Saturday 21 November 2009

Falling like Lucifer

I’ve been reflecting recently on what happens to people in public life who have made serious mistakes and attempted to resurrect their careers. And I wasn’t thinking about Lord Jeffrey Archer, or what Jonathan Aitken did with his “simple sword of truth”, either. Nor any other of the current crop of hapless politicians, for that matter.

What started me off was being reminded of the exploits of a British politician from a very different age. My memory was jolted when I saw an old copy of his memoir “To Fall Like Lucifer” for sale in a Crouch End charity shop. I remembered first reading it some 30 years ago. He really had class – and was a true gentleman. Ian Harvey was educated at Fettes College and Oxford University (just like former Prime Minister Tony Blair), a former distinguished army officer, married with 2 children, who turned to politics and by 1958 was a junior Foreign Office Minister.

As Wikipedia tells it, in November 1958, Harvey and a Guardsman from the Coldstream Guards were found in the bushes in St James’s Park; Harvey tried but failed to escape, and attempted to give a false name on arrest. Both were charged with gross indecency and breach of the park regulations. The indecency charge was dropped at the trial and both were fined £5. Harvey subsequently resigned his ministerial post and his seat, and paid the guardsman's fine as well as his own.

Then, after a period of a few years, he returned to public life, becoming Chairman of his local Conservative Association and a senior board member of the Inner London Education Authority. He died in 1987.

My thoughts then turned to Bob Quick, the Metropolitan Police’s former Head of Counter-Terrorism, who resigned in April of this year after he had accidentally revealed details of a covert investigation, which forced police to bring forward anti-terror raids. He was photographed by the press outside 10 Downing Street holding documents that were clearly visible marked SECRET.

He was about to brief cabinet ministers on Operation Pathway, spearheaded by MI5 and Special Branch, which was apparently designed to thwart a series of suicide attacks at shopping centres in Manchester over the Easter weekend, dubbed the “Easter spectacular.” The unintended leak, technically a breach of the Official Secrets Act, caused authorities to speed up their timetable, making raids across North-West England.

While the police apparently did manage to arrest all their suspects without much trouble, no bomb factory was found, no evidence leading to indictments was published, and all 12 suspects were subsequently released without charge. That shows what happens when you rush an investigation, I suppose. By allowing sensitive material indicating the existence of a very serious criminal investigation to pass prematurely into the public domain, the chances of a successful set of prosecutions were fatally undermined.

But I don’t expect a proficient copper will be kept down for good. As James Cleverley, Deputy Leader of the London Assembly’s Conservative Group and the Mayor of London's Ambassador for youth, put it in his blog on 9 April, “Bob made a serious mistake and took responsibility for his actions. You don't see that very often these days, do you?”

Having been roundly praised for doing the decent thing and actually resigning, I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see Bob Quick returning to prominent policing or security roles. Or perhaps he’s already working on the 2012 Olympics, and I've just not noticed.

I wonder who will be the next celebrity to fall - but then arise again - after a decent interval.