From The Sunday Times January 14 2001

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From The Sunday Times - January 14 2001
The sacked British agent Richard Tomlinson tells how his former masters at MI6 pursued him relentlessly in a vindictive game of cat and mouse across the globe

A rebel spy on the run

Monday, April 24, 1995, dawned with spring rain. At the security doors to MI6's headquarters on the south bank of the Thames at Vauxhall Cross, there was a bedraggled queue. I slipped my swipe-card down the groove, typed in my Pin code, and awaited the familiar green light. But it flashed red.

I tried again. Same result. At the third attempt, the intruder alarm went off. A couple of guards hurried over. I showed my pass through the Perspex, and they unlocked the side-entrance.

"Are you a member of staff, sir?" I gave my staff number. A guard tapped it into the computer and studied the screen.

"Sorry sir, but your pass has been cancelled. We've been told to take you up to personnel department."

My mind raced desperately over what could be wrong. Ostensibly, personnel was responsible for staffing decisions in MI6. But these were always shrouded in intrigue, buried in a network of unofficial soundings and boozy lunches. They operated like a mini secret service within the secret service because they were career spies with no training in personnel management. This secrecy gave a carte blanche for a personnel officer to make or break a fellow officer's career.

My personnel officer was nicknamed Poison Dwarf. He had sent for me two months earlier to ask why I had been "alone" on the terrace of the office bar, drinking a beer - I had had some bad news about a close friend with cancer - and to criticise my performance on an overseas operation.

Poison Dwarf was waiting now on the eighth floor. He led me to his room and didn't mince his words.

"As you know, last time we met I gave you a warning that unless your performance improved, you would not be able to stay in the office. It has not improved, so you are fired."

"How can you make such an absurd claim?" I blurted out. I told him that the head of my department had recently shown me a glowing assessment report.

Poison Dwarf made it plain that there was no point in arguing. "Go home and don't come back until we contact you."

A couple of desperate days later, a secretary told me to come in for an interview with the head of personnel, Julian Hooper, an ex-marine. The office rumour was that he was after a job as personnel manager with one of the banks that employed ex-MI6 officers in return for titbits of economic intelligence.

"So what are your reasons for sacking me?" I asked when we met.

"Why on earth do you want any reasons?" he replied.

"Under UK law, you have to give reasons for a dismissal," I said. I had spent an afternoon looking up employment law.

"Your personnel officer gave you the reasons for your dismissal at your last meeting."

"No he didn't; he gave me none at all. Give me the reasons, right now."

Hooper thought for a moment. "You are motivated by challenge."

"What does that mean, and why is that bad?"

"You lack commitment."

"Oh yeah, sure, that's why you posted me to Bosnia."

He squirmed as he dreamt up more excuses.

"I want these reasons committed to writing, which is my right under employment law," I demanded.

"You know we can't possibly give you anything on paper. It would break the Official Secrets Act."

"I want them tomorrow."

"All right, I'll see what I can do," he meekly agreed.

"And I suggest you do it properly, because you've dismissed me illegally, and I intend to take MI6 to an employment tribunal."

Hooper looked appalled: "What would be the point? Even if you won, we wouldn't give you your job back. Nobody can tell the chief of MI6 what to do."

Like many other senior officers in MI6, he believed it was above the laws of the land. There were mechanisms that conferred token accountability to the foreign secretary and the prime minister, but to the likes of Hooper these were bureaucratic formalities.

In his eyes, MI6 had no obligation to give any warning that my job was in jeopardy or to provide any reasons justifying my dismissal.

"We'll get you a job in the City," he blustered.

"Keep your feeble ambitions to yourself," I shouted.

A few days later, personnel department allowed me a final appeal to the chief himself, David Spedding.

Hooper assured me that Spedding had not been briefed about my case. This was a lie. Spedding was already fully briefed. He dismissed me with a wave of the hand, saying: "I understand personnel department have already found you some interesting possibilities in the City."

The only way to put the episode behind me was to seek an independent judgment of the legality of MI6's actions, and that meant going to an employment tribunal. But MI6 issued a public interest immunity (PII) certificate to stop my application for a hearing on the grounds of "national security".

The intelligence services tribunal (IST), a panel of three senior judges, reviewed my case. I was not allowed to read the huge pile of documents MI6 submitted to it, and I was not surprised when it found against me 11 months after my sacking.

I needed money and went to job interviews, but my lack of enthusiasm must have been plain. Patrick Jephson, private secretary to the Princess of Wales, interviewed me to work in her office, but no offer materialised.

A career counseller, vetted by MI6, suggested: "Sign on the dole and get your mortgage paid by the social security, then work as a minicab driver to pay your groceries." I could end up in prison.

An MI6 "outplacement" officer told me: "I've just finished reading a book which made me think of you. It was about a young chap who was desperate like you - broke, no job, lost his home. He went off and joined the French Foreign Legion, then wrote a book about his experience."

"Are you suggesting I join the Foreign Legion?"

