Media gag on alleged plot to kill Gaddafi
The Age | October 10, 2002
The British media have been gagged from reporting sensational courtroom evidence of former MI5 spy David Shayler, including his alleged proof that the British secret service paid $270,000 for al Qaeda terrorists to assassinate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1986.
In its efforts to contain Mr Shayler's allegations to the privacy of the court, the government has even stopped the media from reporting its successful attempt to win a gag order.
The decision by an Old Bailey judge to stop the media from reporting parts of Mr Shayler's evidence came on Monday after two senior ministers, David Blunkett and Jack Straw, signed Public Interest Immunity certificates.
The certificates, which were submitted to the court, insisted that the media and the public leave the court if the activities of the security and intelligence agencies were raised by the defence.
The then Labour opposition strenuously opposed the Tory government's use of the certificates during the arms-to-Iraq prosecution in the early '90s. Some guilty verdicts were subsequently overturned on appeal because the defence successfully argued that it had been deprived of relevant information.
When such certificates are issued, it is standard practice for the judge to read the applications and publicly hear the arguments for and against a gagging order, before ruling. But in the case of Mr Shayler - a 36-year-old former MI5 officer who is accused of disclosing government secrets to the media and in a book - the government wanted the judge, Justice Alan Moses, to consider the application in private.
The British media widely reported on Monday that lawyers acting for Mr Shayler had accused the government of trying to "intimidate" Justice Moses. But on Tuesday the newspapers - many of which had mounted their own legal case against the application of the certificates - reported simply that the court had heard legal arguments relating to Mr Shayler's trial. "The judge ruled that they (the legal arguments) cannot be reported," The Guardian reported.
Although Mr Shayler's jury trial is expected to begin next week in the Old Bailey, any evidence relating to sensitive security or intelligence matters will be kept private. After the judge's ruling on Monday, several articles detailing Mr Shayler's anticipated evidence - and the government's efforts to keep it secret - were withdrawn from newspaper websites across the country.
It is believed the government successfully applied to have parts of the trial heard in camera. This applies to evidence on "sensitive operational techniques of the security and intelligence services".
It is also believed that the court agreed to keep the identities of MI5 agents secret and to allow them to give evidence from behind screens.