Press challenge to spy trial secrecy fails

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VITAL EVIDENCE in an Old Bailey spy trial will be heard in secret after a legal attempt by national newspapers to have some of it heard in public failed yesterday.

Mr Justice Blofeld rejected an appeal to have parts of the evidence against Michael Smith, 43, of Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, accused under the Official Secrets Act, heard in open court.

It is believed to be the first time newspapers have challenged an order made on the grounds of national security.

Mr Smith, a former employee of GEC-Marconi, is accused of obtaining or communicating information which might have been useful to an enemy for a purpose 'prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state' in 1990, and between January 1991 and May 1992. He is also charged with making notes which could be of use to an enemy, between April 1992 and 8 August 1992.

The 'enemy' referred to in the charge is believed to be the KGB. Sir Derek Spencer, the Solicitor-General, applied for all or part of the trial to be heard in secret to avoid disclosing information 'prejudicial to the national safety'.

The application was challenged by Andrew Nicol, on behalf of the Independent, the Guardian, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun, the News of the World and Today newspapers.

It was argued that evidence about espionage tradecraft was already in the public domain. The newspapers are expected to take the case to the Court of Appeal.