Don Hale, D Notices / DA notices, Surrey Comet and D Notice Committee FOI Request

This posts contains

1. Freedom of Information Request to MOD [5]

2. Reply from Andrew Vallance Secretary, Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (D notice committee)

3. Reply from DDC Secretariat Department of Defence stating that they do not hold the information asked for. [6]

1. FOI Request

Dear Ministry of Defence,

In light of this story
http://m.surreycomet.co.uk/news/11621747.Former_Surrey_Comet_news_editor_gagged_over_reporting_of_alleged_paedophile_ring/ [2]

and this

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/22/media-gagged-westminster-child-abuse-ring [3]

then people are increasingly sceptical of answers such as this

http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/2013/01/comprehensive-answer-on-the-use-of-d-notices/ [4]

Please could you send me an index of the DA and D notices and
letters issued about them to entities- persons/corporations etc
issued since 1970, including the dates, person/organisation issued
to and what the notice and letter were about.

Under S 16 and a request if applicable, have any D/DA notices and
letters been confidential? and if so is it a practise for people
who know about them to deny knowledge of them when asked?

2. Reply from Andrew Vallance Secretary, Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee 

Your request for information under FOI has been passed to me by the MOD.
Neither the Defence Press and Broadcasting Committee (DPBAC), nor the
Defence Advisory (DA) Notice System which it oversees, are subject to the
Freedom of Information Acts for the UK and Scotland. However, the
Committee practices a policy of maximum transparency and openness limited
only by the assurances of confidentiality it gives to those organisations
and individuals with which it deals. It is in that spirit that I am
replying to your enquiry.

You asked for an index of the DA and D notices and letters issued about
them to entities- persons/corporations etc issued since 1970, including
the dates, person/organisation issued to and what the notice and letter
were about.

Unfortunately, this is not possible. Firstly, because it would
compromise the code of confidentiality between those directly involved
(i.e. the DA Notice Secretary and the journalist or editor being offered
DA Notice); this code underpins the DA Notice System and is the key to
continued media confidence in the System. And secondly, because the sheer
number of occasions on which DA Notice advice is sought by, and offered to
journalists and editors, and the fact that most of this was and is done by
word of mouth, would rule out such a comprehensive record. Moreover,
comprehensive recording of Requests for advice is a relatively recent
practice. I am, however, able to tell you that in the last 5 years, the
number of enquiries for DA Notice advice has been as follows:

·        Period ending 6 November 2014                                              106

·        Period ending 8 May 2014                                                         127

·        Period ending 7 November 2013                                              124

·        Period ending 7 May 2013                                                            75

·        Period ending 1 November 2012                                                 67

·        Period ending May 2012                                                              107

·        Period ending November 2011                                                   125

·        Period ending May 2011                                                              232

·        Period ending November 2010                                                   161

·        Period ending May 2010                                                              122

·        Period ending November 2009                                                  149

.        Period ending May 2009                                                             156

The great majority of these have been requests from the media to the DPBAC
Secretariat for advice, rather than action initiated by the Secretariat on
behalf of the DPBAC.

You also asked if any D/DA notices and letters had been [classified as]
confidential and if so was it a practise for people who know about them to
deny knowledge of them when asked. For the last 10 years at least very
little DA Notice advice has been classified, although much of it is
necessarily kept private and confined by the code of confidentiality to
those directly involved (i.e. the DA Notice Secretary and the journalist
or editor being offered DA Notice). Similarly, to reveal the existence of
such conversations and email exchanges would in many cases compromise the
intellectual property of the news outlet involved. Such information would
only be released if in each case the news outlet involved agreed to it.

It is clear from the tone and wording of your enquiry that you have little
understanding of the nature of the D/DA Notice System. To help you grasp
this better, I offer you the following background and analysis.

The D/DA Notice System has always been a voluntary compact between the
national media and those Government departments responsible for aspects of
national security (today: The Cabinet Office, Home Office, FCO and MOD).
The System is now overseen by the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory
Committee (DPBAC) – the so-called ‘D Notice Committee’. The word
‘advisory’ in the title was added in 1993, but the System was from its
inception in 1912  a purely voluntary arrangement. The sole concern of the
System is to prevent the inadvertent public disclosure of information
which would damage UK national security. That System is bounded strictly
by the terms of the five Standing DA Notices, (available in full to the
World on [1]www.dnotice.org.uk). The System has always stood above issues
such as corruption, scandal, politics, embarrassment and reputation.

