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Britain Plans to Appeal Spy Book Verdict

March 15, 1987|Associated Press

LONDON — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Friday that the government expects to appeal an Australian court's decision to allow publication of a book about Britain's secret service by one of its former agents.

The verdict came earlier in the day after an 18-month legal battle.

British officials said the ruling by the New South Wales Supreme Court did not surprise them, but the fight should continue to deter former civil servants from violating the confidentiality that binds them for life under the Official Secrets Act of 1911.

Leaders of the opposition Labor Party said the case is embarrassing and Thatcher should drop it, but she told reporters: "We are expecting to appeal against the judgment. . . . There was a principle to uphold which was fundamental to our security service."

The court put a 28-day ban on publication of the book to give Britain time to appeal.

At the center of the case is Peter Wright, a 71-year-old former agent of the MI5 counterespionage service, and his 637-page memoir "Spycatcher," which is said to throw embarrassing light on the service.

Wright, now living in Australia, argued that the allegations already had been printed and cited a government-authorized book published in 1981, on which he collaborated.

"Spycatcher" is said to amplify allegations Wright has made in interviews that right-wing elements in MI5 tried to undermine the Labor Party government of the mid-1970s.

It also claims that the late Sir Roger Hollis, MI5 director in 1956-1965, was a Soviet spy. Thatcher says this cannot be proved, and Hollis' widow and friends deny it.

Because the allegations have been published in Britain without government interference, Judge Philip Powell dismissed as "decidedly hollow" the argument that "Spycatcher" would damage British national interests.

The Hollis allegation resurrects the whole issue of Britain's post-World War II intelligence services.

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