29 August 2009

McCann Case: Foreign Office Secrets

English Government cuts with the McCanns

What was left was to act at a political level and Alistair Clark, Gerry's friend from the times of the University of Glasgow - the first in International Relations and the second in the Faculty of Medicine - was the perfect contact.

Alistair, with whom the CM wasn't able to contact up to the closure of this edition, is today a professor in an university in Belfast, Ireland, and also an assessor to the English Labour party Government. Gordon Brown was at the time the Treasury Minister and the candidate to Tony Blair's position.

The support given by Gordon Brown started with the press advisement, sending the couple the one who is today his right arm in Downing street, Clarence Mitchell.

The Ambassador John Buck, meanwhile, was the director of the Central Office of Information of the British Government [link: http://www.coi.gov.uk/], to witch it belongs the Media Monitoring Unit, then directed by Clarence Mitchell and in the direct dependency of the Prime Minister's Cabinet.

The route that the PJ investigation has taken in the last month has left Gordon Brown's Cabinet apprehensive and the Prime Minister has decided to cut his direct connection to Gerry McCann.

translated from Correio da Manhã, 14 September 2007
Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Clarence Mitchell

Mr. Morley: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Mr. Clarence Mitchell was seconded by his Department to act as an official spokesperson for the family of Madeleine McCann. [202007]

Mr. Jim Murphy: Clarence Mitchell was seconded to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, from the Central Office of Information (COI), for a period of 25 days in May 2007 to provide assistance with the media to the family of Madeleine McCann. He resigned from the COI in September 2007.
On this matter from FOI news in March 18th 2009:

Sensitive e-mails concerning the hunt for missing child Madeleine McCann will remain secret for fear of offending the Portuguese authorities who were tasked with finding her.

A request for the disclosure of 13 e-mails and one letter, which were written in the two months after Madeleine went missing, was refused by the Information Commissioner.

The Foreign Office had dealt with the original request which had asked for copies of communication between the then Ambassador to Portugal John Buck and the Portuguese police. Some information was supplied immediately and another batch was released after the requester called in the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to hold an appeal.

However, a number of documents were not released by the Foreign Office and these were examined by officers from the ICO.

The documents were not released by the Foreign Office primarily on the grounds that they were covered by the Section 27 exemption (International Relations) and that the public interest test rested in favour of non-disclosure.

In the appeal the requester recognised that the documents would be covered by S.27 but argued that the public interest was in favour of their release.

The complainant said the release was in the public interest in order to uphold public confidence that British authorities do everything possible to help find missing children, reassure people the authorities keep in close contact with the police involved in the search and ensure public funds are used effectively to help find missing children.

But the Commissioner said in his decision that the disclosure would offend the Portuguese authorities.

He went on to say: “..even now, to disclose full information about the then ambassador’s communications with the Portuguese authorities then, on a balance of probabilities, substantial damage to the international relationship would result.”

He added: “The Commissioner is mindful of the need for the UK authorities to be seen to be worthy of trust by their foreign counterparts in Portugal and elsewhere in the world.

“He sees significant risk that disclosure of confidences or of other sensitive material would have damaging implications for any possible further developments on this matter and any relevant future investigations in Portugal or elsewhere in the world. This would not be in the best interests of the McCann family, including Madeleine, or of other UK citizens travelling to Portugal or elsewhere outside the UK.”

The Commissioner ruled that the S.27 exemption was engaged and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in the release of the information.

Full decision - PDF document

Editor’s note: The clear indication from this judgement is that the ruling was made because of the content of the documents. Had the documents been congratulating the Portuguese authorities it is hard to imagine they would have caused “offence” and so therefore could have been released because they would not have put at risk our international relations. The inference has to be that the few documents that have not been released are perhaps less than complimentary about the local authorities. But of course we will now never know. The lesson for Foreign Office staff might be that the more provocative their views the less likely they are to be released.

Related: McCann Case: Freedom of Information Act on John Buck former Ambassador


5 comments:

  1. I hope that,in future cases involving both countries, the portuguese authorities treat the british ones the way they deserve, with nothing but contempt!And I truly hope that, whenever the portuguese authorities are asked by their british counterparts to send them any information or to make some dilligences in Portugal, that the portuguese remember what happened in the Madeleine case.
    And finally, I really hope that the relationship between the two countries have been seriously damaged because England has always been the only country taking some benefit from that.

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  2. Two words: CORRUPTION + MANIPULATION!!!!

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  3. "This would not be in the best interests of the McCann family" - There you have it; that's what matters to the Foreign Office. Not the interests of the public and not certainly the interests of Portugal.

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  4. ..."even now, to disclose full information about the then ambassador’s communications with the Portuguese authorities then, on a balance of probabilities, substantial damage to the international relationship would result.”"

    Bullcrap! It's not about the portuguese authorities, no, they received the communications, read their contents, so if there was any offensive matters they are alredy offended! But I'm sure the portuguese authorities took no offense, they didn't feel diminished by any of it, that's what one has to think, because there was no indignant reaction to those communications and their offensive content! As far as we all know, the portuguese authorities have accepted the british "orders", they cowardly and subserviantly bowed their heads, swallowed the insult and obeyed the "masters"!
    I my opinion the british concerns about disclosing that information was all about the PUBLIC OPINION, not international relations. Their concern was the shame and discredit, the contempt from both the portuguese and british people once the documents became public.


    And to anon.@ 10:14, may I add:

    "Not the interests of the public and not certainly the interests of Portugal." and most certainly not the interests of MADELEINE!

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  5. I don't want to sound pedantic but there's something I don't understand. What is being apparently kept from the public is correspondence between British diplomats and portuguese authorities - correct?

    But surely, if the documents that have not been released were exchanges between the British Ambassador and the portuguese authorities... the latter would have received a copy of those letters / emails?

    So why would the portugues feel offended if these docs were made public? ... if these were sent to them in the first place?

    Secondly, why don't the portuguese authorities themselves reveal the content of those exchanges?

    Am i missing something here?

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