January 14 2001 FOCUS
A rebel spy on the run (part 4)
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
satisfied and, at last, Ratcliffe could begin his next question.