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Hillsborough Wikipedia Edits

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

As the House is aware, the LiverpoolEcho reported on 25 April 2014 that extremely unpleasant amendments to the Hillsborough and Anfield Wikipedia pages, in 2009 and 2012 respectively, had been made from Government computers. Further unacceptable edits to various other Wikipedia pages were subsequently discovered.

The Government have treated this matter with the utmost seriousness. Our position from the very start has been that the amendments made to Wikipedia are sickening. The behaviour is in complete contravention of the civil service code, and every canon of civilised conduct. It is entirely unacceptable.

On 25 April we launched immediate enquiries. Our first priority was to establish the facts and to examine the issues raised. This investigation was led by the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, Richard Heaton, who is responsible for the Government computer network. He worked closely with the director-general for propriety and ethics and her team, as well as other senior officials. He was also advised by Mr Denis Edgar-Neville, Chair of the British Computer Society Cybercrime Forensics Specialist Group and head of the Centre for Cybercrime Forensics at Canterbury Christ Church university. From the outset we consulted and involved the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham).

Mr Oliver Duggan, the journalist who wrote the story of 25 April for the LiverpoolEcho, passed the Cabinet Office information which he believed could identify who was responsible for some of the edits in question. That information has proved extremely helpful, and provided a significant investigative lead. I would like to thank him for this and for co-operating with my Department over the past weeks.

Extensive further inquiries were taken forward as a civil service disciplinary matter, involving potential breaches of the civil service code and of individual Departments’ policies on acceptable behaviour. An individual was then subject to a formal disciplinary investigation and dismissed for gross misconduct, on the grounds of responsibility for the 2012 edits. The individual in question was a young, junior administrative officer. It is a long-standing established practice that in such cases an individual’s name will not be made public.

There are substantial technical obstacles to investigating the other edits. The deletion of internet data logs in the ordinary course of business means that tracing historic edits to a particular Department, building or individual has proved extremely difficult. In the absence of other specific leads, and despite a great deal of forensic and other work, it has not been possible to identify the originators of the 2009 edit or any of the others in question.

Subject to further information or leads coming to light, the investigation into the edits is therefore concluded.

These incidents have given rise to questions about the Government secure intranet, about the way in which the internet is accessed from Government and its use recorded, and about social media policies in Departments. We will continue to encourage and enable civil servants to use the internet and social media, as essential tools enabling them to work openly and to be connected to the society they serve. But the misuse of social media is unacceptable and carries consequences. We will be reminding all civil servants of their responsibilities and updating social media guidance.

Throughout this work, Richard Heaton has been in contact with the right hon. Member for Leigh, the right Rev James Jones (the former Bishop of Liverpool), and with lawyers for the bereaved families. Richard Heaton and I have also met the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Hillsborough disaster. I am extremely grateful to all of those people for their advice.

I would like to thank the families themselves for their patience during the weeks it has taken to bring this matter to a conclusion. I was deeply distressed that, at a time when the hearings of the Hillsborough inquests were unfolding, the civil service was brought into disrepute by these edits. No one should be in any doubt of the Government’s position regarding the Hillsborough disaster and their support for the families of the 96 victims and all those affected by the tragedy.