"No, no. I was merely trying to say that things could turn out for you okay in the end."

He confided, however: "Personnel department have obviously made some serious errors of judgment here. But I have to be frank, I very much doubt that they will do anything. They've taken their decision now, and it would be too embarrassing to reverse it."

I reflected on his advice. Joining the Foreign Legion was not an option. But how about writing a book?

This would be illegal. Even disclosing the colour of the carpets in MI6's headquarters would be a breach of the Official Secrets Act (OSA). But the urge to tell my side of the story welled up more firmly as MI6 attacked me to justify my sacking. Its internal weekly newsletter claimed that I was a "publicity seeker who would use the opportunity of an employment tribunal to blacken the service".

I approached Kate Hoey, my MP. But she wrote to me that, over lunch, Spedding had assured her that I had been fairly treated. She later described me to a Sunday Times journalist as a "shit".

My ever-expanding overdraft forced me to let my flat, and I decided to leave the country. I rode my Honda Africa Twin motorbike to Portsmouth, glared over the pier at Fort Monckton - MI6's training headquarters - and exited on a false passport that I had used on MI6 operations. I curled up my real passport, driving licence and some money, stuck them in a shampoo bottle, and slipped it into the bike's petrol tank.

I meandered down the back roads of France to Spain until the drive chain on my bike jumped the sprocket in the Andalucian coastal town of Fuengirola. I moved into a small bedsit, set up my old laptop and started typing.

I still hoped to persuade MI6 to negotiate. The only way to get it to the table was to switch to terrorist tactics; some titbits in the newspapers would wake it up.
ON May 12, 1996, The Sunday Times published a piece about MI6's spying against the French. It made a small splash on the back page, but no doubt caused a few more ripples in Vauxhall Cross.

I faxed my mobile phone number to MI6, asking it to contact me. When it did not do so, I rang The Sunday Times again. This time, it ran the story of Serbian donations to the Tories.

A few days later, a grave-sounding message was left on my mobile phone, asking me to ring a London number. This was answered by George Shrimpton, an MI6 personnel officer near the end of his service.

"Would you be prepared to meet me?" he asked.

"Of course. But I first want your word of honour that you will not arrest me, and that you will not use surveillance to establish my whereabouts."

"We will not call the Guardia Civil during the negotiations," he promised.

At his insistence, we met in Madrid. He brought along a younger officer, Andy Watts, to stack the negotiations against me. They rejected my request for an employment tribunal. "You know how prejudicial that would be to national security." A week later, they invited me to another meeting and brought along thick dossiers labelled with my old staff number.

"We're going to let you look at your own personal files," Shrimpton beamed.

He hoped that the reasons for my dismissal would become clearer to me. But these notes of meetings with members of personnel department were a blend of bias, fantasy and venom.

None of the excellent work that my line managers had praised was even mentioned, but there were scathing criticisms for the most trivial errors. My failure to wear a tie to meet an indicted war criminal earned pages of abuse from a personnel officer I nicknamed String Vest.

Our last meeting, in February 1997, took place in the British embassy. Shrimpton pushed across a document offering me assistance to find a job and a loan of £25,000. In return, I had to drop my demands for an employment tribunal, hand over my laptop for formatting of the hard drive containing the text of the book, and sign over copyright on anything that I subsequently wrote about MI6. It was absurdly one-sided, in my view.

"There is no way you're getting my signature on that," I protested.

"Oh, but we've got you a fantastic alternative job," countered Shrimpton. "It's a great opportunity, in industry. You will be much better paid than you were in the service."

When I still refused to sign,Watts joined in the bullying.

"Richard," he said, "you know that MI6 is a very powerful organisation, with influence around the world. If you don't sign up, we'll use this influence to harass you for the rest of your life, wherever you go. We'll make sure you never get a decent job again, and can never settle in any country with friendly relations with Britain."

Shrimpton stood up, paced across the room, and spun on his heel to face me. "If you don't sign this agreement now," he shouted, "we cannot guarantee your safety."

"But you can't arrest me. You promised in writing that you wouldn't."

"That promise stood only for as long as negotiations were in progress," he snapped. "If you don't sign, we will end the negotiations."

There was no choice. He had cornered me. No doubt Special Branch officers would be waiting with handcuffs outside in an embassy corridor, ready to arrest me. Or I would be set up for an arrest by the Guardia Civil. Planting drugs wouldn't be difficult.

Grabbing a pen, I angrily signed, my signature distorted by fear.

I returned to England and discovered that the "much better paid" job arranged by MI6 was in the marketing department of the motor racing team owned by the former world champion driver Jackie Stewart. The salary was 25% below my MI6 pay.

Looking for better prospects, I flew to Australia, where I had resident rights as I was born in New Zealand. In Sydney, I struck a problem. Because it would be a breach of the OSA to reveal my former employment with MI6, personnel had ordered me to say on my CV that I had voluntarily left the Foreign Office. Clearly, no employer would believe that I had willingly resigned as a diplomat to start again at the bottom in the private sector.

