MI5 expose tapes refused

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The Independent Online
Whitehall sources yesterday attacked the gross irresponsibility of the Mail on Sunday for its refusal to give advance notice of further revelations to be made by David Shayler, a former MI5 agent. The newspaper spurned a proposal from Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, that it should tell officials what disclosures were going to be made.

A government source said they had wanted to know whether any material contained in the second instalment of Mr Shayler's expose would be damaging, and the source protested that Jonathan Holborow, editor of the Mail on Sunday, was not the best judge of that.

In the event, Mr Holborow refused to co-operate, and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, won a High Court injunction, preventing the newspaper from carrying further disclosures.

Mr Straw claimed that "serious harm" had already been caused by last week's Mail on Sunday report of Mr Shayler's inside knowledge about the working of the Security Service. There was particular concern about an operation in which money was tracked from Libyan sources to the bank account of a senior Guardian journalist, used to finance a libel action against The Independent newspaper.

But the High Court judge who granted the application for an emergency injunction refused a government request for the Mail on Sunday to hand over all the tapes of its interviews with Mr Shayler.

Under the new Official Secrets Act any person who is or has been a member of the security and intelligence services "is guilty of an offence if without lawful authority he discloses any information ... which is or has been in his possession by virtue of his position as a member of any of those services".

In the case of a newspaper publishing that information, the disclosure has to be damaging and it has to be published "knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that it would be damaging". As the dispute between Mr Campbell and Mr Holborow shows, "damage" means different things to different people, but the High Court judge sided with the Government on Saturday night.

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