Blake to receive pounds 50,000 spy book profits

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The Independent Online
George Blake - Russian spy and prison escapee - yesterday became the unlikely guardian of the free speech of ministers and civil servants when the High Court ruled he could keep the pounds 90,000 profits from his MI6 memoirs.

And Blake, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1966 and has lived in Moscow ever since, had not even bothered to contest the Government's attempt to get its hands on his money.

His victory came because the High Court appointed an independent adviser on the law because of the huge civil liberties implications of the case. So Lord Lester, the leading constitutional QC and a veteran of the controversial MI5 Spycatcher court battles, ended up arguing a better case for Blake than he could have dreamed.

Last night ministers, who had hoped the ruling would gag all former secret and security service staff, bitterly condemned the ruling by Sir Richard Scott - another Spycatcher veteran - and more notably, the man who headed the arms-to-Iraq inquiry.

Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the public would be "bemused" by the ruling in favour of Blake, whose treachery after being captured in Korea in the 1950s led to the deaths of a number of British agents.

"He was a convicted traitor. He sent people to their deaths who were acting on behalf of Britain's interests and he makes a profit out of it. The Government acts to try to ensure that that gain doesn't flow through and in our own courts we get reversed," he said.

But the ruling the Government was seeking would have prevented any minister or civil servant from publishing autobiographies without government approval.

The Government was not seeking to argue that in his apologia, No Other Choice, Blake had breached confidentiality, given away official secrets, or endangered national interests - he had after all given all the damaging information to the Russians decades ago: it was seeking to argue he broken a lifelong duty of trust.

Yesterday Sir Richard said such an argument was "too wide to be acceptable" and would interfere with his rights of free speech. "A duty to refrain from disclosing information that is neither secret nor confidential is not necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security," said Sir Richard. "The Crown have not, in my judgement, either pleaded or established by evidence any misuse by the defendant of his position as a former member of the SIS or of information imparted to him.

"This last conclusion may seem strange in view of the defendant's status as a self-confessed traitor.

"The conclusion is, however, a consequence of the Crown's attempt to establish a case on what was far too broad a statement of the duty owed by ex-members of intelligence and security agencies . . . "

Blake, now 73, will end up with about pounds 50,000. Jonathan Jonathan Cape, the publishers, are withholding the rest to cover legal fees and the cost of pulping about 2,000 copies, in the light of legal action.

Blake was not in his Moscow flat yesterday for comment, but he will have been pleasantly surprised by the ruling. He had earlier told reporters he had written off the money and didn't care anymore about the book.