Much has been said about the injunctions, or attempted injunctions, against the BBC and Guardian, to prevent the publication of information relating to Lord Levy’s alleged attempt to pervert the course of justice in the cash for honours enquiry.
For the benefit of bemused non-British readers, in the UK the media are not allowed to publish the details of any potential evidence in a criminal trial, in case the jury are prejudiced by media reports before they enter the jury box.
Most other countries see no need for such restrictions. I have mixed thoughts about the system, though like all media restriction it is in danger of being made redundant by the internet and other new technologies. It is no longer a question of controlling a handful of presses and broadcast channels.
But what is undeniable is that in Britain today there is no attempt at fairness in the application of this principle. Senior New Labour figures are entitled to the full protection of this law. Is the same consideration applied to Muslims accused of terrorist offences?
The answer is a resounding no. Instead we receive a constant drip-feed of supposedly terrifying information, from police, Home Office and security services, sometimes open and sometimes just named as, for example, “Police sources”. So in the case of the so-called “liquid bomb plot”, such sources were only too keen to tell us under whose bed suicide videos had been found, near whose home were bottles containing hydrogen peroxide, who had a map pf Afghanistan, and a whole welter of such information. This was spun all over our front pages for a fortnight.
Where was Lord Goldsmith and his concern for the right to a fair, unprejudiced trial then?
I heard Louise Christian, a lawyer involved in the defence of a number of such cases, speak on precisely this point in January. She recalled a local newspaper printing a front page photo of two of her clients the day before their trial, with the banner headline “Terror sisters”. That is not permitted under our law – but it is one of the many protections of the rights of citizens that no longer in practice applies to Muslims in the UK.
Meanwhile, I am stunned that last week Sir Ian Blair, head of the Metropolitan police, shared the top table at a Jewish community dinner with Lord Levy. Blair is the head of the police force that has arrested Levy, removed his passport and, from the actions of Lord Goldsmith this week in seeking to suppress information that may be used at the trial, is likely to charge him shortly with an imprisonable offence.
It cannot possibly be right for the head of the Metropolitan Police to be hobnobbing socially with a prominent alleged criminal. And this is the ultra-sensitive Ian Blair, whose concern for social form is so acute that he demanded an offical report when a female Muslim police officer refused to shake hands with him. The report presumably explained that many Muslim females do not shake hands with men.
Ian Blair and Levy are of course both close members of the Prime Minister’s social and political circle. It is by no means the first time that they have dined together. In July 2005 the two of them ran up a ‘140 ($270) bill at a London restaurant, which Sir Ian Blair charged to the taxpayer. There was no investigation into Levy at the time, but his being dead sleazy was hardly a secret.
Ian Blair’s explanation of that charge to the taxpayer was that Levy was a representative of the Jewish community. Now, there are many eminent and worthwhile people in London to whom that description applies, but I don’t think that Levy holds any community posts. He is no more a representative of the Jewish community than I am of the Scottish community. Besides, how many one to one ‘140 meals has Ian Blair had with a representative of the Muslim community? Or the Irish, Iranian, Kurdish, Turkish, Polish, Palestinian or Greek communities? Other than ultra-rich New Labour supporters who happen to have that background?
So Ian Blair and Levy have form. In current circumstances it was a gross error of judgement for Ian Blair to sit at a top table with Lord Levy. Levy should have realised that himself and made his excuses, but nobody could mistake Lord Levy for a gentleman. Therefore Blair should have made an excuse and left. As it is, some of the smell has rubbed off. Ian Blair should resign.