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Leaks

In response to:

Et Tu, Anthony from the October 22, 1987 issue

To the Editors:

Noel Annan’s response to my letter concerning his Spycatcher review [NYR, Letters, October 22] is both churlish and ignorant. In his review Mr. Annan alleged that I had been responsible for leaking “juicy” bits of the then confidential Wright manuscript to the British press and the opposition. When I denied this allegation, Mr. Annan readily replied that he accepted the denial and said that he was sorry that “he had impugned his professional ethics.” He went on however to observe:

While I accept Mr. Turnbull’s denial that he was in any way involved in leaking such material, it is surely far-fetched to suggest that the material leaked three months before the trial began was secreted in the bosoms of Labour members of Parliament who waited to produce it at the precise moment when it could do the most damage.

This seems to qualify his acceptance of my denial. Moreover it reveals his ignorance of the events that occurred. For the sake of the record, therefore, let me set the matter straight. Wright’s book was finished in 1985. An interlocutory restraint was obtained against him in New South Wales in September 1985 and the bulk of 1986 was taken up with preliminary skirmishings in the Supreme Court there. On June 22 and 23, 1986, respectively the Guardian and the Observer published what it alleged were some of Wright’s key allegations. The British government sought and obtained interim injunctions from the English courts against those newspapers restraining them from repeating these allegations. Later in June, Dale Campbell-Savours MP read these allegations onto the record in the House of Commons.

The trial began on November 17, 1986. Other than the Guardian and Observer leaks in June, there were no leaks of information from the book or from the confidential evidence given at the trial until April 27, 1987, when The Independent published large slabs of Spycatcher, having unauthorizedly obtained a copy of the manuscript shortly beforehand.

The period of the trial in November-December 1986 coincided with some rowdy sessions of the House of Commons at which Mrs. Thatcher was challenged over the case and various other matters including the government’s relationship with Chapman Pincher. There were no “leaks” or “revelations” from or to MPs during that period. Mr. Annan seems to think that MPs revealed secrets from the book in Parliament during this period so they could embarrass the government. That is quite wrong. If the government was embarrassed during this period it was not because of anything in Wright’s book being uttered in Parliament.

In short there were only two most unfortunate leaks of information from Spycatcher. The first was in June 1986 to the Guardian and the Observer, the second was in April 1987 to The Independent. Wright and his publishers were furious about both leaks and indeed took legal action against The Independent.

Malcolm Turnbull

Sydney, Australia

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