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1987: Newspaper caught in Spycatcher row
The Attorney General is to sue the Sunday Telegraph in the continuing legal battle over a former senior secret service officer's memoirs.

The British Government has tried to prevent publication of Peter Wright's Spycatcher since he first discussed it two years ago.

This is the seventh action the Attorney General has launched against a British newspaper and comes the day after the Law Lords extended the injunction against publication to include coverage of the trial in Australia where it is attempting to stop the book's publication.

We have consistently supported their stand against Peter Wright
Peregrine Worsthorne, Editor Sunday Telegraph
Mr Wright left MI5 in 1976 but the government says his revelations are in breach of his contract and could damage confidence in British security.

Attorney General Sir Patrick Mayhew is launching legal proceedings against the Sunday Telegraph newspaper after it published three articles repeating details from the banned book.

Editor of the Sunday Telegraph Peregrine Worsthorne was surprised by the government's response: "We have been one of the few papers who have consistently supported their stand against Peter Wright."

Judges at New South Wales Court of Appeal retired to consider Sir Patrick's appeal against the publication of Spycatcher in Australia after hearing final pleas yesterday.

In the US the First Amendment protects freedom of the press above official secrecy and the book was published there two weeks ago by Penguin Viking.

Copies of the book are already available in the UK and up to 100,000 editions are expected to flood the country when publishing begins in Ireland and the Netherlands in the next month.

An injunction against the Sunday Times for serialising the American edition were dropped last week when a High Court judge ruled it made the law "an ass" to uphold it when the book was available in the US.

Eighteen-month old injunctions against the Guardian and Observer newspapers were also dropped.

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Photograph of Peter Wright's Spycatcher memoirs
Peter Wright's memoirs at the centre of court proceedings against the media


In Context
By the middle of September 1987 Spycatcher was the number one hardback bestseller in the US, selling 400,000 copies and on its seventh edition.

The New South Wales Court of Appeal rejected Sir Patrick Mayhew's attempt to prevent Spycatcher from being published in Australia on 23 September.

Over the next few months the British Government tried and failed to seize profits from the book.

The case against the Sunday Telegraph was quietly dropped but other legal battles continued in the UK and abroad at an estimated cost of 1,000,000.

The Law Lords ruled in October 1988 the public interest outweighed any threat to national security in publishing Spycatcher and remaining bans on the book were lifted.

Peter Wright became a millionaire and died in April 1995 aged 78.

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