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Sunday, 20 August, 2000, 01:25 GMT 02:25 UK
'Shaylergate' explained

MI5-agent-turned-whistleblower David Shayler faces an Old Bailey trial over his revelation of state secrets. BBC News Online looks back at the "Shaylergate" saga.

Who is David Shayler?

Mr Shayler, now 34, joined the domestic intelligence service MI5 in 1994, following an abortive career as a journalist for the Sunday Times.

David Shayler
"Frowny" left MI5 in 1997
He worked for G Branch, dealing with international terrorism, C Branch, where government officials' backgrounds are checked and T Branch - targeting terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Desk-bound and increasingly unhappy with his employer, Mr Shayler - or "Frowny" as he was christened by colleagues - quit his job in 1997.

He took his concerns about the UK's secret services to Mail on Sunday journalist Nick Fielding.

What allegations did Mr Shayler make?

Mr Shayler's revelations about MI5, and its sister espionage service MI6, range from the general to the embarrassingly specific.

In August 1997, The Mail on Sunday published his claims that MI5 was riven with incompetence and inefficiency.

The Sex Pistols at Buckingham Palace
Were the Sex Pistols under surveillance?
He also "blew the whistle" on alleged surveillance operations on such "subversives" as Jack Straw, and Peter Mandelson - now both government high-flyers.

Ex-Beatle John Lennon, UB40 and punk band the Sex Pistols were also investigated by MI5, said Shayler.

Further allegations have followed, suggesting a bungling MI5 failed to stop the bomb attack on Israel's London embassy in 1994 and the IRA's 1993 Bishopsgate bombing, which killed one person.

In August 1998, Mr Shayler renewed his attacks on the secret services, saying MI6 had invested 100,000 in a plot to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.

What has been the "whistleblower's" reward?

Even before the publication of the original allegations, Mr Shayler decided it would be prudent to leave the UK - moving first to the Netherlands and later to France.

Colonel Gaddafi
The Gaddafi plot dismissed as "pure fantasy"
Mr Shayler's partner, former MI5 agent Annie Machon, returned to the UK to test the waters in September 1997. She was arrested, but never charged.

The whistleblower was to see the inside of a prison cell himself the following August. Detained in Paris after the Gaddafi plot claims emerged, Mr Shayler was held while French judges considered extradition proceedings lodged by Scotland Yard.

The Paris court agonised over whether Mr Shayler's disclosures were prompted by fears over MI5's conduct or by avarice.

Mr Shayler received 39,000 for talking to the papers, according to the French public prosecutor. The ex-spy put the figure nearer 20,000.

The extradition order was eventually turned down because the UK Government's calls for Mr Shayler's return were deemed to be "politically motivated" - and thus against French law.

Mr Shayler walked free in November 1998.

Was Mr Shayler happy in exile?

Mr Shayler had always articulated a desire to come home.

Middlesbrough football team in action
Is MI5 helping "Boro"?
Mr Shayler and his supporters had talked of "imaginative deals" and "ancient laws" being used to end the "Shaylergate" affair and the ex-agent's exile.

The government rejected such a notion, issuing Mr Shayler with a further writ for breaches of confidence, contract and copyright laws on secret service files.

With no government compromise in sight, Mr Shayler has decided to return to the UK and risk seeing the inside of a British prison.

While in France, Middlesbrough-born Mr Shayler showed every sign of homesickness - even having received pies from a butcher in his home town.

An avid follower of "Boro" - the Middlesbrough football team - Mr Shayler wondered if MI5 had fixed the side's entry to the 1997 Coco-Cola Cup Final in a bid to stage his arrest. He resisted the urge to attend.

What do Mr Shayler's supporters say?

"[He has] set in motion an unstoppable momentum towards real reform of the intelligence services," said Richard Tomlinson, a former MI6 agent who also turned whistleblower.

Former MI6 spy Richard Tomlinson
Richard Tomlinson praises Mr Shayler
"I became convinced that the man was genuine," Julie-Ann Davies, a student who interviewed Mr Shayler for her research and was later arrested by Special Branch detectives.

What do his detractors say?

"Pure fantasy" was how Robin Cook, the UK foreign secretary, described claims about the Gaddafi plot.

"A born rebel who sails close to the wind," Mr Shayler's former head teacher.

"The spy who just won't shut up," says the Sunday Times, the paper which sacked the trainee Mr Shayler when "he failed to make the grade".

What does Mr Shayler say?

"I am a patriot not a traitor," he wrote in a recent letter to MPs.

"Hello, you're through to the Public Friend Number One Hotline," is Mr Shayler's answer machine message.

What next?

David Shayler
Has passport, will travel
Should Mr Shayler escape a prison sentence, it seems unlikely employers will relish taking on such an enthusiastic whistleblower.

The former spy has expressed an interest in making a living in letters, either returning to journalism or writing fiction.

While in exile he completed a novel, The Organisation, a tale of sex, spies and football.

Although passed unchanged by the UK censors, the book has yet to find a publisher.

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