A Tory frontbencher was questioned by police last night after being arrested as part of a leak inquiry.
Damian Green, the Shadow Immigration Minister, was arrested in Kent and had his home, constituency office and Commons office searched by counter-terrorism officers. He may be charged for receiving documents allegedly passed by a male Home Office official who was also arrested.
Conservative sources said that David Cameron was furious about the treatment of one of his team and described the arrest as “Stalinesque”. George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, said that the police had some “very big questions” to answer over the arrest.
The Metropolitan Police denied any ministerial involvement in the decision to arrest Mr Green. “A 52-year-old man . . . has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office,” it said.
“The investigation into the alleged leak of confidential government material followed the receipt by the Metropolitan Police Service of a complaint from the Cabinet Office. The decision to make today’s arrest was taken solely by the Metropolitan Police Service without any ministerial knowledge or approval.”
The Conservatives said: “As Shadow Immigration Minister, Mr Green has, on a number of occasions, legitimately revealed information, which the Home Office chose not to make public. Disclosure of this information was manifestly in the public interest. Mr Green denies any wrongdoing.”
The official connected to Mr Green’s arrest acted as cover for absent staff in the private offices of Home Office ministers. It is understood that he was arrested last week.
Mr Green, the MP for Ashford, is facing questions about four leaks to the media between November last year and September this year. They include a letter from the Home Secretary to Mr Brown over the economic downturn’s impact on crime. It is understood that the Home Office and Whitehall were alarmed at this disclosure because it was circulated among so few people. Other damaging stories include a list, prepared by Labour whips, of MPs’ likely voting intentions on legislation to extend to 42 days’ detention without charge.
Tory sources said that Mr Cameron supported Mr Green fully and was confident that he had not paid for the documents. The arrest is certain to start a political row over who in government knew about or sanctioned action against a Tory frontbencher.
It was unlikely to be a coincidence that the arrest happened on Sir Ian Blair’s last day in charge of the Met.Sources close to the Shadow Cabinet suggested that an investigation into such a senior politician would have been cleared “at the very top”.
Mr Green was released and bailed to return to the police station in February. Speaking outside the House of Commons early today, he said: “I was astonished to have spent more than nine hours under arrest for doing my job. I emphatically deny I have done anything wrong. In a democracy, opposition politicians have a duty to hold the Government to account.
“I was elected to the House of Commons precisely to do that and I certainly intend to continue doing so.”