23 June 1999
The Guardian Online, Wednesday June 23, 1999
The first journalist to face criminal charges under secrecy laws for more than 20 years yesterday pleaded not guilty after publication of a book on security and intelligence operations in Northern Ireland.
Tony Geraghty, known for his writing about Britain's special forces, challenged the government to demonstrate how his book, The Irish War, on sale for nearly a year, caused "a scintilla" of damage to national security.
Mr Geraghty, 67, and his co-defendant, Nigel Wylde, 52, a former army colonel, challenged the attorney general, John Morris, to withdraw the charges, brought under the 1989 official secrets act condemned by Labour leaders when in opposition.
"The charge brought against me is a denial of my rights to freedom of speech under article 10 of the European convention on human rights", Mr Geraghty said after a hearing before Bow Street magistrates in central London, where the stipendiary magistrate, Ronald Bartle, lifted reporting restrictions.
The Irish War describes the increasing use of computers by military intelligence in identifying targets, including automatic photographing of vehicle registration plates by a system code-named Glutton.
Mr Geraghty, a former paratrooper, writes: "In Northern Ireland, where around 3,000 killers are thought to be at large among a population of 1.5m, at least 1m names are now on some security agency's computer." Two other computer systems, codenamed Vengeful and Crucible, used by the intelligence agencies "provide total cover of a largely innocent population", he says.
Carmen Dowd, for the crown prosecution service, told the court that a search of Mr Geraghty's house near Hereford indicated that Mr Wylde, whose company, CSC, reviewed information systems for Northern Ireland, had passed five documents to Mr Geraghty, three of which were referred to in The Irish War.
Mr Wylde said after the hearing: "No damage of any sort was done to security or operations of the armed forces."
The charge against him violated article 6 of the European convention by reversing the burden of proof, he said.
There is no public interest defence under the official secrets act; the onus is on the defendant to prove innocence.
The hearing was adjourned until August 16 pending a House of Lords ruling on article 6 of the convention relating to another case.
Mr Geraghty is charged with taking possession of protected documents between November 1997 and October 1998 and making a "damaging disclosure" of their contents.
Mr Wylde is charged with making damaging disclosures while employed as a government contractor.