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David Cameron instructed Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to contact The Guardian to spell out the serious consequences that could follow if it failed to hand over classified material received from Edward Snowden, it can be revealed.
Senior Whitehall sources confirmed to The Independent the prime minister's central role in trying to limit revelations about UK and US intelligence operations contained in information the whistle-blower received from the National Security Agency.
News of Cameron's direct intervention came as official Home Office and Scotland Yard accounts of the nine-hour detention at Heathrow of the Brazilian partner of a Guardian investigative journalist were flatly contradicted by lawyers involved in the airport ordeal. According to the Metropolitan Police, David Miranda - whose partner Glenn Greenwald has led the reporting of stories linked to NSA material supplied by Snowden - was offered legal representation during his questioning and a solicitor was in attendance.
The Home Office also claimed the detention was “legally and procedurally sound” and backed in full the Met's account.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, confirmed she had been briefed in advance of the detention, but insisted it was the police who had made the decision to stop and question Miranda on his way through Heathrow from Berlin. These accounts do not match descriptions given by the Brazilian's legal representative, who eventually made his way to the transit area at Heathrow where Miranda was being held.
Gwendolen Morgan, a solicitor at Bindmans who is representing Miranda in challenging the legality of his detention, said: “It is incorrect that Mr Miranda was offered legal representation.
“When we were told by The Guardian [of the detention], Gavin Kendall from our legal department was sent to Heathrow. He was persistently blocked by officials for a long period from gaining access to the room where the questioning was taking place. The detention lasted nine hours, the legal limit of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Gavin finally gained access only during the last hour.”
Kendall said that Miranda's request for a pen or pencil to write down details of the questions he was asked was repeatedly refused. He said he was also unclear about just who was questioning him.
The Home Office claims the questioning was “a Met-led operation” and involved six people. Scotland Yard stated it could not comment on who may or may not have been involved.
However, security sources contacted by The Independent admit MI6 officials could have been involved. Bindmans said this account was not surprising. “It was unclear throughout just who exactly was doing the questioning,” Morgan said. Miranda's legal team in London is preparing an injunction that will demand a judicial review of the way the Schedule 7 anti-terrorism law was used against him.
His lawyers have also demanded the Government explain at whose request, and for what purpose, the police seized “sensitive journalistic material” during his detention.
The UK's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, QC, is scheduled to meet representatives from the Metropolitan Police this week. Their discussions will centre on the “unusual” length of the detention period.
Downing Street's insistence this week that the arrest of Miranda was entirely an “operational matter” for Scotland Yard does not sit easily with the prime minister's hands-on involvement in Sir Jeremy Heywood's contact with Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian's editor.
Government sources deny the prime minister was involved in “intimidation” of a Fleet Street editor. One source said: “There was no injunction, no arrests. We just wanted to get these documents [in Snowden's possession] back.”
It was suggested that inside No 10, Sir Jeremy had been tasked with warning The Guardian of the “dangers of holding highly sensitive information on insecure servers [computers] that could damage Britain”.
It was denied that the Cabinet Secretary's contact with Rusbridger was “threatening”. The source suggested: “We had a mature conversation.” - The Independent