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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 15:18 GMT


August: David Shayler



Review of the Year
The former M15 agent David Shayler, who sold revelations about Britain's spy network to a newspaper, was arrested in August after fleeing to France. He was wanted in the UK on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act. Later in the year he was released by the French courts.

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At the time of my arrest I was in Paris where I was talking to Nick Fielding, a Mail on Sunday journalist, about new revelations. I wanted to move public opinion to my side.

My girlfriend, Annie, and I had been living in a remote farmhouse somewhere in France called La Creuse. When we arrived in Paris we were still very worried about security so we stayed in one hotel one night and moved to another the next morning.

It took me by surprise when they came to get me because in theory I was still negotiating a deal with the British government. In retrospect though I strongly suspect Nick's phone was being bugged. By this time I had been on the run for a year.

Hotel ambush

I had gone off by myself to watch a football match on television. I was just coming back from that, walking across the hotel lobby, and these people stepped out in front of me and asked if I was Mr Shayler.

I said yes and the next thing I knew they were trying to bundle me off. I was trying to establish if I was being arrested because my initial reaction was these people are terrorists and they've come to abduct me.

They put me in handcuffs and then led me out to this unmarked car.

They took me to the Ministry of the Interior where they did the formal arrest work and then I was taken off to the basement of the Palais de Justice where I spent 24 hours in a cell with no bedding or anything.

Day of disorientation

That was the hardest bit. I had nothing to read; no watch. I didn't sleep that night. It's the sort of situation where you go mad.

I saw a judge the next day and he said I was entitled to a lawyer but none turned up. It was only then I suddenly realised my God, I'm going to prison. This is ridiculous.

I was sent to a prison called La Santé. When I got there on Sunday evening I hadn't slept for 30 odd hours and I was actually quite relieved to arrive in prison. The bed was relatively soft and there was a blanket so it was like luxury.

I didn't see a lawyer until about three days after my arrest. I really thought justice had gone completely awry.

Virtual isolation

The British government took nearly the full 40 days they have to make the complete extradition request. When I was denied all outside visitors, as I was for two months, I thought this is ridiculous; this is persecution.

The isolation was very, very difficult. I occasionally thought, perhaps I shouldn't have done what I did. But I did think I could beat extradition and I knew that would embarrass the British government.

In the days before the hearing I couldn't concentrate on anything else and I became more and more tense. I was looking at freedom or a year on remand in a high security prison in Britain.

Annie and my two brothers were in court for the judgement. The judge started out on what I thought would be a lengthy lead-up to the verdict, when the interpreter turned round and said: "You're free".

I looked across at Annie 's face and all this worry and fear dissolved into a smile and my brothers jumped up and punched the air, like Middlesborough had scored.

I was just so choked. There was just an incredible euphoria and I thought this is bloody embarrassing for the British government and for MI5. But I also felt vindicated because it was realised I had done something political.

Debt to Middlesborough fans

I wore the Middlesborough shirt to face the press because a lot of Middlesborough fans had written to me in prison in support and I wanted to say thank you and I really am a fan as well. There was also an element that I wasn't bowed by MI5; that I wasn't going to play their game and come out in a shirt and tie.

Then I went off with Annie and my brothers and a journalist to a hotel bar and ordered champagne. It was great - my first taste of freedom in three-and-a-half months.

Looking back, 1998 has been a test because you don't normally go through things like this in life. All the time I've been testing the strength of my character; the strength of the relationship with my girlfriend; my family and friends.

I think I've come through and I still think I would do it all again.
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In this section

January: Scott Ritter

February: Touched by an angel

March: Jane Couch

April: Gitta Sereny

May (1): People of Northern Ireland

May (2): Mo Mowlam

June: The England-Argentina referee

July: Gill Samuels, Viagra creator

August: David Shayler

September: Neville Lawrence

October: Ann Widdecombe

November: Sally Becker

December: Deborah Hickey