AS the rejection letters piled up, the idea of publishing a book again reared its head. In May at the Sydney offices of Transworld Publishers I outlined my book to Shona Martyn, a publishing executive, disguising names and operational detail.

She was initially sceptical but asked me to write a synopsis. I was reluctant. If it fell into the wrong hands, I'd be vulnerable to legal action. Martyn pointed to her steel filing cabinet and said: "It'll be locked up in there."

Back in my apartment near Bondi beach, I typed an anodyne outline and dropped it into Transworld's office.

With no job prospects in sight, I returned to England to work for Stewart. It amounted to little more than a school-leaver's job. I looked for something better but my CV problem reared its head. I appealed to MI6, which replied: "The service has discharged all its obligations under the Madrid agreement by finding your current employment and we are therefore not minded to help you further."

Angered by this arrogance, I fired off an e-mail to Shona Martyn in Sydney in early September, asking if she was interested in the book project. A few days later my home near Milton Keynes was ransacked. The identity of the culprits was not hard to guess as the only item of value taken was the laptop containing the draft of my book.

The phoney war was ending. Clearly, MI6 had intercepted my e-mail. It wasn't difficult for the service to track down Martyn, too. On October 24, unknown to me, an Australian federal police agent approached Transworld, asking to speak to her.

A few days later, I popped home from work at lunchtime. As I was putting the kettle on, there was a knock on the door. It was a young constable who had investigated the burglary. With him was a plain-clothes inspector.

The PC told me: "There have been some new developments about your burglary, and we want to ask you a few more questions about it." I let them in.

"Would you mind taking a seat?" the inspector said in a tone that gave me no option. He stood over me menacingly and announced: "You are under arrest for breaking section 1 of the 1989 Official Secrets Act." He grabbed one wrist, the PC the other, and I was in handcuffs.

More cars pulled up on the gravel drive and my flat was filled with plain-clothes officers. Two more stood over me. I caught glimpses of gun holsters under their jackets.

A little moustached Welshman opened up: "Okay, Tomlinson, where's the f****** gun?"

"What gun?"

"The gun. Don't f*** us around. Where's your gun?"

"I haven't got a gun, never have had one, and I'm never likely to want one."

"We have information that you brought back a gun from your time in Bosnia."

"Ah, now I understand!" I laughed. "That gun's rusting at the bottom of the Adriatic."

I had dumped the gun in the sea because I didn't want it. MI6 must have told the police that I had kept it, perhaps to persuade them to make the arrest as heavy-handed as possible.

For the next three hours, forced by the rigid handcuffs to hunch with my wrists by my chin and elbows in my lap like a stuffed chicken, I watched latex-gloved officers dismantle my flat.

A bald-headed officer, searching my motorcycle jacket, suddenly piped up: "Got something, here, sir." Prodding at the lining, Baldy pulled out a small package wrapped in masking tape. It was my false passport, driving licence and credit card.

I spent that night at Charing Cross police station. The next morning, two police officers introduced themselves as Detective Inspectors Ratcliffe and Durn of the Special Branch. They grilled me and it emerged that they had flown to Sydney to interview Shona Martyn. Just before 6pm, they charged me with breaking section 1 of the 1989 OSA.

As the Group 4 prison van drove south over Vauxhall bridge, I peered at MI6 headquarters. I had gone from being an intelligence officer entrusted with secrets denied to all but the highest officials to becoming a scruffy prisoner heading for Brixton prison.

My crime was to have written the bland book synposis. In camera at the Old Bailey, after I had pleaded guilty, a former senior MI6 officer bleated that it had "endangered the lives of officers". I was jailed for one year.

Less than five months later, on May 1, 1998, I left Belmarsh prison in southeast London. I was free on licence, but MI6 had not finished with me. It was about to hound me around the world at huge expense to British taxpayers.

I went home to Kennington (near MI6 headquarters) for a decent shower before an appointment at Scotland Yard, where Ratcliffe was waiting.

"Have you bought your passports?" he asked. It was a condition of my probation that I surrender them.

"Sorry, I forgot," I lied.

The following morning, a green Vauxhall Astra with two male occupants was in a "trigger" position that enabled them to watch both my front door and side entrance. Walking towards Kennington police station, I picked up a possible watcher, a young, slightly plump female.

Ratcliffe was waiting. I slapped my British passport on the desk.

"And have you posted your New Zealand passport to the high commission?"

"Oh yes."

"When and where?"

"In the post box by the Oval Tube station."

Ratcliffe knew I was lying but could not admit that I had been under surveillance.

That afternoon, I confirmed repeat sightings on three watchers, and picked up a possible fourth. Next day, rollerblading in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, I found that a Metropolitan police helicopter was constantly droning 1,000ft above me. Surely they wouldn't go to such expense to follow me?

