Two top secret papers about al-Qaeda and on the state of Iraq’s security forces were left on a London Waterloo to Surrey train yesterday, found by another passenger, and passed to the BBC (BBC News Story). Serious enough in itself.
Only today in Westminster MPs were voting on whether to extend detention without trial to 42 days in terror cases, a vote the government managed to win despite a rebellion by 36 Labour MPs*. The earliest record of the result I can find is this from Reuters at 1829 BST, and then just over half an hour later the news broke about the papers having been lost – here this Daily Mail article is the earliest I can find, timed at 1903 BST. Even if the actual timings were a bit closer than that I think it’s inconceivable that any backbencher knew of this story when they went to the voting lobbies.
Now there could be some formal reason this news was held back (the start of the police investigation for example), but would the result of the 42 day detention vote have been any different if the news had broken this morning? Would a day of news filled with questions about the administrative competence of the UK’s approach to terrorism have galvanized more MPs to vote against the bill? The person in the train handed the papers to the BBC – I wonder whether the reaction would have been to publish more swiftly if, say, the individual had gone to Sky News?
Maybe I’m thinking too negatively (and I’m happy to be put right in the comments) but this all looks like an all too handy timing coincidence.
* – very happy to see my old MP Paul Flynn stuck to his principles (list of the rebels here) and opposed the bill. It’s because of people like him I stay in the Labour Party.
I have quite a problem with the decision of the finder to pass these papers to the BBC, rather than back to the government (I would guess via the police).
They appear to have realised their general significance (if not necessarily in detail).
Why did they think that further publicising material potentially endangering the nation was a reasonable thing to do?