Ministers told to pay £5,000 damages to George Blake

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The spy George Blake, who betrayed the details of hundreds of MI6 agents to the Soviets, will receive more than £5,000 from the British Government, a court ruled yesterday.

The length of a court wrangle over royalties from his autobiography breached his human right to a "hearing within a reasonable time", European judges ruled.

Blake was a British secret agent from 1944 until 1961. Early in his career, he fell in love with an MI6 secretary, Iris Peake. But when her family refused their consent for the couple to marry because of Blake's Jewish background, he decided to take revenge on the "snobbish" English nation. He turned to his uncle and confidant, Henri Curiel, who recruited him to work for the KGB.

While working in Berlin in the 1950s for MI6, he disclosed the details of dozens of MI6 agents to the Soviets. In 1962, after he was exposed, he was jailed for a total of 42 years.

Four years later he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London and fled to Russia, where he has lived ever since.

When he published the story of his MI6 career in 1990, which was entitled No Other Choice, the government took legal action to stop him receiving any payment for the work. The case lasted nearly nine years, with the House of Lords finally ruling that Blake should not receive the profits from the book sales. By then he had received an estimated £50,000.

However, from his home in Russia, Blake complained to the European Court of Human Rights about the length of the legal proceedings against him. Yesterday, the judges rejected a government submission that Blake had "brought the proceedings on himself as a self-confessed traitor who wished to profit from his treachery".

The judges said that there was no "causal link" between Blake's "established criminal record" and the violation of the Human Rights Convention, which guarantees that "in the determination of his civil rights and obligations ... everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time". The judgment listed a series of delays in various stages of the government's legal battle against Blake, which, by June 1998, had run for over seven years.

There was a 21-month delay before a final House of Lords hearing in March 2000. That resulted in a ruling barring Blake from being paid £90,000 for his autobiography. The judges said the delay before the Lords ruling "derived, to a large extent, from the failure by the state to organise its system in such a way as to meet its (Human Rights) Convention obligations".

The judgment went on: "The court does not consider that the proceedings against the applicant (Blake) were pursued with the diligence required by (the Convention). There has accordingly been a violation, in that the applicant's civil rights and obligations were not determined within a reasonable time."

The Government was ordered to pay Blake £3,500 in damages within three months for the "distress and frustration from the protracted length of the proceedings", plus a total of £2,100 in costs and expenses.