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WHAT HAS TOP MoD CHIEF GOT TO HIDE WITH GAG ORDER? He gets injunction.. then lands pounds 245k job.

Byline: SUSIE BONIFACE

ONE of Britain's top civil servants was granted a draconian privacy injunction just two months before he landed a highly sensitive job at the Ministry of Defence.

Bernard Gray went to the High Court to prevent the publication of potentially embarrassing information about himself which he had freely disclosed in a conversation.

Weeks later he was announced as the new Chief of Defence Materiel, in charge of the pounds 13billion MoD procurement budget and assets worth pounds 104billion of taxpayers' money.

The "knee-jerk" injunction was granted even though the person Mr Gray made his comments to had no intention of repeating them or of trying to blackmail him. But, in a sign of how the wealthy now routinely rush to court to keep their lives secret, Mr Gray, 51, told lawyers to get a gagging order.

John Hemming, the MP who named love-rat soccer star Ryan Giggs in the Commons, and who is leading a campaign against privacy orders, said: "It is a very oppressive act to stop someone speaking and, considering the sensitivity of his job deciding where large amounts of tax money is spent, he warrants being more transparent about things. What does he have to hide?" Media lawyer Mark Stephens said: "It raises the bizarre prospect of anyone with wealth pre-emptively gagging everyone they talk to from revealing anything they might know. All he has achieved is flagging up that there is something interesting about him we don't know."

The order means that questions about Mr Gray's suitability for his job and issues which may have impaired his professional judgment cannot be discussed. Having protected his reputation with a pounds 50,000 court action, he landed a Government post which pays pounds 245,000 a year with a pounds 30,000 bonus on top. His predecessor, an Army general, was paid pounds 179,000. Mr Gray is now in charge of a department handling an pounds 8.8bn overspend on projects including new aircraft carriers, Typhoon fighter jets and Type 45 destroyers which are three years late.

The legal battle can be revealed only because Mr Gray failed in a bid to keep his identity secret along with the remarks he made. The judge who heard the case confirmed there was "no suggestion of blackmail" - the most obvious reason for a secrecy order.

It is believed that Mr Gray had a conversation with someone identified in court papers as UVW, and a year later became worried that what he said would become public.

The late-night injunction was granted after a 46-minute telephone hearing at 11pm by Mr Justice Nicol last October, a copy of which was sent by Mr Gray's lawyers to all national newspapers.

The injunction threatened newspaper staff with jail, fines or assetseizure if the subject of the injunction was reported or Mr Gray was named as the person who had taken it out.

Journalists were forbidden from reporting that a hearing had taken place and UVW was forbidden "from misusing private information related to the claimant".

A week later there was a hearing in front of Mr Justice Tugendhat who varied the order so that Mr Gray could be named and some details made public. Significantly, the judge made reference to some injunctions sought by the wealthy and powerful as being "oppressive" to those who were gagged.

An MoD spokesman said Mr Gray - who lives alone in North London after splitting from his wife, whom he married around 10 years ago - won his job in competition with other high-flyers.

The spokesman said: "In coming to the public sector he took a pay cut of roughly 75 per cent to undertake a crucial defence role... the post of Chief of Defence Materiel is responsible for leading a large and complex organisation with a budget of pounds 13bn."

But MP Mr Hemming added: "What worries me is that injunctions are being used to undermine the rule of law and the right of the public to know what they ought to."

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Secrets... Bernard Gray
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 29, 2011
Words:672
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