Pass the parcel

Assuming Hugh Orde and the present acting commissioner of the Met Paul Stephenson are both interviewed for the top job, here’s a question or two for them.

“Sir Hugh, what lessons did you learn from the Stormont raid on Sinn Fein offices in 2002 when the armed and accoutred PSNI took away discs and interviewed their office manager, later murdered after confessing to being an MI5 agent?”

Leaving aside the drama of the military style invasion and the somewhat different results for Denis Donaldson and Damian Green, was there any essential difference in the two approaches ?

Sir Paul, as Sir Hugh did, do you now feel inclined to fire the officer in charge?

The Speaker’s bombshell statement only deepens the murk…. He attacks the police for not having a warrant to search Green’s office and interview him and he appears to be hanging the new Serjeant at Arms Jill Pay out to dry. But he himself is far from in the clear.

At the London Assembly this morning Stephenson “robustly defended” the police action, insisting that he had written authority from the Serjeant. But the Speaker had undermined that version by telling MPs the police had never told the Serjeant she had a right to refuse permission for the search. Now the Met are briefing off the record that Speaker Martin’s key criticism is wrong, the absence of a warrant to search. A warrant wasn’t necessary anyway as the arrest was made on public not private premises, claim the police after consulting a lawyer ( of course!).

The clearest point in the fog was provided on Newsnight last night by Sir Ken McDonald the recently retired English Director of Public Prosecutions, who said he would have expected to have been consulted prior to Green’s arrest and his successor wasn’t. McDonald implied he would have said arrest was disproportionate; there were other alternatives, like asking him to come to a police station to be interviewed.

A full Commons debate next Monday; a police inquiry into the police inquiry, a senior MPs’ inquiry…. This one will run and run – a great diversion from the grim details of recession, if you enjoy this sort of thing.