Tinker, tailor, soldier, writ
Spy writer Rupert Allason is taking a publisher to court over a dead man’s memoirs. Why is he being so touchy?
 
 
Rupert Allason, aka Nigel West, is considered by many journalists to be the country’s leading expert on the intelligence and security serves. He has written more than 20 books on the subject. However the maverick former Tory MP for Torbay is now embroiled in a legal spat over the ownership of a manuscript which, if he loses, could have serious repercussions for his reputation as Britain’s most successful spy author. At the very least the case, should it ever come to court, will yield a unique insight into the way that Allason operates.

The case revolves around a book called The Enigma Spy, the memoirs of John Cairncross, published last year. Allason is suing the publisher, Random House, claiming an infringement of copyright.

John Cairncross was a brilliant linguist and the only person to have come top in both the Foreign Office and Civil Service entrance exams. He followed an illustrious career in the Foreign Office, at the wartime code-cracking centre at Bletchley Park, briefly in the Secret Intelligence Service and finally at the Treasury. He resigned from the Civil Service in 1951, latterly working for the UN, before retiring to the south of France, where he settled down to academic pursuits.

During the war, Cairncross passed information to Britain's ally Russia, the consequence of which was to indirectly enable it to win its bitter war against Germany on the eastern front.

In 1991 authors Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky named Cairncross as the man who had passed on the secrets of Britain’s wartime atomic programme to the Russians. They alleged that Cairncross had been the secretary of a committee which took the decision to divert resources to the top secret project and named him the “fifth man” in the notorious Cambridge spy ring of Blunt, Philby, Maclean and Burgess.

To the end of his life, Cairncross maintained that he was not the fifth man and that he had no involvement with the ring. He said the appearance of his name on the committee was a “clerical error” and that he had never attended any meetings. It was a point which Cairncross no doubt impressed upon the “men from the ministry”, who, in the wake of Andrew’s and Gordievsky’s allegations, had written to him proposing to interview him further about his past activities.

By then Cairncross had met an American opera singer, Gayle, whom he was later to marry. He decided to write his memoirs in response to the allegations.

In spring 1995, Allason offered to help Cairncross publish his memoirs. But he told him that he would face problems if he published them in the UK and suggested that, to avoid possible confiscation of the royalties, he should publish them through a British Virgin Islands company with which Allason was involved and which was based in Bermuda, called St Ermin’s Press. St Ermin’s had been incorporated in February 1995. Allason named it after a hotel in Victoria which was used by MI5 as a safe house.

Cairncross would come to regret his involvement with Allason. From an early stage – and against Cairncross’s wishes – Allason appeared keen to skew the book towards the point of view that Cairncross could have been the “fifth man”.

Cairncross died in October 1995, aged 82. In view of his reservations and others which arose following his death, his widow declined to enter into a publishing agreement with St Ermin’s. Nevertheless, Allason proceeded to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Defence for the disclosures regarding intelligence work referred to in the memoirs.

Gayle Cairncross started communicating with him through a solicitor. The book was finally published by Random House in October last year, without any of Allason’s “fifth-man” leanings.

In December last year Allason sued. In the Statement of Claim, Allason alleges that he wrote two manuscripts forming the basis of John Cairncross’s memoirs himself, between April 1995 and January 1996. The writ states that approximately one half of the manuscripts were wholly Allason’s work and the other half were rewritten from notes given to him by Cairncross. The allegations are hotly contested by Random House.

Curiously the writ is not issued by St Ermin’s press, but by one of Allason’s UK companies, Westintel (Research) Ltd, described as a “service company”.

For once, Allason, who normally conducts his own legal battles, has sought the help of lawyers, in this case the Simkins Partnership.

The claim is limited to £70,000 and one wonders why a millionaire with a house in Berkshire, a cottage in Devon, a flat in Zermatt, Switzerland, and a £1.5 million mansion in Bermuda, albeit split with his ex-wife, would want to pursue such a trifling amount.

But observers believe the legal spat is about much more than money. It touches on something which all experts on intelligence defend fiercely, namely the veracity of their information. Allason’s and Cairncross’s positions were poles apart and that must have sat uncomfortably with Allason’s self-regard as the country’s foremost intelligence expert.

Allason maintains that Cairncross was the fifth man in the Cambridge spy ring and cites documents obtained from the KGB archives in Moscow to back up his claim. In April, working with former KGB spy Oleg Tsarev, Allason published his version of events in a book entitled The Crown Jewels.

Whatever the truth, Allason’s action against Cairncross’s memoirs has gone some way towards maintaining the official line on the Cambridge spy ring. Arguing over whether or not Cairncross was the fifth man has directed attention away from the possibility that there were other, far more prominent people, who were part of the ring.

First published in Punch magazine, June 1998.

 
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Two years ago Rupert Allason told the Telegraph magazine that he chose his nom de plume, “Nigel West”, to escape his father’s shadow. But it is largely his father Colonel James Allason’s connections and money which have made Rupert what he is today.

His father had a successful military career, first in the Royal Artillery and then the Dragoon Guard. During the Second World War he worked for the war Service in India and Burma.

He retired in 1953 to pursue a career in politics and in 1959 was elected Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead. The following year he was made PPS to John Profumo, the secretary of state for war who was forced to resign after admitting to an affair with a prostitute, Christine Keeler.

It was later to emerge that MI5 had used Keeler and other girls as “honey traps” to glean information from Russian diplomats. And a close family friend at the time is said to have been the former deputy general of MI5, Anthony Simkins. A barrister by training, Simkins worked for “C” division (protective security) during the Profumo scandal, becoming deputy general in 1965. He retired in 1971 and wrote an official version of the secret history of MI5.

Some say, perhaps unkindly, that it was the Colonel’s desire to find something for his youngest son to do, to keep him out of mischief, which led Rupert into the shadowy world of intelligence. And it may well have been a family connection through his father, which secured Rupert’s access to the Special Forces Club, where all the spooks meet and swap stories.

In 1974, Rupert became a director of the family property company, Allason Investments. Around the same time he became a Lloyd’s name. Allason’s occupation was then “photographer”.

His wealth was further enhanced in 1979 when he married Nikki van Moppes, the daughter of a millionaire diamond dealer. In 1981, he and his wife set up a publishing venture, Westintel Ltd. That was folded in 1985 and Allason set up a new company, Westintel (Research) Ltd.

Despite owning copyrights to his books, neither appear to have made a substantial contribution to Allason’s wealth; in fact, quite the reverse. In April 1997, the Private Bank and Trust Company took a charge over a property owned by Westintel (Research), which had made a loss of £135,000 the previous financial year.

In April this year, he set up a new publishing company with his older brother Julian, a computer consultant, called once again Westintel. Both of them claim to be company secretary, making Westintel the only company in the UK with two company secretaries.

 
 
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