Mr Straw must put our spies in order, not jail the one who blew the whistle

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Glienecke Bridge it is not. David Shayler's arrival in Dover this morning may be the product of a deal negotiated with this British Government, but it hardly compares with the famous exchanges of spies between East and West across the river outside Berlin.

Glienecke Bridge it is not. David Shayler's arrival in Dover this morning may be the product of a deal negotiated with this British Government, but it hardly compares with the famous exchanges of spies between East and West across the river outside Berlin.

The former spy's return from exile has its elements of farce, and yet the issues raised are grave. Even the fact that Mr Shayler is, to be blunt, one zero short of the full 007, is a serious condemnation of the poor quality of the recruitment procedures of the British security services.

Mr Shayler may not have been a very good spy, and some of his revelations strain for effect. But that does not justify the way he and some of his friends have been treated, which should be unacceptable in a country proud to call itself a democracy

Nor are all Mr Shayler's allegations easily dismissed. If the British security services were involved in a plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi then this raises a principle which should be debated in Parliament. Robin Cook says Mr Shayler is making it up. Mr Shayler says the Foreign Secretary would not have been told. The allegation should be investigated, and clear limits to what is acceptable in dealing with hostile nations laid down.

Equally, it is clearly in the public interest that the issue of the security services' monitoring of politicians should be discussed openly. Mr Shayler's revelation that MI5, the domestic security service, kept a file on Peter Mandelson hardly came as a surprise - whether or not it was right - given his schoolboy membership of the Young Communist League. Yet it raised significant questions about the nature, extent, duration and purpose of such monitoring. While it must be accepted that not all the contents of files should be open to inspection, the existence of files should at least be made public.

What has been baffling about the Shayler affair has been Labour's extraordinary aping of the paranoid response of past governments. Administrations of both party colours - mostly Conservative but always conservative - have always responded to allegations of incompetence and worse on the part of the security services by clamping down on the breach of official secrecy rather than by addressing the substance of the claims themselves.

It was surely not unreasonable to hope that a new generation coming to power, bearing some folk-memory of liberal attitudes to freedom of information and some experience as left-wingers of being on the receiving end of state authoritarianism, would herald a fresh approach.

Fat chance. Witchfinder Straw and Righteous Blair repeated all the old errors of the Ponting and Spycatcher cases by trying to lock Mr Shayler up and, when he fled to France, ignominiously failing to have him extradited. Not only that, but the police then arrested one of Mr Shayler's friends and held her in custody for 12 hours.

Most baffling of all, this all happened under a government which is incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into British law - a thoroughly admirable move that will greatly strengthen the increasingly liberal hand of judges in their interpretation of Britain's secrecy law. Is it too much to hope that the deal by which Mr Shayler is allowed to return to his own country includes the understanding that the charges against him will in due course be quietly dropped?

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