SECURITY BREACH – TERRY SCRIVEN & BEN LEAPMAN – 22 July 2008
Dr Julian Lewis: This is a rather personal speech, and I apologise for that. Shortly after it became clear that we had won the campaign to prevent MPs' home addresses from being disclosed as a result of future Freedom of Information requests, an hon. Labour lady Member who had suffered badly from the disclosure of her address approached me with a warning. She said: "Be careful, Julian, you will be targeted next for what you have done."
I had expected from the outset that by organising this campaign, I would inevitably sacrifice some of my privacy by drawing attention to my own electoral arrangements; but I spelt them out in detail in the Whitsun Adjournment Debate on 22 May, explaining how I have always registered under a nom de plume for security reasons, by arrangement with the Electoral Registration Officer.
On 4 July, the Chief Executive of New Forest District Council, Dave Yates, wrote me a friendly letter in his capacity as Electoral Registration Officer, saying that he wanted me to reconsider my practice of doing that, which had recently come to his attention. That was because the arrangement I had made to do that every year since 1996 had been superseded 12 months ago, by a new system of Anonymous Registration that needed to be counter-signed by a Chief Constable. As soon as Mr Yates supplied me with the new form, I completed it and obtained the necessary signature, and I am now anonymously registered for the next five years – although it turns out that I may have been wasting my time.
I asked Mr Yates whether I was correct in thinking that the matter had been raised with him by Terry Scriven, a retired colonel in the Military Police who will be standing against me at the next election, and he confirmed that that was so. Mr Scriven could easily have asked me openly about this matter, but he is the sort of individual whom, unfortunately, one encounters from time to time in public life – the sort of person who smears one in the papers but rushes to shake one's hand when one meets him. He insinuates wrongdoing without having the guts openly to accuse one. His political party is irrelevant to this sort of behaviour, which I have experienced on a number of previous occasions.
Dave Yates saw no reason to deny that Mr Scriven had e-mailed him about my registration arrangements, and eventually I was sent the relevant exchanges. The first e-mail was headed: "Registration as a voter under a false name". It identified my home address in the constituency and asked who had authorised the procedure. The Chief Executive replied – I believe that he did so on 11 July – confirming that I had been registered under the nom de plume by arrangement with the previous Electoral Registration Officer for reasons of personal security, but that, as the law had changed last year, I would be using the new system in future. Mr Scriven said that he accepted that, and that should have been the end of the matter.
However, last Friday – just seven days later – my office was informed by Dave Yates and another senior Council official, Dave Atwill, that a journalist had been in touch stating that he had seen an e-mail from Dave Yates that seemed to suggest an irregularity in my registration. The journalist was none other than Ben Leapman of the Sunday Telegraph – the only participant in the Freedom of Information court case who had demanded the publication of all MPs' home addresses in order to check that we are not fiddling our expenses.
I fully accept that a newspaper is perfectly at liberty to employ any journalist it likes, although the choice of Mr Leapman by the Sunday Telegraph has a certain incongruity; it gives me the sort of feeling that Labour Members would have if the Guardian took on my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Bill Cash) or my hon. Friend, as I call him, the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) as its European Union correspondent. Unfortunately, apart from employing an anti-Conservative activist as a political journalist, the Sunday Telegraph has bought into his reckless campaign to expose MPs' addresses and has done everything it can to attack me and suppress the arguments against this.
I have reasonably broad shoulders – I would not have taken up this issue in the first place if I did not. However, one thing alone dismayed me: the fact that I knew that Terry Scriven had gratuitously included my home address in the e-mail correspondence with Dave Yates. If, as I had every reason to suspect, Mr Scriven had disclosed these e-mails to Ben Leapman, I wanted to know whether he had at least had the decency to remove my address before communicating with the one reporter in the country who had ardently campaigned for the publication of MPs' home addresses and who, it is reasonable to infer, is extremely upset at the fact that, thanks to my campaign, that will not now happen.
I therefore asked my office colleague, Mrs Di Brooks, who is sadly not a retired colonel but a rather tough-minded, former RAF non-commissioned officer, to send Mr Scriven the following e-mail:
"Dear Mr Scriven
Julian understands that you have made available to a newspaper journalist the exchange of emails between Dave Yates and yourself.
As you know, and appeared to accept, there are security reasons why Julian does not wish his home address to be made public.
Will you please confirm, as soon as possible, whether you removed the ... address from these emails before you disclosed them to a third party?"
Now all Mr Scriven needed to reply was that I was mistaken and he had not disclosed the e-mails to anyone. Alternatively, he could have admitted doing so. What he actually said was:
"Good Evening Di,
Very nice to hear from you.
I am sure Julian is aware of my security background. I support him totally in keeping the addresses of MPs, Prospective MPs and indeed Councillors [sic] addresses private and out of the public domain (this includes journalists)."
That was not exactly a direct answer to the question, so Di wrote back again:
"Dear Mr Scriven,
Two simple questions ... Have you disclosed any of the contents of any of Dave Yates's and your e-mails about Julian's address to a newspaper reporter or haven't you? A simple yes or no is all that is needed ... If the answer is yes, then did you remove the details of his home address ... or didn't you?"
Instead of getting a simple yes or no to either of those questions, she received this reply from the straight-talking colonel:
I think you need to read my mails carefully and I also think you need to think carefully about how you phrase your emails.
Finally, let us ... be clear about the role/capacity you are writing what appear to be demanding emails to me."
Such exchanges were repeated several more times, with Mr Scriven ducking and diving, dodging and weaving, but ultimately saying that he would "clear up any confusions" I might have at an event on Sunday at which we would both be present. However, he did not do that, and I handed him a very short letter which asked him to state, without further prevarication, direct answers to those two questions. He took the envelope and headed at high speed to the nearest gentlemen's toilet, where he remained for several minutes. It is conceivable that he did not open the envelope there, but I find that hard to believe. Nevertheless, he still did not answer the questions.
In the meantime, Ben Leapman had been pestering Dave Yates with phone calls at home on Friday evening, trying to stand up a story that I had behaved illegally by registering under a nom de plume. Mr Yates sent Leapman away with a flea in his ear and wrote to me yesterday saying that he is
"happy to confirm to anyone who is interested that your dealings with me and my Electoral Registration officers have been in complete good faith on all occasions."
Finally, after several more e-mails and a deadline, I received a letter this morning from Mr Scriven, who finally assured me that he did not disclose the information. He suggests that it could have been released because people had put in Freedom of Information requests to the Council and got hold of the e-mails that way. I have checked with the Council, and no such information request was made. I therefore have to rely on the Sunday Telegraph to tell me whether Ben Leapman is now in possession of my private home address, which is quite properly anonymously registered – irrespective of whether the e-mail correspondence was supplied to him by Terry Scriven, phantom FOI requesters, Father Christmas or little green men from Mars.
[NOTE: The Sunday Telegraph decided not to publish the Leapman–Scriven story. For later developments, click here, and for Scriven's disgraceful attempt to have Julian investigated by the Police, click here.]
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