Skip to main content

Go to:   
Guardian Unlimited
Search:
Guardian Unlimited Web
Guardian UnlimitedSpecial reports
Home UK Business Audio Guardian Weekly The Wrap News blog Talk Search
The Guardian World America Arts Special reports Podcasts News guide Help Quiz

The Shayler case




  Search this site

  Tools
Text-only version >
Send it to a friend
Save story >


 Special report front
Article archive
 






Judge backs editor over Shayler case



Special report: David Shayler
MediaGuardian.co.uk


Richard Norton-Taylor
Saturday March 24, 2001
The Guardian


A senior judge yesterday accused the attorney general, Lord Williams, of behaving like a press censor and cleared Punch magazine of contempt for publishing an article by David Shayler, the former MI5 officer, which criticised the security and intelligence agencies' handling of the IRA's bombing campaign.

In a judgment with wide implications for the press and security services, Lord Phillips, Master of the Rolls, roundly attacked the practice whereby the attorney general obtained broad injunctions preventing the media from publishing information without first getting clearance from him.



"It subjects the press to the censorship of the attorney general," he said. Such a practice, he added, "results in the imposition of a restriction on the freedom of the press that is disproportionate to any public interest and thus in breach of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

Last July, Punch magazine published an article by Mr Shayler about the performance of MI5, the police anti-terrorist branch and GCHQ - the government's electronic eavesdropping centre - before the IRA bombed Bishopsgate in London in 1993.

The article carried the headline: "MI5 could have stopped the bomb going off". It referred to "unarmed" surveillance operations and operational mistakes by the security and intelligence agencies. Mr Shayler alleged they could have stopped the IRA bombers up to six months before the Bishopsgate blast, which killed one person, injured 44 and caused £350m of damage. He identified four Irishmen he said were involved in the bombing.

On its cover, Punch reproduced a letter in which government lawyers warned James Steen, the then editor, that the article would break a 1997 injunction against Mr Shayler and the Mail on Sunday banning publication of any material obtained by him as an MI5 officer.

Mr Steen was fined £5,000 for contempt of court last October by Mr Justice Silber though government lawyers admitted the 1997 injunction had previously been ignored.

In the appeal court yesterday, Lord Phillips and Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice Simon Brown dissenting, ruled that the attorney had produced no evidence that Mr Steen intended to damage national security, the stated purpose of the injunction.

"The contempt is committed not because the third party is in breach of the order - the order does not bind the third party," said Lord Phillips. "The contempt is committed because the purpose of the judge in making the order is intentionally frustrated..." he added.

David Price, solicitor-advocate for Mr Steen, said the ruling showed judges were now becoming more sympathetic to the media. "It is not good enough for the government merely to rely on confidentiality assurances from an employee," he said.

Mr Steen, who appealed in a personal capacity, said he was delighted by the ruling. "We published a letter on the front cover which humiliated them. That was the reason they came to court," he said.

The attorney was ordered to pay costs, estimated at more than £200,000.







UP



Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007