Daily Archives: February 12, 2006


Murder in Samarkand: The FCO prepares for legal action

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office seem determined to stop me publishing my book. They are threatening four grounds of legal action:

a) Libel

b) Crown Copyright

c) Breach of Confidence

d) Official Secrets Act

The first point is that plainly this is an attempt to suppress the book and prevent publication by scaring me (and the publishers) with the threat of legal action. This will not work, as neither of us scare easily.

Let us then consider each of these proposed legal actions in turn ‘

Libel

I am confident that the book is entirely true, and thus does not libel anybody. The FCO is likely nonetheless to try to run a vexatious libel action by one of its staff named in the book. The book cannot be sold in the UK during such action, and this is the most likely way they will attempt to in effect ban the book by using millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in an endless court process

Crown Copyright

Following the publication of Christopher Meyer’s book, Jack Straw said that in future the government would actively consider the use of Crown copyright to prevent such further publications. This is a stretching of the copyright law, and the argument goes like this:

When I was in Uzbekistan, I was employed by the Crown, so the intellectual property in anything I learnt belongs to the Crown, just as the copyright of anything created by a Microsoft software designer belongs to Microsoft.

There are three problems in this. First, I don’t think my contract said any of that, while I bet the Microsoft contract does.

The second problem is that they are claiming by book is untrue and inaccurate. They are lying, but that is their claim. If they want to maintain that claim, how can they possibly argues that the Crown has copyright over things which are fictitious and did not happen while I was in their employ? The notion is absurd.

The third problem is much more fundamental. If this applies to me, it would also apply to every other employee of the crown, including not just Christopher Meyer but also, for example, Tony Blair. Now we know that Tony Blair has obtained a huge mortgage on a house based on a guaranteed advance for his memoirs of his time as Prime Minister. Now under the government’s new argument, Blair has sold something that didn’t belong to him at all, but belonged to the Crown.

The FCO will argue that it is for the Crown Prerogative to decide when to exercise Crown Copyright and when to let it go. In other words, they would sue me and not Tony Blair. And who exercises the Crown Prerogative? Why, the Prime Minister, of course.

So let us be clear about this. By delving about in the most remote and arcane backwaters of Britain’s unwritten constitution, the government is seeking to undermine freedom of speech and claim the power arbitrarily to ban books. If this argument were accepted by the courts, the government could ban books under Crown Prerogative without having to give any explanation or reason as to why they decided to ban a ‘Dissident’ book but allow their own propaganda.

It is essential to fight this completely undemocratic development.

Breach of Confidence

The FCO attempted to frame me with false disciplinary allegations, and leaked the details of those allegations to the press. Plainly they had broken the relationship of confidence between us. Furthermore I believe I am revealing illegal action by the government, breaking both international and domestic law by being complicit in torture.

In these circumstances a ‘whistleblower’ is protected from this kind of legal harassment. There is no way that the government would win this before the European Court.

Official Secrets Act

This is, of course, the ultimate attempt to scare us by threatening prison against free speech. The large majority of official documents quoted in this book were released to me under the Data Protection Act. There are no other official documents which have not already been released all over the web. I am confident this is bluster ‘ to ask a jury to convict someone for revealing government malpractice is not sensible, and I would love to see Jack Straw in that witness box.

This is an important fight. We have a government committed to illegal war abroad and an attack across the whole spectrum of civil liberties at home. After banning books comes burning books. If at some stage of the fight they want to send me to prison, I am prepared. We have to show that we will not be cowed, and that the truth cannot be suppressed. Frankly, if the government think they can bury this book, they are even barmier than I thought.

Craig

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Declaration and Publication: The Stagg Letter and The Final Rejoinder

Click here to view the a PDF file of the original letter

9 February 2006

Mr Richard Stagg

Director General Corporate Affairs

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

London

Dear Dickie,

Thank you for your letter of 8 February about my forthcoming book, Murder in Samarkand. Let me respond to the points which you have made.

Firstly, allow me to note that, over a period of many months, you have consulted exhaustively with all the FCO staff, past and present, named in the book.

Let me then relate that to the question of libel. In your letter you state that you are ‘Also advised that there are a number of passages in your book which could well ground actions for defamation.’

Let me be quite plain. I have no desire to libel or defame anybody. So I urge you now to disclose to me those passages in the book which you have been advised may be defamatory, so that I may consider if I believe there is that danger, and remove or amend any accidental defamation.

I make this offer in all good faith, that we may avoid the publication of defamation. If you choose not to take up this fair offer, and subsequently the FCO or its employees attempt to block publication through court actions for defamation, it will be evident that this is not an attempt to avoid defamation, but a ruse to block publication of the book as a whole through vexatious and unnecessary litigation.

I repeat I have the strongest desire not to defame anybody. I know the terrible mental anguish that unjust defamation can cause. You will recall that I was myself outrageously defamed and accused, quite groundlessly, of appalling things like being an alcoholic and offering visas in exchange for sex. Of course, in my case it was the FCO which was defaming me. The complete story of why and how this happened is in fact the substance of my book. Which is why you are so keen to identify and reserve possible legal avenues for the government to block publication.

It is not falsehood which scares you, but truth.

It is plain from your letter that you object to the whole concept of my publishing this account. Nowhere in the months of negotiation between us to date did you propose any such fundamental objections as now surface in your letter. Rather you asked for a series of specific amendments, the vast majority of which I made. I am sadly reinforced in my view that this lengthy process was an effort on your part to stall publication, rather than a discussion in good faith.

On the specific points you raise, you claim that the publication on my website of material in September caused operational damage to Research Analysts. There has been numerous and frequent correspondence and personal contact between us since September. I am puzzled as to why you mention this now and have not done so before. The material in question featured on my website for 24 hours and has not done so since.

You requested me to remove material from the book which you believed was misleading on the role of Research Analysts and could cause operational difficulty. I immediately removed that passage from the text in its entirety. The only point still at dispute, is that I have in the text that a member of Research Analysts told me that people in that Department were in tears over pressure put on them to go along with claims of Iraqi WMD. You tell me that the officer, still in your employ, now denies telling me this. I have noted in the book that I say he told me this, and he apparently says he did not tell me this. People can draw their own conclusions. I cannot see why this is such a huge problem for you, or would lead you to want to ban a book.

Similarly, I formed a strong impression that the British Embassy in Tashkent was pretty inactive before my arrival. You say that is not your impression. Well, fine. That seems to me well within the range of views that should be able freely to be published in a democracy without political suppression.

I note your point on Crown Copyright. Again, I am genuinely concerned to act in a legal fashin and I should be most grateful if you would explain to me how my book differs from Christopher Meyer’s in this regard.

You told me that you had personally played a major role within the FCO in supervising the preparation of the ‘Dirty Dossier’ on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. I am afraid that one consequence is, that when you try to lecture me on truth, I am sorely tempted to laugh at you. I have lost my livelihood through all this. You have lost something infinitely more precious.

Finally, you threaten me with the Official Secrets Act. I am confident I am not breaking it. And if you really want to ask a jury of twelve honest citizens to send me to prison for campaigning against torture, good luck to you.

Yours Sincerely,

Craig J Murray

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