Two former police officers accused of leaking details about the discovery of pornographic material on the Commons computer of Damian Green during a police raid have been warned they could face prosecution.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said Scotland Yard had referred the two retired officers to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) over possible breaches of data protection legislation.
The move came amid a furious backlash from Tory MPs after Mr Green was dramatically sacked on Wednesday after admitting he made “misleading” statements claiming he knew nothing about the discovery of the material during a 2008 investigation into Home Office leaks.
Allies of the Prime Minister said she had no choice but to act after a Cabinet Office inquiry found he had breached the ministerial code.
But Conservative backbenchers said his misconduct was “dwarfed” by the actions of former Met assistant commissioner Bob Quick and ex-detective constable Neil Lewis in passing confidential information obtained during a police inquiry to the media.
Conservative MP Chris Philp told the BBC: “I think they should be investigated for misconduct in public office. That is a criminal offence.
“What they have done is completely wrong. It undermines trust in the police. How can any of us trust giving information to the police if senior officers leak in this way?”
Former minister Andrew Mitchell said: “These two admitted breaches of the ministerial code are dwarfed by the extraordinary behaviour of the police, which fortunately is now under investigation by the proper authorities.”
Speaking during a visit to Poland, Mrs May said she now expected the matter to be “properly” investigated.
“I share the concerns that have been raised across the political spectrum about comments that were made by a former police officer and I expect that issue to be properly investigated, to be taken seriously and to be properly looked at,” she said.
Appearing before the London Assembly, Ms Dick said that after taking legal advice from a QC, the Met had concluded the ICO was the right body to take the inquiry forward.
“I have a very strong view that the responsibility that goes with being a police officer or a member of police staff is very clear in relation to people’s personal information,” she said.
“Every day we all come into contact with highly confidential and highly personal information in relation to investigations and other interactions. It is vital that the public trust us to do our absolute best to safeguard that information.”
In a statement, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the investigation would look at whether the individuals concerned had “acted unlawfully by retaining or disclosing personal data”.
She said: “These are serious allegations and we are investigating to determine whether the law has been broken and what further action is necessary including potential criminal prosecution.”
Under the Data Protection Act 1998, anyone who is prosecuted and found guilty could face an unlimited fine.
In his resignation letter, Mr Green continued to deny “unfounded and deeply hurtful” claims that he downloaded or viewed the material found on his computer.
However, the Cabinet Office inquiry found statements he made on November 4 and 11, in which he suggested he was not aware indecent material had been discovered, were “inaccurate and misleading” and breached the ministerial code.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was clear Mr Green had “lied” and it was right that Cabinet ministers were held to the “very highest standards of conduct”.
“On this occasion, very, very sadly and I know with a very heavy heart, the Prime Minister took the decision that she had to. I am sure that she didn’t want him to go,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Downing Street said it was a matter for Mr Green whether he took a ministerial severance payoff of nearly £17,000.