In 1984, the D Notice Committee was called the Defence Press and
Broadcasting Committee or DPBC. Like today’s DPBAC, the DPBC was an
independent joint media/government body. From the creation of the System
in 1912, the Media-side has been predominant in the Committee. Today the
media provide 15 members to the DPBAC (including the  Vice-Chair) and
represents all elements of the UK Media (national, regional, local and
online newspapers, book publishers, periodical publishers, all the
broadcast channels, the Press Association, The Society of Editors, the
internet). The official side of the Committee provides 5 members
(including the Chair) and represent all of the Ministries directly
involved in providing UK national security. In 1984 the Vice-Chair (who is
always also the media-side Chair) was JM Ramsden  (editor-in-chief of
Flight International). He was a critic of ‘the greater restraints the
British press were under than their foreign counterparts’ (as the official
history of the D Notice System puts it). The then DPBC Secretary ( the
Committee’s sole permanent executive officer and the only person then
authorised by the DPBC to offer D Notice advice) was Rear-Admiral WN Ash.
In 1984 there were 8 standing D Notices (reduced from 12 as a result of
the 1981 review of the System). They were titled:

1.         Defence Plans, Operational Capability, State of Readiness and
Training

2.         Defence Equipment

3.         Nuclear weapons and equipment

4.         Radio and Radar Transmission

5.         Cyphers and Communications

6.         British Security and Intelligence Services

7.         War Precautions and Civil Defence

8.         Photography

With these points in mind, I have several difficulties with the
allegations that a D Notice was ‘served’ on Don Hale and others to prevent
them reporting on the Elm House guest house and a ‘powerful paedophile
ring’.

Firstly, there was no standing D Notice under which the then D
Notice Secretary could offer advice on this issue (and the then Secretary
alone was authorised to offer such advice on behalf of the DPBC).
Moreover, (then and now) the Secretary was not authorised to create new D
Notices, only to give advice within the guidelines of the existing
standing D Notices. The protection of corrupt and criminal individuals
(however highly placed) who were involved in child abuse would have fallen
and still does fall well outside these guidelines.

Secondly, then as now, the D/DA Notice System was a voluntary and non-statutory compact between Government and the media, and it has never been supported by any form of legal (or other) sanction. Hence, no judicial authority (judges, police
etc) would have been empowered to act on behalf of the DPBC. Indeed, only
the Secretary could give D Notice Advice on behalf of the DPBC, and his
advice was just that; it could be accepted or rejected by editors.
Thirdly, we have searched our remaining files and can find no discussion
of any kind about this issue at the time. Given the then DPBC media-side’s
keenness to preserve media freedom, it is certain that this issue would
have come to their attention (through the DPBC Secretary, Don Hale, Don
Hale’s editor , those others who were ‘served’ with purported D Notices,
the regional newspapers’ professional body, colleagues in the industry
etc) and this would inevitably have triggered a vigorous debate in the
DPBC. But we know that that didn’t happen, which is further confirmation
that there was no valid D Notice involvement in these events.

Fourthly, although Don Hale and others have claimed that they were ‘served with a D
Notice’ they have produced no hard-copy evidence of that. Surely, given
the importance they now attach to it (and which they claimed to attach to
it at the time), they – or their respective newspapers – would have kept
copies of the offending ‘D Notice’? If the policemen ‘serving the D
Notice’ refused to give them a copy, then surely that would have alerted
them and their lawyers to the probability that this was not a legitimate
legal action? That being so, why didn’t they raise the issue to a far
higher level at the time?

Our archived records for the period are admittedly incomplete, because
some of the files have since been destroyed. However, the issue of file
destruction is a red herring. The destruction of routine files is a
standard practice throughout government, industry and commerce and is just
good housekeeping: it avoids having warehouses full of worthless paper
stored at public expense. On the other hand, if files do contain very
sensitive information they are always given very high security
classifications. Before such highly classified files could be destroyed,
they would be subject to special review procedures to ensure that files of
historical significance were retained. Those files we have say nothing
about this issue, and those that were destroyed were disposed of because
they contained nothing of historical value. Yet it seems that the D/DA
Notice System is being asked to prove a negative beyond all doubt. Such a
thing is of course a logical absurdity. Hence, the real burden of proof
must now lie with those making the allegations, and I suggest you might
direct your further enquiries to them. I do not rule out the possibility
that pressure from some official source might have been applied to Don
Hale and the others, although I have no information (other than the
statements made by Don Hale and others) that this did in fact  take place.
But I do rule out (on grounds both of total lack of hard evidence  and
overwhelming across-the-board improbability) that this came in the form of
valid D Notice advice. On the other hand, if any of those who claimed to
have been ‘served’ with a purported D Notice could provide us with a copy
of it, then that would give us a lot more to work on. We could find out
from that document who authorised it, on what grounds it was authorised
and – of course – whether indeed it purported to be a D Notice.

Unfortunately, because the D Notice System is so poorly understood (not
least by the media themselves) there has been a marked tendency over the
years for both the media and members of the public to attribute to the
D/DA Notice System powers which it has never had and actions with which it
was in no way connected. For example, when something does not attract the
publicity its advocates had hoped for, it has become a convenient
shorthand to claim that the media had been ‘gagged by a D  Notice’. This
never happens, because the final decision on whether and what to publish
or broadcast always rests entirely with the editor concerned. The
objective of the DA Notice System is to prevent the inadvertent disclosure
of information which would damage UK national security, but editors have
the right to decide where the greater public interest lies (and indeed
they are the best people to make that judgment).  Moreover, the
Secretary’s job is to avoid that inadvertent disclosure, not to stop
stories.  In my now 10 years as DA Notice Secretary, and of the thousands
of occasions on which I have offered DA Notice advice, I can count on the
fingers of one hand the number of stories that were actually stopped by DA
Notice advice. And in every case, the decision not to publish or broadcast
was made by the editor directly concerned.

