Dame Stella Rimington has revealed that she was spied upon by Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times while she was head of MI5 (1992-96). They snooped into her private life – her shopping, her banking and even her medical records.
This story takes the News International scandal into a new zone. This time, we are not talking about tabloid phone-hacking. We are talking about a Murdoch broadsheet, The Sunday Times, and spying – or “blagging” – into the life of the head of Britain’s secret services. While the facts they were seeking may have been personal, there were still major national security implications and the public are entitled to know what went on.
Curiously, the story came to light in an interview Stella Rimington gave to The Lady, the most genteel of genteel magazines. And, strangely, the magazine published this sensational news with no fanfare whatsoever. Is that because it failed to recognise its significance or is there some other reason?
Now The Lady is not as stuck in the past as some people might think. Under the savvy editorship of Rachel Johnson, it has been given a new lease of life and gained in reputation. How could Ms Johnson not have realized the importance of what Stella Remington was saying? (A cynic might wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that Murdoch’s tablet Daily, newly arrived in the UK, is advertised on The Lady’s website. An even greater cynic, might wonder if Rachel is disinclined to upset too many Murdoch papers while her brother is seeking re-election as Mayor of London.) But perhaps we are being unfair. The stories about the behaviour of News International are so numerous and shocking, we are all getting a little punch drunk. And, at the end of the day, we owe Ms Johnson and her magazine our gratitude for bringing the matter to light.
As for the manner of Stella Rimington’s revelations, this is even more puzzling. One assumes that, as head of MI5, she reported her suspicions at the time. If so, were they investigated and what was the conclusion? Will we ever know? If she has said nothing until now, why has she kept quiet for so long? And why, of all publications, did she choose The Lady? Was she being deliberately low key or did she herself not recognize the significance of what she was saying?