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Monday, 21 August, 2000, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Whistleblower calls the tune
David Shayler on Have I Got News For You?
Mr Shayler: A familiar face on TV ... on TV
Ex-spy David Shayler has fought a parallel publicity war against the government for the past three years. And it's no surprise his return home was heavily staged. By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy.

For three years he was gone, but never forgotten.

David Shayler, the former MI5 agent who stands accused of breaking the Official Secrets Act, steadfastly refused to "disappear" quietly.

Mr Shayler in Calais
Accepting a Union Flag, Mr Shayler calls himself "Public Friend No.1"
So it came as no surprise that his return to these shores on Monday was a ruthlessly orchestrated event.

Mr Shayler, who had been living as a "political exile" in Paris, was encircled by a gaggle of cameramen and reporters as he stepped off a cross-Channel ferry and onto home turf.

Of course, for the sake of expediency he could have just hopped on a plane or a Eurostar train, and made the journey to London in a fraction of the time.

But that would have denied Britain's best-known "spy" vital media exposure.

Mr Shayler squeezed his homecoming for every ounce of publicity.

Mr Shayler arrested at Dover
"No, I won't come quietly"
There was a news conference in Calais on Sunday; on-board press interviews during the 90-minute ferry ride; and brief embraces with family members as Special Branch officers in Dover tried to hurry him into a police car.

Publicity, his girlfriend Annie Machon once said, is "our only protection."

Since David Shayler fled Britain in August 1997, after "blowing the whistle" on the workings of the secret service, he has hardly been out of the headlines.

His efforts to maintain a high profile have ranged from the conventional - threatening to publish more top-secret revelations on his website - to the bizarre - trying to "crucify" himself outside the British embassy in Paris.

Weight jibes

To some, Mr Shayler's tireless campaign has turned him into a joke. When he appeared on BBC's Have I Got News For You? - via a satellite link - comedian Paul Merton berated him with a string of jibes about his weight.

Shayler's "stunts"
Mock crucifixion in Paris
Appeared on Have I Got News For You?
Also on They Think It's All Over
Threatened to run against Tony Blair in election
Invited press to his passport application
But journalist and commentator Nick Cohen says he has fought the authorities the only way he can.

"If Shayler did not want to spend his life in exile, he had to keep the pressure on and to keep himself in the public eye," says Mr Cohen.

"You have to fight the Official Secrets Act as a political case and tell the authorities: 'unless you back off you will keep on being embarrassed by more revelations'."

From Paris, Mr Shayler stoked the embers of government unrest with fresh allegations from his time at MI5.

These included accusations of a plot to assassinate the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, and claims that the security services knew about the IRA Bishopsgate bomb, but failed to act.

A one-time trainee journalist, he penned a column for the satirical magazine, Punch, and spoke freely of the spy novel he was writing.

David Shayler and brothers
Sporting a Middlesbrough shirt, Mr Shayler in celebratory mood
He notched up another TV quiz show appearance, on They Think It's All Over, announced plans to stand against Tony Blair in the next general election and made a media event out of applying for a new British passport.

Reckless actions? Mr Cohen says not.

"One of the great weapons when up against the British bureaucracy is wit and stunts," he says, pointing to the recent launch of a controversial book by Huddersfield University lecturer Stephen Dorril, called MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations.

The author handed out copies, with limited success, to staff arriving at MI6 headquarters in London.

Former journalist

Although Mr Shayler's efforts to seize the initiative have sometimes faltered- his mock crucifixion turned into a farce after French authorities stepped in - he has played the media well, says the intelligence expert and media commentator Phillip Knightley.

David Shayler with passport
Returning to Britain after three years away
"Shayler was once a journalist. He has the journalist's skill of knowing what the media wants. He's an adept player," he says

Mr Knightley says the return journey was nicely managed by Mr Shayler, while the arresting police officers appeared heavy-handed.

"When [the press] asked what are you most looking forward to, he said 'bacon and eggs'; seeing the white cliffs of Dover would be 'moving'. It's all very patriotic."

However, the arrest was a "bit of a farce ... Inspector Clouseau type stuff," he says.

"I think the arresting officer thought Shayler was going to do a runner. All [he] wanted to do was kiss his mum goodbye.

"Shayler has clearly managed the whole media side of it much better than the government."

See also:

21 Aug 00 | UK
Shayler on secrets charges
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