BBC blocked by High Court from reporting identity of ‘MI5 informant'
The BBC will not be able to identify a “dangerous extremist and misogynist” who is allegedly an MI5 informant after a High Court judge granted an injunction.
Attorney General Suella Braverman sought the injunction to block a planned broadcast which would identify the man, referred to throughout proceedings as X, arguing it would damage national security and create “a real and immediate risk of serious or life-threatening harm” to him.
The proposed report would claim the man used his status as an agent, or covert human intelligence source (Chis), to abuse, control and coerce a former partner, referred to by the pseudonym Beth, and that MI5 either knew or ought to have known about this and that it was wrong to use him as an agent.
In a ruling on Thursday, Mr Justice Chamberlain said the evidence he has seen – both in open court and in a closed material procedure used to protect national security – had persuaded him the injunction was necessary.
The judge said: “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.”
The judge said the BBC can still air the programme and the key issues, but not identify X.
He added: “The BBC will still be able to convey what it regards as the core elements of its story, including the allegation that X abused his Chis status and the allegation that MI5 is at fault for using or continuing to use him as a Chis.
“The Government will be heavily constrained in how it can respond to the latter allegation, but the constraints can be explained.
“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.”
Lawyers representing Ms Braverman said at a previous hearing that she “neither confirms or denies” the BBC’s claim that X is an agent, but conducted the case on the “hypothetical assumption” that he is or was.
In a statement issued after the ruling, the BBC said the judgment did not prevent it from reporting “key elements” of its story once restrictions are determined.
A spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “This is not the judgment we had hoped for, but it is important to understand what it does and does not mean.
“While the judgment prevents the BBC from identifying X, by showing his picture or naming him, it does not prevent the BBC from reporting key elements of the story, which we will do once the precise restrictions are determined.
“We expect these restrictions to be clarified next week.
“It is important to understand why the BBC believes this to be such important journalism.
“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.”
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We welcome today’s judgment.”