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Wednesday, 13 May, 1998, 03:04 GMT 04:04 UK
Spy out of jail
MI5 logo
Security service chiefs are concerned Bettaney could still have confidential information
The spy Michael Bettaney, who was jailed for offering secrets to the Russians, has been released from prison after 14 years.

The release of the former MI5 worker has been greeted with fears that he could still have vital information valuable to hostile governments.

Bettaney, 48, who used a special camera to photograph top-secret documents at MI5, has been freed on parole from his 23-year sentence.

He is now living in southern England with his fiancee, former Communist Party member Marion Johnstone.

Bettaney, who joined M15 in 1974, said: "We just want to be left alone to get on with our life together. There is no bitterness. I broke the law - I broke a big law.

Prison interrior
Bettaney was released from Swaleside Prison
"I have been eligible for parole since 1991. My release becomes unconditional next January. Perhaps I will have something to say then."

Security chiefs are believed to be furious at the decision to release Bettaney who, they fear, still knows the names of British agents working abroad as well as other sensitive material.

He was jailed in 1984 at the Old Bailey after being found guilty of 10 charges under the Official Secrets Act.

At the trial, Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane described Bettaney as "self-opinionated and dangerous."

He told the spy: "You would not have hesitated to disclose names to the Russians which would have almost certainly have led to the death of more than one person."

The Prison Service has refused to comment on the release.

Documents meant for KGB

Bettaney is said to have "turned" in 1982 and photographed and copied detailed classified information which he planned to pass on to the KGB.

He kept the documents at his home in Surrey, and was arrested the day before he planned to fly to Vienna where he hoped to deliver them to Russian agents.

His arrest came after a British agent in Moscow tipped off MI5 that it had a traitor in its midst.

So sensitive was the evidence during the trial that the press and public were excluded.

In 1995 he was at the centre of a Home Office inquiry after photographs and sketches of the area outside Swaleside Prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent were found in his cell.

Miss Johnstone, who met Bettaney after writing to him in 1985, admitted she had smuggled in the pictures of fields and footpaths.

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