There was only one way to find out. I sped down to Trafalgar Square. The helicopter was soon overhead again. When I returned to Hyde Park, the helicopter droned over once more. Convinced not to play around any further, I posted off my NZ passport.

There was no more obvious physical surveillance, but MI6 was tapping my phones. Whenever I heard a good joke down at the pub, I rang my home answerphone and repeated it to liven up the day of the transcribers at Vauxhall Cross. I confirmed that my mail was under surveillance by posting letters to myself with anti-tamper tricks.

I planned to move to Australia or New Zealand when my probation ended on July 31. I sold my flat, moved to my parents' home in Cumbria, bought a laptop and hooked up the internet so I could research job opportunities. It was a breach of my probation conditions, but MI6 would have to admit that it was tapping my parents' telephone if it wanted to re-arrest me.

As the end of my probation neared, I started to worry. If MI6 believed I was such a threat, how was it planning to control me from August 1? I feared it might frame me for a crime. I had better leave the UK before the end of my probation, even without a passport. But how?

I picked the most brazen option - blagging my way onto a ferry to France. A smuggler in Belmarsh had told me how he succeeded when the check-in staff were busy.

I chose July 27 because it was the school holiday season. On July 22, however, I heard heavy footsteps on the drive and saw two men in odd clothing that labelled them Special Branch.

They left but would inevitably return with a warrant and a bigger team. I said a fond goodbye to my dog Jesse, knowing I would never see her again, and slipped away.

Two days later I was in Poole on the south coast. It was the first day of the holidays and the ferry terminal was thronged. Flourishing my birth certificate, credit cards and driving licence at the check-in girl, I explained that my passport had been stolen. After a nerve-wracking phone call to her superior, she issued a boarding pass.

At Cherbourg, French customs were having a clampdown. I had to explain my cover story three times: I had left my New Zealand passport in Paris and travelled to England on my British passport that had subsequently been stolen, and so needed to get back to Paris to pick up the New Zealand one. This was starting to sound very thin.

After much grumbling, a senior officer allowed me to proceed. By 11pm I was lodged in a cheap hotel on the Rue d'Amsterdam in Paris.

Next day I asked the New Zealand embassy to get my passport from London. First it would, as I had broken no French or NZ law, and then it wouldn't - as MI6 put pressure on Wellington - then it would, after I tipped off NZ journalists about this capitulation, and then it wouldn't yet again.

Back at my hotel after an abortive visit to the embassy, I heard a sharp knock at my door. I took a deep breath and turned the key. Three heavily built men catapulted through the doorway, screaming "Police, police!", smashing my head on the desk and crushing me to the floor. Handcuffs snapped into place. I was helpless, but blows still rained down on the back of my head and a kick in the ribs sucked the breath out of me. I was thrown onto the bed. Three heavies stood over me with toothless grins. One was sucking a knuckle that had split during the assault. Behind them stood two more officers, their revolvers pointed at my chest.

The taller of the two snapped: "L'ordinateur, ou est l'ordinateur?"

I pointed at the overturned desk where my laptop lay on the floor. A heavy rammed it into a specimen bag. "Et le Psion?" I nodded at the bedside table, and Bloody Knuckle slung the mini-computer into another bag.

Silently, they dragged me outside, where two unmarked police cars waited with an ambulance. "Why did you smash me up?" I asked one of the officers as he pushed me into the first car. He grunted menacingly.

We picked up speed down the southern embankment, passed under an elevated section of the Metro, and then down a steep ramp into an underground compound. In a windowless interview room, five police officers sat behind a desk. One of them was Ratcliffe, who smiled.

"You can't be surprised to see me here, Richard," he said.

I turned to the officer who had overseen my arrest, saying in French: "I don't want to reply to the inspector in English without your permission."

His stern face cracked into a half smile and he introduced himself as Commandant Broisniard of the DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, the French internal intelligence service). Alongside him was Captain Gruignard, who had a laptop computer to record the interview.

There was also another Special Branch officer, Mark Whaley, and an interpreter. In front of them, scattered across the desk, were my laptop, Psion, mobile phone and various papers and faxes.

"You have been arrested under the Mutual Assistance Act," explained Broisniard. He assured me that Ratcliffe and Whaley were not entitled to question me directly, and said that the only language permitted would be French.

Ratcliffe interjected impatiently: "We think you may have used the internet in breach of your probation conditions."

"What did he say?" I asked in French. Broisniard's smile broadened.

The interpreter translated Ratcliffe's question into French and Gruignard opened up the laptop and started typing with two fingers, mouthing the letters as he tapped them in.

"Voilà," announced Gruignard finally. "Est-ce que vous avez utilisé l'internet?"

Broisniard put on his glasses and leant over the computer screen. "Est-ce que vous avez utilisé l'internet?" he repeated to me sternly.

"Jamais," I lied.

Ratcliffe started to ask another question. Broisniard cut him off. "Attendez, attendez un moment," he said, watching Gruignard type in my reply. Gruignard's lower lip quivered as he tapped out J-A-M-A-I-S.

