The case against a Foreign Office civil servant accused of leaking documents to the New Statesman and the Observer about government policy on rendition and on radical Islam has been dropped.
Derek Pasquill, 48, had faced six charges under the Official Secrets Act over allegations he had passed documents about government contacts with some extremist Islamic groups.
His actions had also enabled exposure of British acquiescence in the secret and illegal “rendition” by the US of terrorist suspects in a New Statesman exclusive by political editor Martin Bright Rendition – the cover-up
NS editor John Kampfner said: “This is a spectacular and astonishing victory, not just for the New Statesman and the Observer, but for freedom of the press in the United Kingdom.
“This was a misguided and malicious prosecution, particularly given that a number of Government ministers privately acknowledged from the outset that the information provided to us by Derek Pasquill had been in the public interest and was responsible in large part for changing Government policy for the good in terms of extraordinary rendition and policy towards radical Islam.”
On day one of the trial at the Old Bailey, all the charges were dropped in what will be seen as a massive government climbdown.
Prosecutors told an Old Bailey judge internal Foreign Office documents disclosed during the legal process would have undermined the prosecution case that the leaks were damaging.
The issue had become something of a cause célèbre in the media as Mr Pasquill’s actions were perceived to coincide with the same change of policy he was advocating.
When officials managed to lose the private records of 25 million individuals receiving child benefit some commentators poured scorn over the idea Mr Pasquill should be prosecuted.
In the event he was suspended from his job in early 2006 and forced to wait 18 months before he was charged only to find, on day one of the trial, the case was dropped.
Mr Kampfner said: “This is a huge story, but also a great victory for free speech. Most of all, it brings to an end two years of terrible stress for Mr Pasquill.”
Julian Knowles, defending, told the court if the disclosed Foreign Office documents had been released earlier, it would have saved Mr Pasquill the stress of a 20-month Special Branch investigation.