Drop shield of secrecy

Was David Shayler right to pass details of MI5 wrongdoing to The Mail on Sunday? Did he know something so serious that it justified him breaking secrecy rules? Is it a crime to expose a crime? These are the key questions behind his Official Secrets Act trial that has just ended at the Old Bailey.

Unfortunately, the jury was not allowed to consider any of them. Why? Because there is no public interest defence for anybody who has signed the act. The simple fact that he had passed information to journalists – any information – was enough to convict him.

Shayler may be a patriotic whistleblower, or he may be a mercenary fantasist as some portray him. That’s beside the point. It cannot be right that the law prevents him from attempting to justify his actions in court. Yes, the “shield of secrecy” must guard the safety of government agents – but it should not prevent the exposure of wrongdoing by them.

The act needs urgent reform.

Sour grapes on Sunday

Pinot Meunier. Semillon. Chenin Blanc. For all Fleet Street’s impressive knowledge of oenological subtleties, there’s one particular grape variety of which its connoisseurs are particularly fond. It’s a rather cheeky, tart little number, laced with bitter hints of acetic acid. Last week bottles of Chateau Mazher Sour – or Sheik Churl, as it’s sometimes known – were being quaffed by the caseful over Mazher Mahmood and the News of the World’s part in uncovering the Beckham kidnap plot.

“Just a tabloid sting?” sniffed The Mail on Sunday. “Scoop may rebound on the king of sting,” muttered The Guardian. Meanwhile, the Sunday Mirror was announcing the story as its own World Exclusive, but carelessly forgetting to mention the NoW. The People’s story was also ‘exclusive’, and NoW-free. The Sunday Express only hinted that ‘reporters’ had tipped off police.

They all have very good reasons, of course, for omitting to acknowledge the role of Mahmood and his team, including Conrad and Gerry Brown and his minder, Jaws, in getting hold of such a sensational tale. But not being bound by such rivalries, we can give due credit to an undoubtedly hazardous and skilful operation.

Cheers Maz, your boys done well, as Becks himself might say, raising a glass of Blue Nun.

Taking sex seriously

Good to see some government recognition for the role that teenage magazines play in teaching young girls about sex. It’s a fact that better education means fewer unwanted teenage pregnancies. It’s also a fact that titles such as Mizz, J17, CosmoGirl!, Sugar, Bliss and Shout play a vital part, even if some parents do find themselves terrified by the nature of their content. They should realise just how seriously those editors take their responsibility.

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