Secrets case against army officer dropped

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The Independent Online

Official Secrets Act charges against the former bomb disposal officer Lieutenant-Colonel Nigel Wylde were dropped yesterday.

Official Secrets Act charges against the former bomb disposal officer Lieutenant-Colonel Nigel Wylde were dropped yesterday.

The case was due to be heard at the Old Bailey in three weeks' time and prosecution lawyers had applied only last week for the case to be heard in secret.

Lt-Col Wylde was charged earlier this year with handing over secrets to a journalist about classified surveillance computers used by the British military in Northern Ireland.

But according to inside sources the Crown Prosecution Service had been increasingly concerned about the strength of the case and on Tuesday consulted the Attorney General, Lord Williams of Mostyn. In a statement yesterday the CPS said the decision had been made because of ''insufficient evidence'' in the case after taking the advice of Lord Williams.

The decision will be embarrassing to the Government, which has failed in a number of controversial official secrets prosecutions, and also to the Ministry of Defence Police, whose conduct of the case has been criticised.

Lt-Col Wylde, 53, who left the Army in 1991, said yesterday: "This decision is a victory for freedom of speech, and the Attorney should reflect that the other cases will end in similar victories." He said the Ministry of Defence Police knew, or should have known from the evidence in their possession in December 1998, that no offence under the Official Secrets Act had been committed. "Yet it has taken numerous letters to the Attorney General, Members of Parliament and many hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money for the prosecuting authorities to realise that they never had any evidence of wrongdoing." he said.

His lawyer, John Wadham, of Liberty, said: "This case should never have got off the ground.... This case is another nail in the coffin of the Official Secrets Act. The Act is fundamentally flawed and needs to be reformed. When Labour was in opposition it opposed the Act in principle and many current Cabinet ministers voted against it, yet the Attorney General on their behalf seemed happy to use it against my client."

Lt-Col Wylde, a former military intelligence officer, and the author Tony Geraghty were arrested in December 1998 after early morning raids at their homes. Both had computers and documents seized.

This followed the publication of Tony Geraghty's book The Irish War, which describes two British Army computer databases in Northern Ireland and raises the growing use of computers by military intelligence in identifying targets.

The Attorney General had already dropped charges against Mr Geraghty.