The former police officers accused of smearing Damian Green cannot claim they were acting in the public interest, the police watchdog said yesterday.
Sir Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said the need for the public to know investigators will keep their private information confidential is ‘overwhelming’.
He warned the high-profile scandal risks damaging the British tradition of policing.
He said victims, witnesses and suspects will refuse to co-operate if they believe police can ‘disregard’ their duty of confidentiality at any time.
The former police officers accused of smearing Damian Green (pictured) cannot claim they were acting in the public interest, the police watchdog said
Sir Tom wrote to Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham to voice his concerns.
She is considering whether ex-counter-terrorism police chief Bob Quick, 58, and his junior detective colleague Neil Lewis, 48, breached the Data Protection Act.
Sir Tom said the public interest in protecting information ‘is a very great one, almost certainly an overwhelming one’.
‘If people don’t have confidence police will respect their privacy in those circumstances that may have a chilling effect on the willingness of people to give information to the police or co-operate with police and police need people to co-operate,’ he added.
‘Yes, the police acquire information about us about our lives about our circumstances which in many cases is very intimate and if that information is irrelevant to the work it should not be disclosed.
‘My point is to reassure people that the obligation is a very important one and is taken seriously.
‘The police are there to protect our safety and to enforce criminal law. They are not the arbiters or enforcers of personal morality or political conduct.’
Mrs Denham, a former Canadian information commissioner, has been passed a file of evidence from Scotland Yard.
She must consider whether both or either officer has breached data protection legislation designed to protect sensitive information.
If so, the men face a criminal conviction and unlimited fine if convicted at court. Experts suspect they are likely to claim any disclosures were as whistle-blowers.
Mr Quick, whose career ended in ignominy within months of the ill-fated 2008 raid on Mr Green’s Parliamentary offices, wants the MP to apologise.
He has already threatened to sue Mr Green for libel for calling him a discredited liar who was pursuing a vendetta.
It was also revealed yesterday that Mr Lewis ‘liked’ anti-Tory posts on one of his social media accounts.
The computer expert supported a Facebook post campaigning to remove the Conservative government as well as satirical articles abusing against ministers.
Mr Lewis used Facebook in March last year to ‘like’ a post by a campaign called Sack The Tories which celebrated Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation over changes to disability benefits.
He also ‘liked’ a satirical news post with the headline: ‘Scientific advances mean Michael Gove may finally be able to f*** off far enough.’
Another satirical article he ‘liked’ last March said: ‘New online poll could see George Osborne renamed C***y McC***face.’
The account was deleted yesterday after it was first reported in the media.
The head of the Metropolitan Police Federation has condemned the ‘abhorrent’ actions of the retired officers.
Ken Marsh, who leads an organisation representing 30,000 rank-and-file officers, strongly criticised the leaks
He fears the row will rekindle the extreme hostility between Conservatives and police first seen during the Plebgate affair.
‘It’s unfair and disingenuous that again we are being hauled over the coals when most of my colleagues think that what these retired officers did is abhorrent,’ he said.
‘We are all privy to confidential information but we respect the rules. All this has done is pit the Tories against the police again.’
Tory MPs have questioned whether fresh legislation needs to be drawn up ensuring police keep material confidential even after leaving the service.
They are frustrated that the men are being the reach of misconduct sanctions and are unlikely to face criminal offences such as misconduct in a public office.
Scotland Yard Commissioner Cressida Dick has repeatedly condemned the leaks and highlighted that confidentiality is for life.
The Metropolitan Police had been assessing several potential offences, but the referral to the Information Commissioner – even after taking advice from an independent QC – makes it clear it is powerless to act.