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April 7, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:13am

BBC blocked from naming MI5 ‘informant’ but not given full reasons why

By Charlotte Tobitt

The Government has won a bid to stop the BBC from broadcasting the identity of an alleged MI5 informant accused of abusing two women.

The judgment, published on Thursday, means the BBC can air the programme but must not identify the alleged informant, or covert human intelligence source (Chis), referred to as “X” throughout the proceedings.

Attorney General Suella Braverman had sought an injunction to block the publication of his identity because she claimed it posed a risk to his life and could damage the public interest and national security.

In his ruling granting an interim injunction, Mr Justice Chamberlain said: “In my judgment, the Attorney is more likely than not to succeed at trial in establishing that the balance of public and private interests favours the grant of relief prohibiting the BBC from disclosing X’s name and image.”

However the BBC criticised the fact that “secret procedures” meant it was not even told the full reasons for the decision made against it and was blocked from a closed hearing in the case.

“In the end the court has decided that identifying X presents risks to his safety and national security,” a spokesperson said. “The BBC does not fully know the reasons why and nor will the public. This is due to the highly unusual fact that a significant proportion of the evidence in this case was heard in a closed hearing, which even the BBC as a party was not permitted to attend.

“While we had ‘Special Advocates’ representing our interests in those closed proceedings, we are not able to know anything about the secret hearing. The reasons the BBC is not able to identify X are largely in the closed judgment, which we cannot inspect.

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“The secret procedures used in cases like this also constrain what the judge is able to say about his decision in the public judgment. They are a significant departure from the principles of open and natural justice, as the judge himself states.”

Mr Justice Chamberlain said the BBC was not prevented from airing “core elements” of the story, including the allegations against the man, and that the precise terms of the injunction would be decided after hearing further submissions.

The judge said: “The relief I grant will constitute a significant interference with the BBC’s right to freedom of expression and the correlative right of the public to receive the information the BBC wishes to convey.

“However, it will not prevent the BBC from making the allegations central to its story, nor from drawing attention to what it contends are the important issues of public concern to which it gives rise.”

A BBC spokesperson said it will still report “key elements” of the story even though it was “not the judgment we had hoped for”.

It said it will report the story once the precise restrictions of what can and cannot be published are clarified next week.

“It is important to understand why the BBC believes this to be such important journalism,” the spokesperson said. “We fought the case to try to tell as fully as possible two women’s stories and their experiences with X – his abuse of them and his use of his status as an MI5 intelligence source to coerce and terrify one of them – behaviour we say MI5 should have known about and that should have caused them to stop working with X. This is because we firmly believe these are matters of the highest public interest – the issues of coercive control of women, male abuse of power and the failure of state institutions to address these problems. 

“The BBC also believed identifying X was appropriate because we – and more importantly two separate women, who both experienced abuse at his hands and who have never met each other –  believe he is a danger to women and identifying him could warn women considering, or currently in, a relationship with him.”

Explaining his decision further, Mr Justice Chamberlain said there would be a risk to the alleged informant if he was identified: “The information about X’s identity, in the context of the allegation that he is a Chis who works or worked for MI5, is – as the BBC accepts – confidential.

“Although X is said to have disclosed it to Beth (his former partner), and she disclosed it to the BBC, it is not known other than to a small group of individuals.

“The Attorney has satisfied me that, if it were to become publicly or widely known, there would be a real and immediate risk that X would be killed or seriously injured.

“In order to address that risk, extensive protective measures would have to be, and would be, taken.

“As a result of those measures, public disclosure of X’s identity would have no significant protective effect on women considering entering into a relationship or liaison with X.

“Whilst including X’s name and image would make the BBC’s story more engaging and potentially more attractive to a wider audience, this would come at the expense of material damage to the effectiveness of the work of the security and intelligence agencies and, therefore, the national security of the UK.”

Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall

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