BBC Report on Shayler’s conviction

The BBC report after David Shayler’s con­vic­tion in Novem­ber 2002:

Former MI5 agent David Shayler is facing jail after being con­victed of reveal­ing secur­ity secrets.

Shayler, 36, was found guilty on three charges of break­ing the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

He revealed secret doc­u­ments to the Mail on Sunday news­pa­per in 1997, arguing he had a pub­lic duty to expose mal­prac­tice within the secur­ity services.

But the pro­sec­u­tion argued Shayler, who will be sen­tenced on Tues­day, had poten­tially placed the lives of secret agents at risk.  It said he betrayed a “life-long duty of con­fid­en­ti­al­ity” by reveal­ing clas­si­fied matters.

Shayler, who rep­res­en­ted him­self, also told the Old Bailey jury he feared for his life at the time, because of some­thing “far more ser­i­ous” than any­thing pub­lished in the paper.  Shayler was remanded on bail for sen­ten­cing and could face up to two years’ impris­on­ment on each of the three counts.

Shayler copied 28 files on seven top­ics before leav­ing MI5 in Octo­ber 1996.

Incom­pet­ence’

Soon after, he accused MI5 of incom­pet­ence and leaked sens­it­ive inform­a­tion to the Mail on Sunday, includ­ing alleg­a­tions of fin­an­cial links between the Pro­vi­sional IRA and Libya.  He then fled to France with the £40,000 he earned from his rev­el­a­tions, but returned to Bri­tain after three years know­ing he faced arrest.

Out­side court Shayler’s girl­friend Annie Machon — also a former MI5 officer — said: “David is a whistle-blower, pure and simple.   I’m shocked at the ver­dict. He deserves to be pro­tec­ted, not pro­sec­uted.  David revealed mal­prac­tice, crime and incom­pet­ence on behalf of the intel­li­gence ser­vice and he did it in the pub­lic interest.  He still believes it was right to do so. We believe judges in Europe will be more scep­tical about the Offi­cial Secrets Act in this country.”

John Wadham, dir­ector of civil rights group Liberty and also Shayler’s soli­citor, said they would con­sider tak­ing the case to appeal and would con­tinue their applic­a­tion to the European Court of Human Rights.

Pre-trial rul­ing

Maurice Frankel from the Cam­paign for Free­dom of Inform­a­tion, said there needed to be fun­da­mental changes to the way in which such cases were dealt with.

A House of Lords hear­ing before the trial ruled that Shayler could not reveal details of the “ser­i­ous” mat­ter that allegedly put his life in danger.  It also refused him per­mis­sion to argue his case with a “pub­lic interest defence” under the European Charter of Human Rights.

But fol­low­ing the con­vic­tion, Lib­eral Demo­crat home affairs spokes­man Simon Hughes said: “Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Shayler’s actions, there should be a change in the law to ensure that a pub­lic interest defence can be undertaken.”

Dur­ing the trial, Nigel Sweeney QC, for the Crown, said dis­clos­ure of even one piece of clas­si­fied inform­a­tion could be the “final piece in the jig­saw” allow­ing hos­tile coun­tries or organ­isa­tions to identify Brit­ish agents.

Mr Sweeney told the trial: “The nation’s agents may be unmasked.”

But Shayler told the court: “I was seek­ing to expose the truth.

No harm’

I’m not the first per­son in his­tory to stand up and tell the truth and be per­se­cuted, and I doubt I’ll be the last.

His argu­ment that no agents’ lives were put at risk was dis­missed as “irrel­ev­ant” by the judge.

The jury was told cur­rent legis­la­tion allowed altern­at­ive action for whistle-blowing, such as telling the police or a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter, instead of going to the media.

Jur­ors were allowed to see the weighty file of secret doc­u­ments — but the names of agents and other ultra-sensitive inform­a­tion was obscured.