Sincerely,

Andrew Vallance

Secretary, Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee

Office: 0207 218 2206

Update 2014 Dec 3- For further correspondence with Andrew also see my post  [11] 2014 Dec 3 A bit more on D notices

3. Reply from DDC Secretariat [6]

Dear Ms Fox

Thank you for your email of 24th November 2014  requesting the following information:

“Please could you send me an index of the DA and D notices and letters issued about them to
entities- persons/corporations etc issued since 1970, including the dates, person/organisation
issued to and what the notice and letter were about. Under S 16 and a request if applicable, have
any D/DA notices and letters been confidential? and if so is it a practise for people who know about
them to deny knowledge of them when asked?” 

I am treating your correspondence as a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

A search for the information has now been completed within the Ministry of Defence, and I can confirm that no information in scope of your request is held.

Under Section 16 of the FOI Act (Advice and Assistance): Defence Advisory (DA) Notices are
issued and managed by the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (DPBAC),
which is an advisory body and is not part of the Department. The DA-notice system is purely
advisory. The advisory notices carry no legal weight and cannot be enforced. You can find details
of the Committee and DA-Notice System at the following website: http://www.dnotice.org.uk/

The DPBAC and DA-Notice System do not fall under the Freedom of Information Act (2000) or the
Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) of 2002. Nonetheless, the DPBAC is committed to
maximum disclosure wherever it is consistent with the effective conduct of business and
adherence to any assurances of confidentiality it has given.

I have referred your inquiry to the DPBAC Secretariat and asked them to respond.

If you are not satisfied with this response or you wish to complain about any aspect of the handling
of your request, then you should contact me in the first instance. If informal resolution is not
possible and you are still dissatisfied then you may apply for an independent internal review by
contacting the Information Rights Compliance team, 1st Floor, MOD Main Building, Whitehall,
SW1A 2HB (e-mail [email address]). Please note that any request for an internal review must
be made within 40 working days of the date on which the attempt to reach informal resolution has
come to an end.

If you remain dissatisfied following an internal review, you may take your complaint to the Information Commissioner under the provisions of Section 50 of the Freedom of Information Act.
Please note that the Information Commissioner will not investigate your case until the MOD internal
review process has been completed. Further details of the role and powers of the Information
Commissioner can be found on the Commissioner’s website, http://www.ico.gov.uk.

Yours sincerely,

DDC Secretariat Parliamentary

don hale

Don Hale, originally at Bury messenger

comet-nov28-page-001-W1200

Links and Related Story Links

[1] http://www.dnotice.org.uk

[2] 2014 Nov 24 Surrey Comet story re D Notice http://m.surreycomet.co.uk/news/11621747.Former_Surrey_Comet_news_editor_gagged_over_reporting_of_alleged_paedophile_ring/

[3] 2014 Nov 22 Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/22/media-gagged-westminster-child-abuse-ring

[4] 2013 Jan Tom Watson blog http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/2013/01/comprehensive-answer-on-the-use-of-d-notices/

[5] 2014 Nov 24 Cathy Fox FOI Request https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/da_notices_index_and_other_infor#incoming-590830

[6] FOI Answer from DDC Secretariat https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/241016/response/590585/attach/3/Cathy%20Fox%20FOI2014%2007518.pdf

[7] Wikispooks https://wikispooks.com/wiki/DA-Notice

[8] 2014 Nov 28 Surrey Comet Gagging order could have ben a fake http://www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk/news/11632035.Surrey_Comet_s_Elm_Guest_House_gagging_order__could_have_been_fake_/

[9] 2014 July 18 Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2697947/Chilling-day-Special-Branch-swooped-seize-ANOTHER-dossier-VIP-abusers-16-MPs-names-mentioned-1984-report-paedophile-lobby-s-influence-Westminster.html

[10] cathy fox blog https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/

[11] 2014 Dec 3 A bit more on D notices https://cathyfox.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/a-little-more-on-d-notices/

This is all written in good faith but if there is anything that needs to be corrected please email cathyfox@bigfoot.com.

cathyfox the truth will out, the truth will shout, the truth will set us free

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the truth will out, the truth will shout, the truth will set us free...
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13 Responses to Don Hale, D Notices / DA notices, Surrey Comet and D Notice Committee FOI Request

  1. Pingback: cathys foxs site on child abuse its worth a read believe me | meggiemom342

  2. Pingback: DA / D Notices Secretary says no paedophiles in secret services | cathyfox

  3. Pingback: Peter Haymans Prosecution File Destroyed in 2006 | cathyfox

  4. Pingback: A little more on D notices | cathyfox

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