Galloway’s Staffer, The Serjeant-At-Arms and Release of Parliamentary Data

Yesterday the news broke that IPSA, the Parliamentary regulators, having reviewed two complaints against George Galloway, the former MP for Bradford West, had referred them to the police.

It goes without saying that a referral is neither a conviction nor even a prosecution. But it does mean that Ms. Ali Khan’s complaint cannot be described as trivial, and that Parliament’s watchdog body agreed with her that there was a case the police should look at. Her lawyers, in statements, described ‘thousands of pages’ worth of evidence. Much of this evidence I have seen myself. Ms. Ali-Khan approached me last year and asked me to look at her case and see if I could help her.

As a footnote to the various articles, it was added in that I had also made a complaint which had been referred. The assumption by journalists was that I had complained on the same grounds. That assumption was incorrect.

Tom Newton-Dunn in the Sun broke the story that there was a pre-existing investigation by police into possible data protection offences which is currently being investigated after ‘a third party made a complaint’ in March. That third party was me.

On the same day that I made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police, I made an expenses-based complaint to IPSA against Mr. Galloway. This complaint, IPSA told me yesterday, they have also referred to the police (on the expenses grounds under which I made it).

It has nothing to do with how Mr. Galloway used the time of Ms. Ali Khan when she worked for him.

It has to do with how one of Mr. Galloway’s then parliamentary staff, Mr. Rob Hoveman, used his parliamentary email address and may have used parliamentary equipment and facilities, to seek data about Ms. Ali-Khan from various sources – including her parliamentary data as a House of Commons employee from the Serjeant at Arms, and including her Muslim divorce certificate – and passed that data to the Guardian newspaper.

If indeed this did happen with Mr. Galloway’s knowledge, it would be an appalling misuse of the powers, funds and office of an MP against a private citizen of the UK.

I regarded that as wrong both on grounds of data protection and on grounds of use of expenses.

My complaint to IPSA was rather different than Ms. Ali-Khan’s in that it did not contain thousands of pages of evidence. It contained one page of evidence – the email sent to me by the staffer in question from his then parliamentary email address, which I reproduce here, redacted as to references to third parties to protect their privacy:

 

From: Louise Mensch
Sent: 18 July 2014 16:45
To: HOVEMAN, Rob
Subject: Press Enquiry: Aisha Ali-Khan personal information

Dear Mr. Hoveman,

My name is Louise Mensch, and I am a journalist who writes for the Sun newspaper.

I have heard allegations that you improperly requested personal information on Ms. Ali Khan from the Serjeant-At-Arms, and that you passed on private and personal information about her to the Guardian newspaper.

Can you tell me if either of those allegations are true?

[redacted – questions about other allegations not relevant to this case]

I hope to receive a reply very shortly from you as to your personal actions relating to Ms. Ali-Khan’s data. If I do not receive one, I will send a Freedom of Information request to your office, to IPSA, and to the Serjeant-At-Arms’ office.

I will be most grateful for a contact to whom I should put my questions about Mr. Galloway, and/or if there is a direct and private email by which I can contact Mr. Galloway, or a good time at which I can speak to him directly.

I will give your office until this coming Monday, at 5pm, to respond to me.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Mensch

 

 Email received in reply:

Dear Ms Mensch,

I would not normally respond to any approach from a “Sun journalist” given what an atrocious paper the Sun is. I only have to recall the grotesque insult this paper made to the victims and the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster to feel almost physically sick at the thought of dealing with someone from this particularly unpleasant part of the gutter press. Nonetheless, I think it is incumbent on me to correct the tissue of lies and disinformation that you have been fed regarding matters concerning Aisha Ali-Khan.

 

Ms Ali-Khan was employed by George Galloway between April 1st and December 10th 2012 when she was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. She was suspended from work on October 14th 2014. A police investigation into her activities and those of her lover former Detective Inspector Afiz Khan followed concerns raised in parliament and directly with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary. The result of this investigation was the summary dismissal of Afiz Khan from the Metropolitan Police and the conviction of both Afiz Khan and Aisha Ali-Khan for criminal offences. The two will be jointly sentenced on 31st July this year.

 

[redacted as reference to 3rd party]

On October 19th 2012, the Guardian published an article largely based upon the testimony of Aisha Ali-Khan. We raised objection to the bias in this and another article published on 15thOctober by the same journalist. In response to this complaint we received a reply from the then Managing Editor of the Guardian, Elisabeth Ribbans. In that response reference was made to the Guardian journalist having been shown information contained in Aisha Ali-Khan’s Security Vetting Questionnaire which Aisha Ali-Khan had been obliged to complete in order to receive her security pass giving her access to the parliamentary estate.

