Britain's most senior intelligence officer is said to be showing no sign of recovery after being in a coma for five days with a mysterious illness which doctors have so far failed to diagnose.
The police and the security service have ruled out any possibility that Alex Allan, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), was poisoned. Toxicological tests are being carried out, however, to ascertain whether there is anything in his bloodstream which would explain his collapse.
Mr Allan, who briefs the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on security matters, was appointed to his post by Gordon Brown last autumn. He did not come from a security background and was remarkably open about his personal details, posting his address and telephone number in his Facebook-style website. But Scotland Yard said there was nothing to suggest he was the victim of an assassination attempt.
Security officials pointed out that administration of a sophisticated poison is not the modus operandi of Islamist fundamentalists and there was no evidence to suggest that the Russian secret service, accused over the death of Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive polonium, had targeted Mr Allan.
Mr Allan's wife, Katie Clemson, a renowned artist from Australia, died from cancer last November as he was taking up his job at the JIC and he was said to have been depressed over the loss. Friends and colleagues insisted yesterday, however, that this was no more than the normal reaction of a bereaved husband and that he was getting on with his life.
Last Saturday Mr Allan, 57, a fan of Grateful Dead, visited the rock band's website. On Sunday he told friends that he was feeling unwell. He did not turn up for work on Monday at the Cabinet Office and was discovered unconscious at his home in west London by a friend in the afternoon. He was taken to hospital where two policemen, there on unrelated matters, recognised who he was and called the Metropolitan Police special branch.
What makes Mr Allan's illness particularly puzzling is that he recently passed a medical examination and prides himself on his fitness. The photograph on his website shows him in his cycling gear and he once windsurfed to work along the Thames during a train strike wearing a bowler hat and suit and carrying a briefcase and an umbrella.
The JIC attracted adverse publicity recently when a senior official left secret documents about Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan on a train. The Cabinet Office said yesterday that the fact that Mr Allan was heading the inquiry into the incident showed that he was not deemed to be responsible in any way for the lapse of security.
What is the Joint Intelligence Committee?
*The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) collates material from the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the Security Service (MI5), the Defence Intelligence Service and GCHQ. It also briefs the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on security matters and oversees the direction taken by the security agencies.
The meetings, once a week, are attended by the heads of the intelligence and security agencies, representatives from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. Delegates from the United States, Canada and Australia attend a part of the meeting.
The work of JIC came under public scrutiny in the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly. The committee had been tasked with compiling the dossier into Iraq's alleged WMD arsenal and the veracity of its conclusion came in for public criticism.
*Two secret reports for JIC, on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, were recently left on a train by a senior official. Alex Allan was heading the disciplinary hearing into the security lapse.
The Joint Intelligence Committee is the first point of contact between the security and intelligence services and the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, who are given regular reports on the performances of the services.
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