Ratcliffe tried again to get in his question, but Broisniard cut him off. It was the interpreter's turn. "Never!" he translated. Broisniard looked satisfied and, at last, Ratcliffe could begin his next question.

This Janet and John interrogation was leaving me plenty of time to think, and I went through a mental list of everything on my computer and Psion. I was not confident they would find nothing incriminating. The Psion sat temptingly close on the desk.

I picked up a bottle of Evian with both handcuffed hands, took a swig, and replaced it close to the Psion. Ratcliffe wanted to know the password to my encrypted files and while his question was being processed, I took another swig and replaced the bottle even closer.

The question was put to me in French by Broisniard. "The password is 'Inspector Ratcliffe is a nonce,' " I lied.

"C'est quoi, un 'nonce'?" After my explanation, the smirking Broisniard repeated the phrase to Gruignard to tap it into the laptop, and the interpreter leant over to help with the spelling. Ratcliffe and Whaley were conferring, heads down.

I grabbed the Psion and slipped out the stamp-sized memory disk under the table, stuffing it down my boot.

Broisniard came to my cell at about 9am the next morning with a plastic cup of instant coffee. "No handcuffs," he said. "But if you f*** around, we'll beat you up."

He asked me with a sly grin: "How many times did you come to France on operations?"

Revealing details of MI6 operations would breach the very law for which the DST arrested me. I decided to play it safe.

"I can't tell you about that."

"Why not?"

"The British might ask you to arrest me."

At about 10pm, Broisniard and Gruignard came to my cell with broad smiles. "You are free. You have broken no French law."

"Why did you arrest me?"

"The English asked," shrugged Broisniard. "They said that you were a terrorist, and dangerous. That is why we beat you up."

They handed over my NZ passport - saying that the British had picked it up from the embassy for me - and shook hands.

After a few hours' sleep, I took the Metro to the Gare du Nord, where a small travel agent specialised in cheap tickets to Australasia.

By evening I was on a flight to Tokyo, where I changed for New Zealand.

"Are you Richard Tomlinson?" a spotty young man asked as I pushed through the airport crowd in Auckland.

"I most definitely am not. I am Mr Napoleon Bonaparte."

"You are Richard Tomlinson, and I hereby serve you with this injunction." He thrust a sheaf of papers into my trolley and scuttled off.

The 85 pages of legal jargon were intended to stop me speaking to the media in New Zealand. MI6 could not have used a more stupid tactic as everybody wanted to know why it had gagged me. The next few days were a whirlwind of interviews.

Although New Zealand has some of the most liberal laws governing individual freedom, NZSIS (New Zealand Security & Intelligence Service) maintains very close links to MI6. It would be intercepting my phone and following me in the country of my birth.

I decided to try Australia instead, hoping to get there unobserved by NZSIS and MI6. I took a taxi to Auckland airport where the Qantas sales desk sold me a ticket to Sydney. The flight was about to leave, but I had greatly underestimated MI6.

"Mr Tomlinson?" I looked up from my seat on the packed Qantas MD-11 to see two stewards standing over me. "Would you mind stepping off the plane, please?"

At the Qantas office, an official apologised. "We have had a fax from our head office in Canberra saying that you have not been given an Australian visa," he said.

"Can I see the fax?"

"Sorry, we're under strict instructions not to show it to you." (Through the Australian Freedom of Information Act, my lawyers much later uncovered a request from MI6 to ASIO, the Australian security service, to have me banned.)

Back at the Copthorne, the receptionist insisted that, as the hotel was full, he would have to give me the main suite at the price of a normal room. The hotel didn't appear full to me, but I took the key.

Lying on the bed, I heard a soft knock on the door. A female voice asked: "Is Caroline there?"

"Sorry, wrong room."

There was another, more impatient knock.

"It's Susan here. I think I may have left something in the room."

There was no spyhole so I opened the door.

A pugnacious Maori led the charge. "Get back over there, in the corner," he yelled. Three officers followed.

The glowering Maori looked disappointed I had not hit him. "We have a warrant to search you and your belongings," he announced. "Strip."

A female officer and a portly fourth officer pulled on latex gloves and started a careful search of my belongings.

"Can I see the warrant?" I demanded after I had been allowed to get dressed. I checked it for accuracy - any discrepancy would make it invalid - but every detail was correct. They even had the correct hotel room number, explaining why the receptionist insisted I took the suite.

I heard other voices in the corridor and Ratcliffe entered my room. "What the hell are you doing here?" I shouted, leaping to my feet and causing the Maori's eyes to light up.

"Get out of this room now!" I shouted. I turned to the Maori, who was limbering up with a gentle haka. "If he doesn't get out of here right now, you can have your fun."

Ratcliffe held up his hands and backed out.

The New Zealand police searched my hotel room more professionally and thoroughly than the French. They found the Psion disk hidden inside a clunky British adaptor plug. The porky officer smiled when he pulled it out. I smiled, too, as I had backed up a copy in an Auckland internet cafe.

