Show caption The court heard that the covert agent used his status to ‘abuse, control and coerce a former partner’. Photograph: Alamy MI5 BBC spy report alleges MI5 undercover agent abused women, court hears Details of report revealed in high court as attorney general seeks interim injunction to prevent broadcast Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent Tue 1 Mar 2022 14.54 GMT Share on Facebook
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A proposed BBC news report that the government is trying to block concerns an allegation that a named MI5 agent with “dangerous, extremist and misogynist beliefs” used his status to abuse, control and coerce a former partner, the high court has heard.
The attorney general for England and Wales, Suella Braverman, is seeking an injunction to prevent the BBC publishing its report, alleging breach of confidence and a breach of the agent’s rights, including his right to life, under the European convention on human rights (ECHR).
The BBC contends that publication is in the public interest as the agent poses a threat to other women and that the effect of granting Braverman’s application would amount to “censorship” and give the government editorial control that would be “repugnant” to any media defendant.
Due to national security concerns, the case is being held partly in private.
In written – partially redacted – submissions, provided for the public part of the hearing on Tuesday, details of the proposed story were set out as follows: “The BBC wants to broadcast a programme about an individual ‘X’. The programme is to include the allegations that X is a dangerous extremist and misogynist who physically and psychologically abused two former partners; that X is also a covert human intelligence source (CHIS) … for the Security Service (‘MI5’); that X told one of these women that he worked for MI5 in order to terrorise and control her; and that MI5 should have known about X’s behaviour and realised that it was inappropriate to use him as a CHIS.”
In his written submissions, David Pannick QC, for the BBC, said the woman, known as “Beth”, to whom the agent disclosed his identity as a CHIS, was subjected to “undeniable violent abuse by X”, which she filmed and which he invited the court to view.
In his written skeleton argument, Sir James Eadie QC, representing Braverman, said: “Publication of the report would constitute a breach of confidence/false confidence by the BBC. To do so would damage national security and the public interest. It would also create a real and immediate risk of serious or life-threatening harm to X. Those impacts establish the most powerful public interest in restraining the publication. There is no public interest in publication that could be said to override such interests.”
He said that the most serious allegations of wrongdoing by X had been investigated by the police and “no criminal action was considered appropriate to be taken”. He also said there were avenues for complaint and investigation set up in domestic law to challenge MI5’s behaviour “precisely to avoid the sort of damage to the public interest that the BBC’s proposed report would produce”.
The government is relying on articles 2, 3 and 8 of the ECHR. They relate, respectively, to: right to life; prohibition of torture/inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and right to respect for private and family life. The BBC is relying on article 10, which confers the right to freedom of expression.
Lord Pannick told the court: “Beth and Ruth, two women who do not know one another, have independently explained their strong and genuine belief that X presents a danger to other women and must be publicly named to prevent future harm. Beth and Ruth have an intimate insight into X’s psyche and behaviour, making them uniquely placed to evaluate the risk that he poses to other women.”
In a statement, Ruth said she considered X “dangerous enough to kill a woman”.
The hearing, which is expected to last two days, concerns Braverman’s application for an interim injunction preventing the proposed news report being published “until trial or further order”.