Spy comes in from the cold in a blizzard of lights and cameras

Shayler affair: Former MI5 operative turned whistleblower and magazine columnist makes fresh allegations as he prepares to return home
Click to follow
Indy Politics

David Shayler will come in from the cold today amid a blizzard of television lights, having made at least one startling new allegation about his former employers in MI5.

David Shayler will come in from the cold today amid a blizzard of television lights, having made at least one startling new allegation about his former employers in MI5.

The former security service agent, who has been in exile in France for three years, dropped a minor bombshell at a press conference in Calais last night. He is due to take a ferry home to Britain, instant arrest and probable bail this morning.

Mr Shayler, 32, said the security services had known for many years - but covered up - that the late Jack Jones, the former head of the Transport and General Workers' Union, had been a KGB agent.

The former, minor MI5 official turned whistleblower and Punch columnist also said he had been offered "millions of pounds" to work for the Libyan security services while in Paris and, among other things, to give them the names of British agents in North Africa. He said that he had refused because he was a patriot and "not a traitor".

Mr Shayler has decided to cut short his protected status as a political refugee in France and embarrass the security services and the Government by challenging them to put him on trial for breaches of the Official Secrets Act.

He repeated his allegation yesterday that two senior M16 officers had funded a failed assassination attempt against the Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi, in 1995, in which several bystanders died. He said the two agents - whom he named by their Bond-style codes PT16B and PT16 - were guilty of conspiracy to murder.

Mr Shayler, and his lawyer, John Wadham, the director of the civil rights group Liberty, claimed yesterday that the Metropolitan Police had started an investigation into the British connection to the Gaddafi plot. (All British involvement has has been denied by the Government). The documents produced at the press conference failed, however, to confirm any police investigation. A letter to Mr Wadham from the head of the Metropolitan Special Branch, Commander Roger Pearce, spoke only of "assessing the allegations" and interviewing Mr Shayler.

Like all Shayler-related events, yesterday's press conference was a mixture of serious allegations, high jinks and sonorous self-advertisement. "It's not just about me, this," Mr Shayler said at one stage. "It's about the future of Britain."

Mr Shayler - laddish, voluble, plumpish, with an Elvis quiff - defeats popular images of a former security service official. He looks like James Bond played by a young Robbie Coltrane: double-o-chin, rather than double-o-seven.

He and his girlfriend, Annie Machon, also a former MI5 official, posed for photographers at the Copthorne Hotel on the cliffs above Calais like a couple about to leave on their honeymoon. They were joined by Mr Shayler's parents, Ron and Anne, and his brothers Philip and Jeremy.

A photographer from The Sun asked Mr Shayler to pose wrapped in a Union flag (which the newspaper had provided). Mr Shayler was willing to play the game but Mr Wadhamwas not. "We're not going to get into that," he said, hustling his client away. "They'll never get in The Sun now," the photographer complained.

Mr Shayler evidently loves to be the centre of attention but that does not necessarily invalidate the whistles he has to blow. "I did what I did because I love my country. I'm not a traitor to it," he said. "I believe in the Britain of democracy, individual liberty and human rights. If you cannot criticise what is being done in your country's name, you have stopped thinking and you have ceased to be a human being."

Mr Shayler fled to France in August 1997 to avoid arrest for revealing in newspaper articles an alleged series of bungles by MI5, including the failure to stop an IRA bombing campaign in London in the 1990s. He was arrested by the French authorities in 1998 but, after three months in a Paris jail, his extradition was refused on the grounds that he had committed a political rather than a criminal offence.

He said yesterday he was returning because he had been promised bail; because exile had placed a strain on the health of his girlfriend; and because he missed home and family and watching Middlesbrough football club. His plans include the publication of a novel on MI5 (already written) and the writing of two other books - on his exile and his brief time in MI5. He also intends to stand against Tony Blair as an independent civil rights candidate at the next election.

Mr Shayler said there had been only one moment he felt he may have done wrong: when he spent three and a half months in the pitiless Santéprison in eastern Paris. "I knew I shouldn't be in prison for what I'd done but that was the one time I regretted it," he said.

He denied suggestions that his decision to return to Britain could be seen as a victory for the Government. He had been under no economic pressure, he said. The money he earned from his Punch column (funded by Mohammed Al Fayed) was enough "to continue living comfortably in Paris forever".

Mr Shayler said his trial on Official Secrets charges might prove more embarrassing for the Government than for himself. He intended to subpoena documents to prove his allegations were "absolutely correct".

Was he gambling that the Government would quietly drop the charges? "Maybe," he said. "I'm sure that they'll go as slow as possible in the hope that I'll be forgotten."

Mr Shayler faces a two-year sentence if convicted, of which he would serve up to one year in prison. Even if he does serve a sentence, he would be still a young man when he comes out of prison.

How does he imagine he will spend the rest of his life? "Campaigning for civil and human rights in Britain," he said. "My name is quite well known now. People are always putting it in headlines. I would want to build on that. There was a time when our civil liberties in Britain, such as freedom of speech, were the envy of Europe. Now, in many cases, European countries are ahead of us. We have to change that."