If MI6 had twisted the arms of the New Zealand authorities into the confiscation of my property, then it was inevitable that sooner or later they would try to press charges against me. I decided to go back to Europe, and chose Switzerland.

I took a circuitous route via Singapore and Bangkok, hoping MI6 would lose my trail. After two days in Munich, rollerblading in the English gardens to keep any watchers on their toes, I took the train to Zurich and then Geneva.

I did not stay there long. NBC wanted to interview me live on their Today news programme on Monday, August 31, about MI6's pursuit of me around the world, and I flew to New York. As I prepared to disembark at Kennedy aiport, a group of uniformed armed men came on board.

I was considering this turn of events back in Geneva when a compulsory interview request arrived from the Swiss police. Was MI6 at work again?

"I'd like to make it clear that you are not under arrest," Commandant Jourdain of the federal police assured me at Geneva police headquarters, "but we think that you may be able to help us safeguard the security of Switzerland."

Inspector Brandt of the Geneva cantonal special investigations department nodded enthusiastically. "We'd like you to tell us all about illegal British espionage operations against Switzerland."

"The British asked us to put you under surveillance when you came to this country because you were a dangerous terrorist who could jeopardise Swiss security," Jourdain explained, nudging a copy of MI6's letter towards me.

Spilling the beans: when he first arrived in Switzerland Tomlinson was being watched by the local police but they quickly asked him to help fight British spying operations there. Photograph: Patrick Aviola

"We watched you for the first couple of weeks. Did you spot anything?"

"No, nothing." Swiss surveillance was among the best in the world.

"When we realised that you were not presenting any danger to Swiss interests, we decided to invite you here, to see if you could help us."

I was again in an awkward position. Telling them about MI6 operations could lead to prosecution in Britain. On the other hand, since MI6's undeclared operations in Switzerland were illegal under Swiss law, refusal to help the police would also be an offence for which I could be imprisoned. "Failing to help us will not help your application for a residency permit," Jourdain said menacingly.

I had to think of my long-term future. MI6 had used its influence to prevent me making a fresh start in New Zealand and Australia. I decided to pledge my future to Switzerland, in the hope that I could get permanent residence status and a work permit.

"Okay, how can I help?"

Over the next three months, the Swiss police interviewed me four times. I co-operated fully and built a good personal relationship with Jourdain and Brandt. They showed me MI6's increasingly irate re-quests to have me deported to Britain, or at minimum ex-pelled from Switzerland.

MI6 did not give up. Late on the evening of Wednesday, January 6, 1999, I picked up my parents in a hire car from Geneva airport and headed for a rented chalet in the French Alps for a week's skiing.

MI6 decided to spoil our holiday. They alerted the DST, who notified customs officers to stop us at the Swiss-French border. For the sixth time in a year, I was detained at the re-quest of MI6.

"C'est vraiment vous?" laughed a French customs officer incredulously, pointing out the description that flashed up on the screen in the border kiosk after he tapped my passport details into the computer.

Under my police mugshot, was written:

Name: TOMLINSON Richard John Charles

Nationality: British and New Zealand

Born: Hamilton, New Zealand, 13/01/63

Resident: No fixed abode

Details: Subject is former member of British special forces and special services, trained in firearms, explosives, unarmed combat, scuba-diving, pilot's licence, parachutist, expert in cryptography. Subject is a menace to the security of France.

"Ridiculous," I laughed.

Four DST officers arrived at 10:30pm, slapped handcuffs on me unnecessarily and interviewed me for 90 minutes. All they were interested in was details of an MI6 officer who owned a chalet near Grenoble. I refused to help, so at the end of the interview, they served me with papers banning me for life from French territory.

Worse was to come. On May l3, a list purporting to be the names of 115 serving and former MI6 officers appeared on the internet website of the right-wing American, Lyndon LaRouche. I was immediately assumed to be the author.

It was not me. I suspect the author was MI6 itself. It had a motive: to incriminate me. It had the means to make the list and the knowledge to post it onto the internet without leaving a trace. Furthermore, the list was not particularly damaging to MI6. I did not recognise most of the names, and so cannot comment as to whether they were from MI6 or from the Foreign Office, but of the names that I did recognise, all were retired from the service or were already widely blown.

If MI6 had set out to produce a list that caused me the maximum incrimination, but caused it the minimum damage, it could not have done a better job. The way the list was publicised was also odd. Rear Admiral David Pulvertaft, the secretary of the D-notice committee, advised newspapers not to publish any of the names. Yet the foreign secretary, Robin Cook, then an-nounced at a news conference that the list was accurate, and, without a shred of evidence, named me as the culprit.

If MI6 really had wanted to protect its agents, it would have used a junior spokesman to dismiss the list as a hoax.

Until then, the press had been fairly sympathetic. After Cook's accusation, it turned on me with vitriol. One newspaper, edited by a man known to his contacts in intelligence circles as Smallbrow, accused me of being a traitor.

