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Briton in death penalty case was MoD spy

Arms charges: MP's letter supports defence
Despite government denials, a Briton facing a possible death penalty in Calcutta for treason was working for British intelligence when he was arrested in India, The Independent has learned.

The Ministry of Defence denies any collaboration with Peter Bleach, 44, a former army intelligence officer turned arms dealer. He was arrested last December in Bombay after his cargo aircraft dropped by parachute a huge cache of arms allegedly destined for a Hindu revolutionary cult.

But a letter sent by Jeremy Hanley, the foreign minister, to the Conservative MP Sir Teddy Taylor on 30 April, confirms Mr Bleach's version that he had tipped-off defence officials about the arms plot. Mr Hanley wrote: "I understand that Mr Bleach was in contact with the Defence Export Sales Organisation (DESO) on a number of occasions. Mr Allkins of DESO passed a copy of Mr Bleach's letter on to the appropriate authorities. Subsequently, police officers visited Mr Bleach at his home. They advised him not to proceed further with the case.

"Following this meeting, Mr Bleach continued to contact DESO irregularly. On each occasion it was made clear to him that information was being passed on to the appropriate authorities, Mr Bleach agreed that he was content for this to happen."

But sources close to Mr Bleach dispute the Foreign Office's assertion he was warned off the arms delivery. "They told Peter to run with it and find out who the arms were meant for," the sources told The Independent. Sir Teddy, in correspondence with one of Mr Bleach's friends, remarked on Mr Hanley's letter: "You will see that the Government insists that they advised Peter not to proceed with the contract but I would think that this may simply be the normal defence mechanism with the Foreign Office!"

Mr Bleach's defenders claim that the ministry may be trying to hide its embarrassing ties with him. British intelligence passed on Mr Bleach's details of the proposed arms drop to Indian officials, but through a series of blunders (one secret letter was sent from New Delhi to West Bengal officials by ordinary post, arriving too late) the alleged ring-leaders, who belong to a Hindu sect known as Ananda Marg, all escaped. Only Mr Bleach and a Latvian air crew were caught.

"I think that the police are setting me up to take the consequences of the entire air-drop," Mr Bleach told The Independent. "They are treating me as the world's worst mercenary."

The Independent also learned that evidence allegedly proving Mr Bleach's ties to British intelligence were seized under the Prevention of Terrorism Act during simultaneous raids on his London flat and home in north Yorkshire, by the Metropolitan Police and North Yorkshire CID.

"The Indian police had gone to London, persuaded British police to obtain a search warrant, and then on 31 July they raided my girlfriend's house and took all the defence papers," Mr Bleach said. The papers, which Mr Bleach insists can prove his innocence, are in Special Branch custody.

Mr Bleach says he cannot find a barrister in Calcutta to defend him. He also asserts that Indian authorities have denied him a chance to examine the 300-page charge sheet against him.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said in New Delhi last January that Britain would not plead Mr Bleach's cause. "My government has no interest in anything other than the [Indian] law taking its normal course," he said.