CPBF Article on the Shayler Trial

My art­icle in the Cam­paign for Press and Broad­cast­ing Free­dom journ­al:

In Novem­ber 2002 I wit­nessed one of the worst media stitch-ups in recent times. The Lon­don press has helped min­is­ters, many of whom voted against the Offi­cial Secrets Act (OSA) when it was passed in 1989, to per­se­cute, con­vict and impris­on MI5 whis­tleblower, Dav­id Shayler, with barely a mur­mur.

From the start, the gov­ern­ment focused on tra­du­cing David’s char­ac­ter to divert atten­tion not only from his alleg­a­tions but also from Tony Blair’s fail­ure to even hear what Dav­id had to say.

In case we for­get, this includes MI5 files on gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, MI5 fail­ing to stop IRA bombs going off in the UK, the wrong­ful con­vic­tion of two inno­cent Palestini­ans for the Israeli embassy bomb­ing in Lon­don in 1994, and an illeg­al phone tap on a Guard­i­an journ­al­ist.

Most hein­ous of all was the fact that in 1995 two MI6 officers gave £100,000 of tax­pay­ers’ money to extrem­ists linked to Al Qaeda to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gadaf­fi of Libya. The attack went wrong, killing inno­cent civil­ians. Mal­colm Rif­kind, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary of the day, did not sanc­tion the assas­sin­a­tion attempt, mak­ing it a crime under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

It also meant that shad­owy MI6 officers were decid­ing Brit­ish for­eign policy, not our elec­ted min­is­ters. So did our fear­less nation­al media call for the intel­li­gence ser­vices to be held to account? No. Instead craven edit­ors of nation­al news­pa­pers — who were only too
ready to enjoy the front-page stor­ies Dav­id provided — have left him to face the con­sequences of whis­tleblow­ing alone.

After sur­viv­ing three years of exile, he returned to the UK vol­un­tar­ily in August 2000. He then had to wait over two years for tri­al. After con­vic­tion, he spent three weeks locked up for 23 or 24 hours a day in an over­crowded 12’ x 8’ cell in HMP Bel­marsh before being trans­ferred to HMP Ford.

He had already served nearly four months in pris­on in Par­is, await­ing an unsuc­cess­ful extra­di­tion attempt. At tri­al, the gov­ern­ment felt that the risk of embar­rass­ment loomed large. The Home Sec­ret­ary, Dav­id Blun­kett, and the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, Jack Straw, there­fore signed Pub­lic Interest Immunity cer­ti­fic­ates (PIIs), “gag­ging orders”, against Dav­id to pre­vent him from say­ing any­thing in open court.

The judge, Mr Justice Moses of Mat­rix Churchill fame, acceded to these without a blush, and then imposed report­ing restric­tions on the pro­ceed­ings. The “D” Notice Com­mit­tee then advised against any media cov­er­age of these inter­ven­tions. Even though Dav­id had to con­duct his own defence in the courtroom, the judge and the pro­sec­u­tion cen­sored
any ques­tions he needed to put to anonym­ous MI5 wit­nesses.

Dav­id was also pre­ven­ted from explain­ing why he had gone to the press. Des­pite Dav­id going into this tri­al with both hands tied behind his back, and des­pite the judge order­ing the jury to con­vict, it still took a group of twelve ran­domly chosen people more than three hours to con­vict Dav­id. When they did so, some of the jur­ors were in tears. Although the courtroom was packed with journ­al­ists, the media wil­fully ignored the facts of the case.

The doc­u­ments alleged by the pro­sec­u­tion to con­tain “agent inform­a­tion” were just that – inform­a­tion gathered from agents and sum­mar­ized for gen­er­al gov­ern­ment con­sump­tion. In fact, in sum­ming up and sen­ten­cing, Mr Justice Moses made no ref­er­ence to agent lives being put at risk. He also made it abund­antly clear that he accep­ted that Dav­id was not motiv­ated by money; and that Dav­id believed he was act­ing in the pub­lic interest (even though the law did not allow such a defence in this case).

That is why the judge gave him the rel­at­ively light sen­tence of six months. Had Dav­id been a trait­or, as sec­tions of the media trum­peted, he would have been tried under Sec­tion 1 of the 1911 OSA and received a four­teen year sen­tence. A whis­tleblower does not oper­ate in a vacu­um. Journ­al­ists play an import­ant role in air­ing these sub­jects in our
“free” press.

In journ­al­ist­ic par­lance, Dav­id Shayler has been a fant­ast­ic­ally valu­able source for over five years. This has not been reflec­ted in his treat­ment. With a few extremely hon­our­able excep­tions, most hacks were merely inter­ested in leech­ing Dav­id of inform­a­tion rather than pro­tect­ing a man who risked everything to expose murder, ter­ror­ist fund­ing and incom­pet­ence on the part of the intel­li­gence ser­vices.

The truth is fright­en­ing. Edit­ors, MPs and min­is­ters are scared of the shad­owy people who really run this coun­try: the intel­li­gence ser­vices. By not hold­ing the ser­vices to account, the gov­ern­ment and media is let­ting them get away, lit­er­ally, with murder.