The publication of the list had all the hallmarks of a classic operation to winkle me out of fortress Switzerland, an objective that was accomplished three weeks later. On June 7, Inspector Brandt summoned me to Geneva police headquarters. The Swiss were expelling me for the publication of the list without any evidence that I was the culprit.

A stone-faced Commandant Jourdain told me: "You are banned from entering Swiss territory until June 7, 2004 . . . and we don't want any publicity in the press. If you talk to the newspapers, we will increase the ban to 10 years."

I rang Geneva station and asked for a rail ticket to the nearest town not in France or Switzerland. I arrived at Konstanz in southern Germany late in the evening.

"Herr Tomlinson?" The voice behind me was friendly, but I was angry. I had arrived in a strange town in a country I hardly knew and whose language I hardly spoke, it was raining, I had nowhere to stay, and I had only struggled a few yards off the station platform with my two heavy suitcases.

A stoney-faced uniformed police officer and two civilians, one male in his mid-forties, one a blonde female, stood before me. "Ausweis, bitte," ordered the policeman.

"Oh f*** off," I replied. The Swiss must have tipped of the Germans and I presumed I was about to be arrested.

"We just want to talk to you, Richard," said the female, smiling sweetly.

"I am Herr Kugel, from the BfV [Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz, the German federal police]," said the male civilian, "and this is my colleague, Fräulein Gajabski."

"We guess you must be tired after your journey, and as it's so late, we've booked you into a hotel for the night," Gajabski said in flawless English. "Don't worry, you are not in any trouble. We'll just have a quick drink tonight, then if it is okay with you, we'll have lunch tomorrow."

They escorted me in the drizzle to the hotel opposite the station and checked me in, paying the bill in advance. Once three glasses of Becks had been served, Kugel explained: "Our duty is to protect the German constitution, particularly against the activities of foreign intelligence services. We've read about your case in the newspapers, and we think that you may be able to help us with our investigations into British and American operations against Germany."

The Swiss federal police must have tipped them off. Jourdain had previously questioned me about Orcada, an MI6 spy in the German ministry of finance, even offering me money for his identity.

Next day in a restaurant overlooking Lake Constance, Kugel and Gajabski (who was wearing a very short skirt) used on me all the cultivation tricks that I had learnt in MI6. They were sympathetic, flattering and reassuring and they offered me help in settling in Germany. As the long lunch was ending, Kugel asked: "So, have you decided if you are going to help us?"

I refused. "I could go to jail for 40 years in Britain under their secrets act, and it is just not worth it."

"But we can assure you, Richard, that your identity will never go beyond the two of us at the table," Gajabski argued. It was just what we had been trained to say to potential informers, and I knew that it was not true.

Even so, I decided to stay in Germany. By October my German was fairly fluent and I found a job as a mathematics coach for a wealthy German family in Bavaria. Things were starting to look up, and MI6 appeared to be leaving me alone. I had avoided talking to journalists, and there had been scarcely an article about me in the British press.

Warren Templeton, a New Zealand lawyer, was energetically seeking to open dialogue with MI6 to put an end to the dispute through mediation. But MI6 was still determined to cause me as much hassle as it could.

In February 2000, a friend invited me to Chamonix for a fortnight of skiing and snowboarding. I gambled that the DST would not realise I was on its patch.

I'd not been there long when my landlord in Bavaria rang me. "What have you done?" he asked.

At 6am, he had been awoken by a knock on the door. On opening it, he had been bowled over by four uniformed police and my friends Kugel and Gajabski. They had a warrant to confiscate my computer.

There was now no way that I could go back to Germany. MI6 had ratcheted down on me again. Luckily, I had my computer and other valuables with me.

I was in France illegally and needed to find another home. The only sensible choice was Italy. An internet search found a language school and accommodation in Rimini on the Adriatic. On March 2, I packed up my car again, and moved there. MI6 followed.

Driving up the autostrada to Milan to see a lawyer, I got re-peat sightings and the number plates of three cars - a white Fiat Punto, a silver Volkswagen Golf and a grey Fiat Bravo. The Golf got so close that I could make out the driver, a swarthy character in a red vest.

I rang the lawyer and he called the police, who told me to pull into a service station. The Punto and Golf followed me and parked near some bushes. When the police approached them, the occupants scattered into the woods.

They would not have run away if they were officials. The only explanation was that MI6 had hired an amateur surveillance team to watch me once the Italians had refused to help them any more. When the police left, I slashed the tyres of the two cars.

A few days later in Monte Carlo - April 8 - MI6 had me arrested again by the Monaco special investigations unit. I was becoming a connoisseur of police cells. MI6 asked them to confiscate my new Psion and mobile phone, bought just two days previously, but they rang the DST, who advised them to let me go.

No sooner had I crossed back into Italy in my BMW than the fat bloke in a red vest appeared again at the wheel of a white VW Polo, with a long-haired scruffy companion. They sat glued to my bumper all the way to central Milan.

