Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

Former spy on trial in UK

Shayler is accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act
Shayler is accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act  

LONDON, England -- A renegade MI5 agent has appeared in court promising to put the British state on trial.

Lawyers began preliminary arguments on Thursday about the three charges faced by David Shayler under the Official Secrets Act.

The 35-year-old former spy is accused of leaking details of the UK security services' activities to a Sunday newspaper four years ago.

Arriving at the High Court in London, Shayler told reporters: "We are going to put the British state on trial.

"I have got nothing to fear -- but they have everything to fear."

Asked if he was disappointed to be only facing charges relating to an article in the Mail on Sunday in 1997 and none concerning a whole range of allegations he has made since then about the activities of MI5 and MI6, Shayler said: "They have chosen who to prosecute and who not to prosecute. It is totally arbitrary rule of law."

He added: "We plan to subpoena (Home Secretary) Jack Straw and (Foreign Secretary) Robin Cook and it is quite obvious they don't want to answer questions in open court right before an election."

Shayler claimed in the Mail on Sunday that agents in the 1970s tapped the telephone of former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and kept a file on Straw.

The ex-agent says these disclosures and his later revelations were made to expose incompetence and malpractice in the security services.

Two of the charges relate to unauthorised disclosure of security service information and the third relates to revealing details of telephone taps. Each carries a maximum sentence of two years.

Arguing he is a genuine "whistleblower" exposing wrongdoing, Shayler will claim his prosecution under the Official Secrets Act is incompatible with the Human Rights Act, which protects free speech.

A jury has not yet been called for the high-profile trial, which could be delayed until after an expected June 7 general election or even early next year, court sources said.

His defence argue that Shayler did not break the law according to the UK Human Rights Act -- that came into effect last October -- which gives "lawful authority" to disclosures made in the public interest.

Prosector Nigel Sweeney said such an argument was "absurd."

"The thought that the Human Rights Act should reduce a criminal trial to a voyage of discovery is so preposterous that it cannot be right," Sweeney said. Campaigners have formed a body called Repeal the Official Secrets Act (ROSA).

Rohan Jayasekera, a founding member of ROSA and managing editor of Index on Censorship, said current laws need to be overhauled to include a "clear definition of national security."

"The law should spell out what is truly a serious threat to national security or to human lives. There were plenty of issues for Shayler to reveal. The public has a right to know that (MI5, MI6) are doing the right thing," Jayasekera told Reuters.

Britain's Security Services
UK Law Courts

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top