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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 15:47 GMT
Shayler: Why Norwood will be spared
In an exclusive article for BBC News Online in October 1999, David Shayler, the former MI5 officer who now lives in exile in Paris, explained why he thought granny spy Melita Norwood would never be prosecuted.

His judgemement was proved correct in December when the solicitor-general said that any such prosection would fail. Mr Shayler's original article follows:

The Home Secretary Jack Straw has told parliament that Melita Norwood could be prosecuted for betraying her country to the KGB. The case, we are told, is still under review.

Britain Betrayed
I never thought I would say this but I'm with Ann Widdecombe, Conservative shadow home secretary, on this one. She had the courage to point out what I've been saying since the Norwood story broke: the government's attitude to Norwood stands at odds with its pursuit of me.

Norwood is a self-confessed traitor who put our lives at greater risk from an enemy which trampled on its people's liberties. I spoke out about illegality and malpractice in the intelligence services without, according to a judge and a Special Branch officer, damaging national security.

Widdecombe should now state the obvious. Straw is playing politics with people's lives rather than make the decision he knows he has to make -- to drop the prosecution of Melita Norwood and admit that MI5 and the government made a mistake.

But he knows he cannot do that because it will make the government's decision to continue to pursue me under the draconian Official Secrets Act look even more absurd than it already is.

Norwood confessed to the wrong people

Melita Norwood: Confessed to reporters and not the police
I am no defender of traitors. Betrayal of any kind is shocking and unacceptable. It eats away at all forms of trust, whether it is between husband and wife or between country and citizen.

But there are good civil liberties reasons for not prosecuting Norwood. None of these have anything to do with her age or the fact that she looks like everyone's favourite granny.

No, Norwood will be spared because of the way she confessed. Although in Britain anyone can be convicted on confession evidence alone, the past actions of corrupt policemen have made it virtually impossible for a confession evidence to be admitted unless it is obtained under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

This means that any suspect has to be read their rights and anything they say has to be recorded on pristine tapes.

In other words, if Norwood had been arrested and questioned by police, as is normal in circumstances when there is suspicion of crime, her confession would have been admissible.

It would then of course be up to a jury to decide her fate, as is right and proper. Instead, Norwood gave her confession to selected journalists to whom the Mitrokhin archive had been leaked (albeit with the agreement of the foreign secretary but not the home secretary or the attorney general at the time).

Unless Norwood is formally arrested and repeats her confession on a police tape, which seems highly unlikely, a prosecution is no longer possible.

MI5 'fluffed it'

Mitrokhin: The former KGB employee who smuggled top secret records out of Russia
Behind all these mistakes, there lurks once again the spectre of MI5 using secrecy legislation to cover up its own failings. MI6 worked well to obtain and then 'exfiltrate' -- as they used to say in MI5 -- the Mitrokhin archive, which it then shared with the Security Service. In other countries, arrests and a reported conviction have come as a result.

But in Britain, MI5 fluffed it. The service failed to exploit the opportunities presented by this new information and several traitors have been allowed to escape the judicial process.

There can be few clearer indications that the excessive secrecy of the British state works against the public interest.

I know from working in MI5 that there are many other Britons who are suspected of treachery but have never been prosecuted. In many of those cases, the authorities did not prosecute for lack of evidence (although they hardly seemed to go out of their way to look for it).

In some, they did not prosecute for fear that the suspect would be acquitted by a jury more inclined to believe him or her than the spooks themselves.

In other cases, though, the decision not to prosecute has come as a result of MI5's failure to properly carry out its principle job of the Cold War -- to catch and help prosecute spies and traitors.

As I have said before, I know of two further cases of traitors who have not been prosecuted because of failures on the part of the intelligence services. I don't even know if MI5 has briefed the government about these cases, so last week I wrote to Jack Straw offering to furnish him with their identities. He has not so far replied.

I repeat here my message to the government. In the public interest, you must name these and other suspected traitors in Parliament and then release as much of the information on which the suspicions are based as possible to the public.

That will demonstrate the kind of commitment to freedom of information that Labour talked about in its election manifesto and which it has so far failed to deliver.

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22 Oct 99 | UK Politics
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