I drove fast around a roundabout. They did the same, still sticking to my bumper. I drove around again, a bit faster. They tried to keep up. I accelerated again, and soon I was right on the Polo's own tail.

The fat bloke was grimacing in his rear-view mirror, unsure how to react, and his companion was shouting down his mobile phone. I flashed my lights, and gave them a friendly wave.

Emergenza! Emergenza!" cried the overweight figure perched on the tip of a ladder swaying just below my balcony. "Gas leak, get out of your apartment immediately!"

The police had been knocking on the door of my third-floor apartment on the Rimini seafront for two hours. I had encrypted everything important on my laptop, defragmented the hard disk for good measure, and hid the Psion memory disk inside the television set.

With everything secure, I went out on the balcony and opened up a book. They eventually called out the fire brigade, and now the police chief was peering up at me from his wobbly perch, hoping to trick me into opening the door.

"You've got the wrong building," I replied from my sun-lounger, "This building is electricity only!"

"Open the door," he ordered, producing a police badge and sending the ladder into a worrying sway.

It was Wednesday, May 17 - the day that Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, confirmed that she intended to publish her memoirs. Unlike me, she had not been arrested. Sky News had booked me for a live telephone interview at 3.30pm to discuss this jaw-dropping hypocrisy. The phone started ringing as the police burst into my flat.

"Up against the wall," screamed the two Italian heavies who led the charge, their pistols pointing at my chest.

"All right, calm down," I urged them. It was my 10th police bust and I had my hands against the wall and feet apart before they'd even recovered their breath. Five other officers entered the room.

Their sweaty chief arrived a few minutes later, introduced himself as Inspector Filippis of Rimini DIGOS, the Italian special investigations police, and presented two British Special Branch officers.

These jobsworths waved a warrant that empowered them under the Mutual Assistance Act to confiscate anything they wanted. My computer and Psion were first in the pile. Then my CD collection, both music and software, my legal papers, my mobile phone and the television remote control.

They loaded it all into one of my suitcases. The only thing they couldn't get in was the television, containing the precious disk.

Filippis interviewed me for six hours before he realised that I had done nothing illegal and that the British police had abused the Mutual Assistance Act. By then the jobsworths were on their way back to London with all my belongings. They returned my suitcase, but I never saw my computers, software, CDs, mobile phone or TV remote control again.

A few days later, Filippis wrote asking me to go back to the police station. I ignored his request. I had just applied for registration in Rimini, which I needed in order to legitimise my presence in Italy, and I presumed that Filippis wanted to tell me to leave.

"Why didn't you come to see us the other day?" he inquired politely when I bumped into him in the town centre. "Your permit is ready. The British embassy in Rome rang us and asked us not to give you one, so we decided to give you it immediately."

Where will this end, I thought to myself, unsure whether the story was farce or tragedy.

Names of MI6 officers have been changed to protect their identities, except for Sir David Spedding, the former chief, who has been publicly identified

The deal that would bring me back to Britain

I expect that when this book is published, MI6 will spend yet more public money seeking to disrupt its distribution, attempting to confiscate profits from its sale and trying to have me arrested and extradited back to the United Kingdom.

To justify this expenditure, it will use its pliant friends in Whitehall and parliament to spread malicious rumours that my dismissal was justified because I was "unreliable" and "went on frolics", and will spin to friendly press contacts that I am a "traitor" who has "sold secrets" and "endangered agents' lives", without substantiating these claims with reasoned argument.

MI6 could save itself all these efforts, legal battles and the British taxpayer considerable expense if it were to accept a simple pledge from me.

I will come back to the UK voluntarily, hand over to charity all my personal proceeds from the sale of this book, accept whatever legal charges MI6 wish to bring against me, and if necessary go to prison again, on one simple condition: that I first be allowed to take it to an employment tribunal.

If MI6 were a noble and fair organisation, genuinely interested in protecting national security and accountable for the public money that it spends, then it would accept this offer with alacrity. But having worked both for it and been targeted by it for nearly a decade, I doubt that it will do so.

A step towards greater democratic accountability was taken when the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, chaired by Tom King MP, was given limited powers to examine the activities of the intelligence services. But its role remains entirely advisory, and attempts by King to extend its powers have been resisted by MI6, which pays only lip service to his recommendations.

In his 1998 annual report to the prime minister, among several other criticisms of MI6 King wrote that "recent experiences on both sides of the Atlantic underline the importance of having a range of effective measures for dealing with staff problems as they arise".

After MI6 paid no attention to King's recommendation, he repeated it more strongly in his 1999 report, writing in bold text: "We strongly support the right to have access to an employment tribunal."

Still MI6 paid no attention to this criticism, or many of his other recommendations. It will continue to ignore King's recommendations and there will be no true democratic accountability of the service until the intelligence and security committee is given executive powers.

Richard Tomlinson

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