, although what this really means is that rather a lot of hacks suddenly realised that the OSA 1989 contains the ominous caveat “There is no public interest defence”.
So if they get caught with The Cables, or anything else covered by the OSA, they’re nicked. How will Ms Oakeshott react when the proverbial feeling of the collar occurs, then? Is she prepared to do porridge for her principles? After all, she did say that a family could live on a bag of the stuff for a whole week. Seriously, though, the signs are not good.
As the Telegraph told in 2003, “In 1984, The Guardian was sent photocopies of two classified documents about the deployment of US cruise missiles in Britain. When the Government demanded them back in order to establish the identity of the mole, the paper eventually produced them. Sarah Tisdall, the young clerk who had sent them, was then prosecuted and subsequently jailed. That incident caused lasting unhappiness at The Guardian, where some journalists argued that the editor should have defied the court order and gone to jail himself rather than betray the source”. Even the Guardian.
Maybe not anonymous for long
And Ms Oakeshott? On her involvement in her source Vicky Pryce ending up in jail, Press Gazette noted “she agreed to give a statement to police but was ‘horrified’ at the request from police for private correspondence between herself and Pryce - the extensive material which later emerged in court. She wrote: ‘The Sunday Times put up a vigorous fight in court. But eventually we were forced by the judge to give up the correspondence, along with copies of our written agreement with Vicky.’” Her source got shopped, whoever did it.
Also, Ms Oakeshott blamed the Mail on Sunday, which on that occasion was not the paper she was writing for. She went on to tell Andrew Neil in a Sunday Politics interview “We didn’t know the risks because we are not criminal lawyers and I felt absolutely that I had a moral obligation to her to make it clear that there was a risk to her in running the story. I fulfilled that obligation.” Her source still ended up in jail, though.
Moreover, after the Huawei leak recently, as a result of which Gavin “stupid boy” Williamson was sacked by Theresa May, there were demands to know whether the OSA had been breached. Our free and fearless press didn’t leap to Williamson’s defence then. Would they rally to Ms Oakeshott if it was found the act had been broken with her story?
Indeed, would her source be defended? If she failed to defend Vicky Pryce, what chance does her informant have if the cops are waving the OSA around? That would be zero.
Right now, I don’t believe that Isabel Oakeshott will, when push comes to shove, go to jail in order to protect the cable leaker. Whoever it is, they’d be stupid to believe otherwise.
Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by adding to its Just Giving page at