Navy submariner pleads guilty to Official Secrets Act offence

A Royal Navy Submariner has pleaded guilty to an offence under the Official Secrets Act and has been remanded in custody awaiting sentence on 12 December.

It has been reported that Edward Devenney, aged 30, from County Tyrone admitted collecting details ‘crypto-material’, which it is understood are programmes used to encrypt secret data.

The period of Devenney’s offending covers around 5 months beginning in November 2011. During this time he collected material and contacted a foreign embassy with a view to pass information to Russia relating to the operation of HMS Trafalgar and two other nuclear submarines.

He believed that he was meeting two Russian secret agents, however he was actually meeting two British secret service agents.

The offence

It would appear that Devenney pleaded under the Official Secrets Act 1911 s 1(1)(c), ‘penalties for spying’, which states the following.

If any person for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State obtaining,

(c) [collecting, recording, or publishes,] 1 or communicating to any other person [any secret official code word, or pass word, or] 1 any sketch, plan, model, article, or note, or other document or information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy,

shall be guilty of a felony.

The sentence

The maximum sentence for this offence is 14 years (Official Secrets Act 1920 s 8(1)).

Deterrent sentences are common in Official Secrets cases; the need to deter members of the armed forces from sharing military and national secrets is self-evident. Therefore, any sentence is likely to have an uplift to reflect this fact.

R v Parr 2003 (news reports) 30/11/02 reported a case in which the defendant pleaded to two offences under section 1 (OSA 1911) and 7 offences of theft. He had stolen floppy disks and numerous documents and arranged to meet someone who he thought was from the Russian Embassy. In fact he met an MI5 agent. His motivation was purely financial. No information was disclosed.

The Recorder of London, the senior judge in the Old Bailey, said that a substantial sentence was needed to reflect the public abhorrence and to deter the others. The defendant, a former soldier, received 10 years.

Devenney’s case appears similar, even on the limited facts that we currently have. Both pleaded and both had military backgrounds, which presumably will have been to their credit. Although we know little to nothing as to the nature of the offence, the way in which it was committed, any correspondence regarding the information and any expected financial reward, a severe deterrent sentence can be expected.

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