Brooks v Information Commissioner


The Saudi Arabian National Guard is one of the armed forces of Saudi Arabia. From 1963 to 2010 it was commanded by Prince, and later King, Abdullah (who died on 23 January 2015).    On 19 March 1978 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the UK and Saudi Arabian Governments.   Under this Memorandum of Understanding the UK Government agreed to supply a modern communications system and training to the Saudi Arabian National Guard.  This became known as the Saudi Arabian National Guard Communications (SANGCOM) Project.   The deal continues to this day.

To meet its commitments under the Memorandum of Understanding, the Ministry of Defence places a back-to-back contract with a UK prime contractor, now GPT Special Project Management Limited.   In 2011, the first media reports appeared alleging that GPT had made dubious payments to companies in the Cayman Islands between 2007 and 2010 to secure SANGCOM, the company’s only contract.  The Serious Fraud Office began an investigation in August 2012 which is still continuing.

Richard Brooks, a journalist at Private Eye, has reported extensively about the allegations, along with his colleague Andrew Bousfield, in an award-winning investigation.   Their main findings are contained in the Private Eye special report “Shady Arabia and the Desert Fix”.

Freedom of Information Request and Tribunal

In January 2014 Mr Brooks made a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence for the following:

  1. the mechanism for approval by the MoD’s SANGCOM team of a. payments or b. sub-contracting arrangements by prime contractor GPT Special Projects Management Ltd.
  2. occasions on which the inclusion of ‘bought in services’ in contract proposals and change proposals have been a. queried and b. to any extent rejected by the MoD’s SANGCOM team.
  3. the identities of senior civil servants, ministers and consultancy firms involved in the negotiation and signature of the LOA3P3 phase of the project (signed in Feb 2010).
  4. the nature of the letter of agreement signed by the ambassador to Saudi Arabia and SANGCOM in June 2013, referred to at the foreign affairs committee hearing by FCO minister Andrew Murrison on 18 June.

The Ministry of Defence provided some information but sought to withhold the remainder of the information on the basis of section 27 of the Freedom of Information Act. During the course of the Commissioner’s investigation the Ministry of Defence clarified the extent to which it held information falling within the scope of the disputed requests. It also sought to argue that the information it did hold attracted a number of further exemptions.

Mr Brooks brought an Information Tribunal case to obtain the information in [2] and [4] above.   The case was heard between Monday 27 and Wednesday 29 April 2015 at Field House in Central London.   The Tribunal Chairman was Christopher Hughes, the other two members being Suzanne Cosgrave and Pieter de Waal.  Judgment is awaited.

For Mr Brooks Lieutenant Colonel Ian Foxley, the whistleblower who has made the allegations against GPT public, and I gave evidence.

For the Ministry of Defence, Alan Richardson, a senior official, and Edward Oakden, former FCO Middle East Director, and now Ambassador to Jordan, gave evidence.

Unfortunately the Tribunal found against Mr Brooks and dismissed his appeal.


Documents showing the Ministry of Defence authorised huge “agency fees” to be paid by Cable & Wireless, the original prime contractor for the SANGCOM Project when it started in 1978, can be found here.

The Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice can be found here fs_50538627 (1) .

Mr Richardson’s Witness Statement can be found here OPEN WS A Richardson.

Mr Oakden’s Witness Statement can be found here Edward Oakden – WS – Open Final x2.

The decision of the Information Tribunal is here.

Media coverage

An article about the Tribunal hearings by the Financial Times’ Tom Burgis can be found here.

Tom Burgis’ piece about the decision of the Tribunal is here.