Two ex-police officers who leaked allegations that pornographic images had been found on Damian Green’s computer are in “dangerous territory”, a former police chief has said.
Former Greater Manchester chief constable Sir Peter Fahy said the police should stay out of politics after the leak left Green’s political career hanging in the balance.
Fahy’s warning comes after former attorney general Dominic Grieve said the leaks had “the smack of the police state”.
On Friday, ex-Scotland Yard detective Neil Lewis told the BBC he was “shocked” at the volume of material found in a 2008 raid on Green’s Westminster office and had “no doubt whatsoever” that it had been amassed by the Tory MP.
The allegations echoed claims made by former Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Bob Quick, who went public last month with his account of the material discovered during an investigation into Home Office leaks.
Fahy strongly rejected suggestions the men had been acting in the public interest saying officers had a duty to protect confidentiality of information uncovered in the course of an investigation, even after they had retired.
“It is very dangerous territory for a police officer to be making judgments about whether a politician is lying or not.
“That should only happen in a criminal investigation and even then ultimately it is for a court to decide,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Police should also be extremely careful about making judgments about other people’s morality when it is not a matter of crime. It is something really central to our democracy that the police are not involved in politics.”
Sir Thomas Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, also said that the leak of the allegations should never have happened.
In a statement, Winsor said that if a serving officer had breached that duty they would face disciplinary action potentially leading to dismissal and, in certain circumstances, criminal charges.
“The special powers which citizens confer on police officers are inseparable from the obligations of special trust placed in police officers to enable them to do their duty,” Winsor said.
“That trust requires every police officer to respect and keep confidential information which they obtain in the course of their duties and which is irrelevant to their inquiries and discloses no criminal conduct.
“The obligation of confidentiality, and the duty not to break trust, is an enduring one. It does not end when a police officer retires.”
As Conservative MPs rallied round the First Secretary of State, Grieve said the actions of the ex-officers were “very worrying”.
“This can’t be right. They are in flagrant breach of their own code of conduct and practice,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
“It has the smack of the police state about it. I find it very worrying. We give the police powers that other people do not have. They are not and must not be allowed to abuse those powers.”
However the ex-officers’ decision to go public was defended by former Gloucestershire chief constable Tim Brain.
“Let’s just think about this as a workplace computer and think whether we are happy that people, our MPs, can have this kind of material on what is an official computer,” he told Newsnight.
“Nobody is actually doubting the fact that there is some kind of electronic trace of this material on the computer. So we need to have some answers now this information is in the public domain.”
Green, who is the subject of a Cabinet Office inquiry into alleged inappropriate behaviour towards a young female activist, has denied looking at or downloading porn on the work computer.
Meanwhile the Metropolitan Police has said it is launching its own inquiry about how information gathered during an investigation was made public.
Lewis said that he was involved in analysing the then-opposition immigration spokesman’s computer during the 2008 investigation into Home Office leaks.
He stressed that none of the images were “extreme”, but said analysis of the computer suggested they had been viewed “extensively” over a three-month period, sometimes for hours at a time.
Speaking to reporters at his Kent home on Friday, Green said: “I have maintained all along and I still maintain – it is the truth – that I did not download or look at pornography on my computer, but obviously while the investigation is going on I can’t say any more.”