Judges increase jail term for defence worker who breached Official Secrets Act

Brian Farmer, PA
·3-min read

Appeal judges have almost doubled a jail term handed to a disgruntled former defence worker who breached the Official Secrets Act.

Simon Finch was given a four-and-a-half-year jail term in November 2020 for disclosing “damaging” top secret details of a UK missile system.

Finch, 50, had admitted recording and disclosing classified information in breach of the Official Secrets Act on the ninth day of an Old Bailey trial, after a judge rejected his defence of “duress by circumstance”.

He also admitted failing to give authorities access codes to three electronic devices which he had encrypted.

Three appeal judges ruled on Thursday that the four-and-half-year term was “unduly lenient” and increased it to eight years.

Finch’s case had been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General’s Office under the unduly lenient sentencing scheme.

Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC had argued, at a Court of Appeal hearing in London earlier this month, that Finch’s jail term was not long enough.

Appeal judges Lord Justice Fulford, Mrs Justice McGowan and Mr Justice Bourne agreed.

Lord Justice Fulford said in a ruling: “ … we consider that the overall sentence of four-and-a-half-years imprisonment was unduly lenient.”

He said the term would be increased to eight years.

The Old Bailey
A judge at the Old Bailey, pictured, was told last year that Finch could have put servicemen and women in jeopardy if the leaked material had fallen into enemy hands (Nick Ansell/PA)

Mr Ellis had said Finch’s offending was “motivated by a personal grievance” and was planned over 10 months.

He had told the court the information disclosed by Finch had the “capacity and potential to cause great harm” to the security of the UK, including “putting lives at risk”.

Mr Ellis also said that steps had to be taken to mitigate actual harm which was caused by Finch’s actions.

He said: “The information recorded and disclosed was highly detailed, it was specific, it was extensive and it was comprehensive, and it was also of the most highly classified kind.”

Mr Ellis had argued that the judge who sentenced Finch also gave too much weight to the effect of features of autistic spectrum disorder displayed by the former defence worker.

Finch’s lawyers argued the sentence should remain unchanged.

A judge at the Old Bailey was told last year that Finch could have put servicemen and women in jeopardy if the leaked classified material had fallen into enemy hands.

Mrs Justice Whipple heard how Finch’s life began to unravel after he reported being the victim of homophobic attacks in 2013.

He began carrying weapons, including nunchucks, “for protection” when he went out in Southport in Merseyside.

In 2016 he was detained for psychiatric assessment and later handed a suspended sentence for having a hammer and machete in public.

Two years later he sent an email containing secret defence information to eight people, which he also claimed to have shared with “hostile” foreign states.

The mathematics graduate had worked for BAE Systems and QinetiQ, which provide contracted services to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), as well as the MoD itself in the “distant past”.

He left his job at BAE Systems in February 2018 and moved to Swansea before sending his unencrypted email in October of that year.

Parts of the Old Bailey trial were held in secret to prevent the disclosure of material in the national interest and jurors were warned “never ever” to reveal what they had heard in the absence of press and public.

At the sentencing, Mrs Justice Whipple said: “This was serious offending which damaged the interest of the UK Government and its citizens.”