Twenty-five years ago today an Argentinean warship, the General Belgrano, was sunk by a British submarine during the Falklands war. Three hundred and twenty two people were killed and the Sun newspaper celebrated with its infamous GOTCHA headline. Although much debate was held over the military necessity or otherwise of the sinking, it become clear that the warship was outside the exclusion zone imposed by the British and, at the time of the attack, was heading away back towards the Argentinean mainland. However, the British Prime Minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher, attempted to mislead MPs about the ships location and course.
Clive Ponting was a senior civil servant who had the job of drafting replies and answers on the sinking of the warship Belgrano. Believing that the Government was deliberately misleading the House of Commons, a select committee and the public, he blew the whistle and sent two documents to Tam Dalyell MP. The documents were somehow passed to the Chairman of the select committee on Foreign Affairs, who, in turn, gave them back to the Secretary of State at the MoD. Ponting was then prosecuted for breach of the Official Secrets Act.
Ponting was subsequently acquitted after a high profile trial that, in turn, led to a tightening of the Official Secrets Act to remove the defence of public interest. Ponting went on to work as a Reader in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Wales, Swansea until his retirement in 2004.
In our current time the names of Katherine Gunn, David Kelly, Brian Jones, Craig Murray and others will be added to the list of whistle blowers. Its a fine tradition, essential to reigning in the excesses of the state. Long may it continue.