UK drops charges against leaks of secret Iraq warnings


London : A Foreign Office official accused of leaking confidential documents to the British media, warning that the Iraq war was fuelling Muslim extremism, was cleared Wednesday after charges against him were suddenly dropped.

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Derek Pasquill was alleged to have breached the Official Secrets Act, by leaking details about the government’s attitude to secret CIA rendition flights and contacts with Muslim groups that led to articles in the Observer weekly and New Statesman magazine.

But prosecutors told the judge at the Old Bailey central criminal court in London that documents to be disclosed as part of legal proceedings would have undermined its case that the leaks were damaging.

New Statesman’s editor, John Kampfner, hailed the decision to drop charges as “a spectacular and astonishing victory for freedom of the press”.

“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,” Kampfner said.

The 48-year-old official was charged on six counts last September, following his arrest and subsequent suspension from his job at the beginning of 2006 after articles appeared in the two publications August 2005 and January 2006.

The reports included that the Foreign Office had secretly warned the Iraq war was fuelling Muslim extremism in Britain and revealed government efforts to engage with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

But according to the Guardian newspaper Wednesday, the Foreign Office said Pasquill could still be subjected face in-house disciplinary action.

“It is important that the necessary confidentiality of government information is protected and the leaking of any official documents is therefore absolutely contrary to the good business of government,” a Foreign Office spokesman was quoted saying.