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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 16:58 GMT
Six-month sentence for Shayler
David Shayler and girlfriend Annie Machon
The judge said Shayler was not motivated by greed
Ex-MI5 agent David Shayler has been sentenced to six months in jail following his conviction for breaking the Official Secrets Act.

Shayler, 36, had been found guilty on three charges and faced a maximum of two years in jail for each.

He revealed secret documents to the Mail on Sunday newspaper in 1997, arguing he had a public duty to expose malpractice within the security services.

But the prosecution said Shayler, who was released on bail in advance of his sentencing on Tuesday, had potentially placed the lives of secret agents at risk.


Your own actions demonstrate a lack of any real insight into what you were doing

Mr Justice Moses
It said he betrayed a "life-long duty of confidentiality" by revealing classified matters.

Trial Judge Mr Justice Moses said the defendant had shown "blinkered arrogance" in committing the offences.

He said he was prepared to accept that Shayler was motivated by a desire to expose what was wrong, not by money.

But he told him: "Your own actions demonstrate a lack of any real insight into what you were doing or any intelligent foresight into its consequences.

"It is, contrary to your own belief, that blinkered arrogance which has led you here today."

Relief

The judge said he had taken into account the three-and-a-half months Shayler had spent in a French prison while the government tried unsuccessfully to extradite him.

Shayler's girlfriend Annie Machon told the court he was not a self-publicist and denied he was motivated by wanting to get into journalism.

Outside court, she said: "To throw David in prison is pointless and wasteful."

Shayler, who represented himself during the trial, looked relieved as the judge announced his sentence.

He had told the Old Bailey jury he feared for his life at the time, because of something "far more serious" than anything published in the paper.


He is a pretty strong character and I'm sure he will come through

Anne Shayler
Mother
Shayler copied 28 files, some marked "Top Secret", on seven topics before leaving MI5 in October 1996.

The documents were said to be full of agents' names and other highly sensitive information, which was all blacked out when presented to jurors.

Soon after, he accused MI5 of incompetence and leaked sensitive information to the Mail on Sunday, including allegations of financial links between the Provisional IRA and Libya.

He then fled to France with the 40,000 he earned from his revelations, but returned to Britain after three years knowing he faced arrest.

Appeal

The prosecution has said it will apply at a later date to have the cash confiscated from Shayler.

Outside the court Shayler's mother Anne said a six-month sentence was not as bad as the family thought it would be.

"He is a pretty strong character and I'm sure he will come through."

John Wadham, director of civil rights group Liberty and also Shayler's solicitor, said they would consider taking the case to appeal and would continue their application to the European Court of Human Rights.

David Shayler with his girlfriend Annie Machon
David Shayler and Annie Machon returned to the UK after three years
Maurice Frankel from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said there needed to be fundamental changes to the way in which such cases were dealt with.

A House of Lords hearing before the trial ruled that Shayler could not reveal details of the "serious" matter that allegedly put his life in danger.

It also refused him permission to argue his case with a "public interest defence" under the European Charter of Human Rights.

But following the conviction, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Shayler's actions, there should be a change in the law to ensure that a public interest defence can be undertaken."

During the trial, Nigel Sweeney QC, for the Crown, said disclosure of even one piece of classified information could be the "final piece in the jigsaw" allowing hostile countries or organisations to identify British agents.

The jury was told current legislation allowed alternative action for whistle-blowing, such as telling the police or a government minister, instead of going to the media.

Jurors were allowed to see the weighty file of secret documents - but the names of agents and other ultra-sensitive information was obscured.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Thatcher
"He's always seen himself as a whistleblower"
David Shayler's parents
"He's a pretty strong character, I'm sure he'll come through"


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