Warrior ready for a battle royal with the generals

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The Independent Online
One of Britain's most decorated warriors, General Sir Peter de la Billiere, was set for a battle royal with the Ministry of Defence last night after an order was issued banning authors of books on the special forces from their former bases.

More than two dozen authors, including the general and Andy McNab, the man behind the Gulf War best-seller Bravo Two-Zero, were told they were no longer welcome at social functions, in case they used them as a means of gathering information for new books.

The general, commander of British forces in the Gulf and the most decorated soldier since the Second World War, reacted curtly to the news, with a statement saying he had not received notification of the ban - and he didn't expect it.

"I am aware that the Ministry of Defence will be sending letters to some former members of the UK Special Forces regarding the withdrawal of authority to give them access to UK Special Forces' establishments," he said.

"I do not know who they are. Both of my books - Storm Command and Looking For Trouble - were cleared by the MoD and the SAS before publication. I have not received and do not expect to receive such a letter."

The MoD confirmed last night that it had "cleared" his books, but a spokesman said clearance was not the same as approval. "We do vet them for security reasons, but we also tell the authors that we would prefer that they did not write about the special forces at all."

"In the past three years, there have been some 35 books about the special services, including 10 best-sellers. There has not been anything like it since the Second World War. We have to ensure the safety of the men still serving, and we have to ensure secrecy. The people who have written about their experiences may well use social functions to gather more information ... we don't want to give them that opportunity."

Sir Peter was director of the SAS from 1978 to 1983. He resigned last year as president of the SAS Regimental Association and is not known for regular attendance at functions.