Crispin Aubrey: Journalist convicted under the Official Secrets Act in the 'ABC Trial'

 

Crispin Aubrey, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 66, was a journalist who in 1977 found himself the centre of a news story when he was arrested and accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act. Aubrey was the "A" of the ABC case which saw two journalists and a former member of Signals Intelligence tried in High Court amid scenes which were at times chaotic, and which brought into question the use of secrecy legislation, ensuring that it was never to be used in the same way again.

Aubrey was born in Chipstead in Surrey into a middle class family; his mother Margery was an illustrator, his father Laurie an insurance broker. He was educated at Leighton Park, a Quaker School, and won a scholarship to read English at Christ Church College, Oxford. Behind a very English façade was a quirky, quizzical character with a laidback sense of humour who didn't like being pushed about, had a strong sense of justice and wasn't afraid of taking on the establishment.

After starting out as a journalist on the Hampshire Chronicle, Aubrey joined Time Out as it campaigned to expose the dirty secrets of the British and American governments which had led to deportation orders against two Americans, the former CIA operative Philip Agee and Time Out's own reporter Mark Hosenball, who had co-written an expose of GCHQ, the government's communcations headquarters and the centre for Signals Intelligence. Aubrey, whose major interests had been the environment, became involved with the fight, ultimately unsuccessful, to stop them from being thrown out of the country.

In February 1977, Aubrey and a freelance science journalist, Duncan Campbell, were sent to interview John Berry, a former member of Signals Intelligence who, angry at the deportations, had contacted the magazine. The two men were arrested as they left Berry's flat; Time Out's phones had been tapped. Berry was also taken into custody. All three were charged under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 which forbade the disclosure of any official information, and Aubrey and Campbell with unauthorised receipt of classified information. Further charges were later added under the more serious Section 1 of the Act which accused them of felony and acting against the state, offences with a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Over the next year while awaiting trial the three were subjected to intimidation and harassment, including house searches – one of which saw the police raiding Aubrey's house and searching his baby daughter's bed; they were trailed by plain clothes officers and had to report daily to the police. Through it all Aubrey and his wife Sue remained stoical.

The ABC Defence campaign, supported by the National Union of Journalists and civil liberty groups, received widespread publicity as anger grew at the charges levelled against the men under an outdated Act, and at the way in which the trials were conducted. The first trial collapsed in September 1978 following the identification of a member of the jury as a former SAS officer. When the second trial opened a month later, the prosecution admitted that much of the secret information disclosed by Berry was already in the public domain and dropped the Section 1 charges.

Further derision came as prosecution witnesses, testifying anonymously under letters of the alphabet – in particular witness B, Colonel Hugh Johnstone, head of Signals Intelligence, were identified to the public outside the courts, and later by NUJ members at their annual conference. To Aubrey, the prosecution's attempts at secrecy were "the security services trying to cloak their witnesses in anonymous letters and make the whole affair appear more sinister."

In November, Aubrey, Berry and Campbell were found guilty of breaking the Official Secrets Act but given non-custodial sentences. In 1989, Section 2 was amended to make it an offence to divulge information only in relation to six specific categories.

Following the trial, Aubrey and his wife moved to Somerset, where they ran a small farm. In 1981 he wrote Who's Watching You? Britain's Security Service and the Official Secrets Act. He worked as a freelance, writing and campaigning about environmental issues, and edited Wind Directions, which supported wind power and fought passionately against the building of nuclear plants.

He also published two books on environmental issues, Meltdown, the Collapse of the Nuclear Dream and Thorp: the Whitehall Nightmare, and became involved with the campaign to stop a nuclear reactor – the largest proposed for this country – being built at Hinkley in Somerset. He remained an active member of the Stop Hinkley group for the rest of his life. Though the campaign was at first successful, plans were resurrected a few years ago, leading him to taking up an active role once more.

Katy Attwater of the Stop Hinkley Group was impressed by the manner in which Aubrey fought for his beliefs. "He was," she said "a completely dedicated environmentalist. He understood the issues, guided wisely and wrote and spoke eloquently. An honourable man respected by everyone, even the other side. He has left us in a very strong position to make sure that no nuclear power station is ever built again."

Aubrey became involved with the nearby Glastonbury festival in the early 1990s, and in 2004, along with John Shearlaw, edited the book Glastonbury Festival Tales. Michael Eavis, founder of the Festival, remembered how strong Aubrey's environmental beliefs were: "He was a resolute campaigner for green issues who kept up the pressure on me constantly."

Crispin Aubrey, journalist and environmental campaigner: born Chipstead, Surrey 3 January 1946; married 1968 Susan Jacob (three daughters); died Bridgewater, Somerset 28 September 2012.

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried