But minister says senior official who lost papers self-reported incident
An investigation into secret government documents found at a bus stop in Kent could examine whether espionage played a role in their disappearance.
Answering questions about the mislaid MoD files in the Commons on Monday, defence minister Jeremy Quin confirmed the ministry’s dedicated police force had opened an investigation into the incident.
Mr Quin attributed the files’ loss to a senior official, who he said had self-reported the episode after the papers went missing.
Asked by Labour shadow defence secretary John Healey whether espionage had been ruled out as an option, Mr Quin said: “This is a matter for the investigation but I would emphasise to the House that the individual did self-report when he became aware that the documents had been mislaid.”
The official’s access to sensitive material has been suspended while the investigation continues, the minister has confirmed.
Mr Quin told the Commons: “The documents lost included a paper that was secret – UK eyes only. The documents were found by a member of the public at a bus stop in Kent, the member of the public then handed the papers to the BBC.
“The Ministry of Defence has launched a full investigation. The papers have now been recovered from the BBC and are being assessed as I speak to check that all documents missing have been recovered and what mitigation actions might be necessary.
“The investigation will look at the actions of individuals, including the printing of the papers through to the management of the reported incident and at the underlying processes for printing and carriage of papers in defence.”
Mr Quin said the investigation is expected to be completed “shortly”, adding: “While the investigation is being conducted, the individual’s access to sensitive material has been suspended.”
Some Conservative MPs criticised the BBC for reporting the documents and said they should have been handed back to the government.
Dr Julian Lewis, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, accused the BBC of having “selectively” quoted from the papers and said the government should check whether the BBC had “paid any money for the acquisition of these documents from someone who ought to have handed then to the police straight away”.
MP Bob Stewart said he was “rather saddened that the BBC saw fit to publish information that was secret rather than actually pass it straight to the police or refer it to the ministry of defence” he added that this “shows poorly on the BBC”.
Responding, Mr Quin said that “the original fault” lay with the documents being lost in the first place.
“I have to say that although I would have preferred the BBC to have handed them over immediately and not made reference to them, they have a job to do, and I also recognise that they have behaved responsibly and they have handed the documents back into the department,” he added.