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Page last updated at 19:32 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 20:32 UK

Spy suspect 'asked boss to salsa'

Daniel James (left)
Daniel James (left) translated for Gen Sir David Richards

An ex-British soldier accused of spying for Iran asked the head of coalition forces in Afghanistan if he wanted to go salsa dancing, a court has heard.

Gen Sir David Richards said he declined interpreter Daniel James's offer but put up with his "bizarre" behaviour because he was "dependent" on him.

The Iranian-born soldier interpreted during meetings, the Old Bailey heard.

Mr James, 45, from Brighton, denies two charges under the Official Secrets Act and wilful misconduct in public office.

Jurors heard how Gen Richards was in charge of 35,000 troops, which made up the 37-nation International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2006.

Mr James, born in Tehran and called up as a Territorial Army reservist in March 2006, has been described as a "Walter Mitty"-style fantasist who allegedly became an agent for Iran.

Mr James, who also is a salsa dance instructor, is accused of sending coded messages to the Iranian military attache in Kabul.

'Promotion demand'

The court was told Mr James would sometimes refer to himself as "General James" and Gen Richards described how the soldier would "act up" while translating speeches into the Dari language spoken by the majority of Afghan officers.

And on one occasion after being told by Gen Richards "we'll make a sergeant of you yet", Mr James went to see the brigadier and demanded promotion, jurors were told.

Gen Richards, now commander-in-chief of land forces, agreed with the suggestion of Colin Nicholls QC, defending, that James's behaviour could be seen as "bordering on the bizarre".

We were completely dependent on him. He was in quite an influential position and maybe he played up to it a bit
Gen Sir David Richards

"I remember him asking me if I wanted to go to a salsa class," the general said, adding: "I declined."

Gen Richards went on to tell the court how Mr James would attend his meetings with senior Afghan officials where big decisions were made.

"We would inevitably get onto sensitive points of discussion. They were more strategic than operational in fact," he said.

"I would rarely talk about tactical detail, ie where a particular unit would be on a particular day, but certainly you would be party to a lot of atmospherics and the big decisions rather than the specifics."

Mr James also went with the general to a meeting at the Iranian embassy in August 2006 but was not required to interpret because the ambassador spoke good English, the court heard.

It was here, prosecutors argue, he may have met his Iranian contact.

'Influential position'

But Gen Richards said he had no reason to doubt the corporal's loyalty and was "surprised" he had been found in December 2006 carrying a USB memory stick containing details of troops, munitions and intelligence.

The general said although some members of his staff regarded Mr James as a "nightmare", he thought of him as "an enthusiastic person doing his best".

His interpreting skills were of interest to me rather than his slightly unusual demeanour
Col John Donnelly

"We were completely dependent on him. He was in quite an influential position and maybe he played up to it a bit," he said.

Gen Richards added there had been "sufficient evidence" of the influence of Iran in the attacks on coalition forces for troops to be "wary in our dealings with the Iranians".

Earlier, Mr James's commanding officer also described the interpreter's behaviour as "strange and eccentric".

The soldier worked for Col John Donnelly on an Afghan officer training programme when he was deployed in 2006.

Col Donnelly said his demeanour and unusual dress were not what he would have expected of a corporal.

"His interpreting skills were of interest to me rather than his slightly unusual demeanour," he told the court.

The trial continues.


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