LONDON (Reuters) - Police who caused an uproar by searching the office of Conservative MP Damian Green did not have a warrant, the speaker of the House of Commons said on Wednesday, saying a warrant would always be demanded in future.
Many MPs are furious that the speaker, Michael Martin, apparently failed to uphold ancient parliament privileges by letting the police search the office of the Tory immigration spokesman in parliament last Thursday.
Green, 52, was quizzed for nine hours by counter-terrorism officers after being arrested as part of an inquiry into Home Office leaks.
Some had called for Martin to be sacked but he averted the threat of a Conservative protest by agreeing to a parliamentary debate on the issue.
Martin said he was informed by a parliamentary security official, the sergeant-at-arms, early on Thursday that a MP’s office might be searched, but he was not told that the police lacked a warrant.
“I have been told that the police did not explain, as they are required to do, that the sergeant was not obliged to consent or that a warrant could have been insisted upon,” Martin told parliament.
“I was not asked the question of whether consent should be given or whether a warrant should have been insisted on. I did not personally authorise the search,” he said.
Martin said he also regretted that the police did not tell him until Tuesday that Green was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.
From now on, Martin said, a warrant would always be required when police sought to search a member of parliament’s office.
He said he would form a committee of seven senior members of parliament to look into the police seizure of equipment from Green’s office.
He said the parliamentary motion creating the committee would be introduced for parliamentary debate on Monday and said parliament would also debate the committee’s report.
Conservative member of parliament Michael Howard called the police action a “deplorable affair” and an “attack ... entirely without precedent.”
Paul Stephenson, Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said officers had received written permission for the raid from the Sergeant-at-Arms, Jill Pay.
“It is our duty to follow the evidence wherever that may take us,” he told local politicians at London’s City Hall.
But Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said the protests were a “self-serving smokescreen” for the Conservatives to hide their apparent collusion with a Home Office official who has been arrested on suspicion of leaking internal documents.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who is responsible for policing, has insisted she knew nothing about the impending action against Green until detectives had swooped.
Editing by Steve Addison and Michael Holden