 

The specific claim made by Ms Ribbans was that the SVQ contained details of Afiz Khan as her spouse. Subsequently it was established that an Islamic but not civil marriage between Aisha Ali-Khan and Afiz Khan in 2009 had been followed by an Islamic divorce in 2010 confirmed by a Sharia Council. In the light of this information, I raised with Serjeant at Arms concerns about aspects of the security vetting of Ms Ali-Khan. Serjeant at Arms wrote back to me saying that the SVQ contained no reference to a serving police officer, from which I concluded that there was a prima facie contradiction between what Ms Ribbans had written to us in 2012 and the information provided to me by Serjeant at Arms in 2014. Naturally I raised this apparent contradiction with the Readers’ Editor at the Guardian, who is, for your information, a kind of Guardian ombudsman. His investigations into this matter are currently ongoing, but as a Sun journalist, you will no doubt be aware of just how serious a misdemeanour it would be for a journalist to fail to check the veracity and the credibility of a source properly, and even worse give false information regarding the checking of the veracity and credibility of a source, when false information could cost a newspaper very dearly.

 

As regards any potential breach of the Data Protection Act, I would say this. The divorce certificate confirmed by Sharia Council [redacted for a reference to a third party ]are documents in the public domain not covered either by the Data Protection Act or legal privilege. Serjeant at Arms sought advice from Speaker’s counsel before responding to me. I cannot imagine that any breach of the Data Protection Act would have occurred in such circumstances. I raised my concerns in the light of the information provided by Serjeant at Arms privately and in confidence to the Guardian Readers’ Editor. I am extremely surprised that any legitimate party to my exchanges with the Guardian Readers’ Editor would then have shared any or all of that information with the likes of a “Sun journalist”.

[redacted]

I trust this will correct some of the misinformation and misrepresentation to which you have been subject and ensure that you do not waste any more of your or my time on this particularly fruitless line of enquiry. As for other matters of which I have no knowledge but which relate to George Galloway and the Respect Party, I would advise you email your questions to, respectively, george.galloway.mp@parliament.uk in the former case and contact@respectparty.org in the latter.

Yours sincerely,

Rob Hoveman

 

 

Ms. Ali Khan provided me with a copy of her SVQ form. It is absolutely clear on the form that the data an employee provides thereon can only be used for parliamentary purposes. This is written on the form itself. I am unsure about the legality of reproducing a parliamentary data form, even a blank one, so at this stage I am not going to do so. However, that warning is written on the form. I do not believe that when the Serjeant-At-Arms sought advice from Speaker’s Counsel they knew that the intention was to give this data to a newspaper. Be that as it may, I nonetheless believe this was not proper and hence my twin complaints.

As to whether this Muslim woman’s private religious documentation was covered by the Data Protection Act, I am not sure. That it would be improper to use parliamentary time and resources to seek this out on a private citizen and pass it to a newspaper, I most certainly believe. Eagle-eyed readers will note that that is not the first time allies of Mr. Galloway have used a Muslim woman’s religious documentation against her.

Clearly, I am stating here that I believe expenses were wrongly used and data was wrongly passed on. It is for the police to decide if they agree that is so. What I can confirm is that the police did decide to investigate my data protection complaint of March 25, and that IPSA did refer my expenses complaint, that of improper use of staff time of this staffer on Ms. Ali Khan, on separate grounds to the Met, yesterday.

I should say that when I put various allegations to Mr. Galloway directly, his lawyers responded to me. One of my questions was if he knew of or approved of the actions of his staffer in the matter of Aisha Ali Khan’s information. Although his lawyers answered several of my questions, they declined to answer this one either to confirm or to deny it.

I am grateful to IPSA for looking into my expenses complaint and referring it to the Metropolitan Police. Despite Mr. Galloway describing me as part of a “New York-Tel Aviv axis of evil,” I will not be deterred in my reporting.

(as the matter concerns one ongoing police investigation, and possibly another should the Met Police decide to take up IPSA’s expenses referral, I am closing comments on the blog today).

One comment

  1. Prentiz · May 20, 2015

    Blimey, releasing security vetting data to any 3rd party is a massive no no, and hopefully ICO treats this with the seriousness it deserves- for the Sgt at Arms, as well as GG. For any level of security check, fwiw, data about partners you aren’t married to is only collected if you cohabit with them…

Comments are closed.