BBC and secret documents - Morality?

I don’t know if this has been raised before but, the BBC have come into possession of some secret documents found on a train. .

My wife and I were discussing this yesterday and we were amazed that the first thought of the finder was to take the documents to the BBC.

Surely the correct thing to do would be to turn them over to either the transport police, the normal police or the relevant government department (assuming it is identified in the documents).

I can’t think of a situation in which I would think “Aha, secret documents that may be critical to the security of my country. I know, I’ll give them to the BBC”.

The whole thing stinks slightly, is it possibly a pre-arranged drop covered up as an “accident”?

That sounds a bit over the top to me. Sure, the correct thing on legal grounds would be attempt to return them to their owner, which is what the BBC did. The right moral thing to do would, perhaps, be to make it publicly known that top secret documents relating to public safety are being handled in a careless way? By turning them over to a major media organisation who could be trusted to treat the matter appropriately? It’s certainly something I’d have thought about doing, and perhaps would have done, if I’d found them. (What makes you so sure that turning them over the police was the ‘first thought’ of the finder?)

Edit: btw, the transport police are ‘normal police’ like any other force.

If they’d handed them over to one of the tabloid newspapers, I’d see it as an attempt to cash in on the scoop - handing them over to the BBC does, I think, indicate that the finder wanted it to be a news item that would provoke inquiry and demand an explanation, but without too much risk of the actual contents being disseminated to the public.

Handing them directly back to the party that lost them would permit their incompetence to be brushed under the carpet.

What Mangetout said.

By handing them to the BBC not the papers, they demonstrated - to me - that they were concerned to make sure they were returned and didn’t leak but also wanted to make sure that the whole matter got buried by the government under the carpet.

Sorry if you misunderstood, I meant my first thought would be to hand them to the police. Surely by now we’re all used to government incompetance, this is just muck raking for the sake of it. Whoever you handed them back to (assuming they were a responsible party) the person responsible would likely be punished/chastised for their mistake, it’s just that we may not hear about it.

I assumed the transport police were a separate organisation, my mistake.

I agree completely. If they were handed straight to the police; we probably wouldn’t be talking about this now because we wouldn’t know. I think it’s important to know how incompetent the government handling of supposedly secret files is. Especially in a time when they want to introduce things like ID cards…

If it was handed to anyone other than the BBC then I would think differently.

I agree with all of the above,I think that if there hadn’t been a national scandal about the criminal negligence involved here then there probably wouldn’t have much incentive for the security services to clean their act up.

Personally I think that the culprit should do a little prison time as a motivator for his ex colleagues.

Under what charge?

The other thing to bear in mind is that Mr. Arthur Putey of Hampstead, London may not want to walk into the Hampstead Police Station with a dossier marked MI5 TOP SECRET-EYES ONLY and then be identified to The Authorities as someone who has inadvertently read classified State Secrets and may therefore Know Too Much.

Yes, I’ve read entirely too many Frederick Forsyth and Tom Clancy novels, but I can see how someone who has come across Top Secret Dossiers on a train would see handing them into the BBC as a better option than simply depositing them with the Lost & Found at Charing Cross Station or mailing them back to the folks at Box 500; especially if (as other posters have said) they wanted the fact someone left Top Secret Documents on a train made public without the actual contents of the dossier being plastered all over the front page of The Sun (“Secrets On A Train”, anyone?).

I’m no lawyer but his illegal removing of classified documents from his place of work would probably throw something up,hes definitely in contravention of the Official Secrets act.

If a serviceman was discovered doing what he had done then he would be drinking his tea in a very confined situation for the next few years.

Good point.