Magazine article The Spectator

View from the Engine Room

Magazine article The Spectator

View from the Engine Room

Article excerpt

THE GUY LIDDELL DIARIES , VOLUME I, 1939-42, VOLUME II, 1942-45 edited by Nigel West Routledge, £25 each, pp. 344, pp. 304, ISBN 0415352134, 0415352150 . £20 each (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Most readers probably remember the name Guy Liddell, if at all, as the Fifth Man. Or possibly the Fourth, since we remember the first three, Burgess, Maclean and Philby, but cannot remember the next one, since the name kept on changing between Straight, Hollis and others.

Liddell's death in 1958 was largely unnoticed. He only became better known in the 1980s. David Mure, who in Cairo during the war had organised deception operations across the Middle East (on our side, I emphasise) announced that Liddell deliberately arranged a series of British intelligence failures. To the Cambridge historian John Costello, in his biography of Blunt, Master of Deception, Liddell's long friendship with Blunt seemed to be much of the proof that Liddell had been a Soviet spy.

At the end of the decade, Richard Deacon, in the Greatest Treason, had him as the Fifth Man. Deacon, among other things, cast doubt on what our secret services had seen as Liddell's triumphs over communism. Liddell had Percy Glading, the national organiser of Britain's Communist party, arrested in 1938 for Kremlin-directed espionage. Deacon claimed that Liddell let bigger fish escape.

But in the famous Spy Catcher Peter Wright said that anybody who read Liddell's diaries, to which presumably Wright had gained access, could not remotely suspect him of treason. But none of Liddell's accusers had anticipated the Soviet Union's collapse. The Soviet archives became open to inspection. The defectors, Oleg Gordievsky and Vasili Mitrikin, said that they showed that there was no evidence that Liddell was a traitor.

Now Liddell has the editor of these diaries, Nigel West, to defend him. He does so ably. The diaries, he says, 'show a humanity and commitment to democratic ideals which might seem anathema to most secret policemen'. I am not sure about 'most secret policemen' -- presumably a reference to our own, most of whom we must assume to be humane democrats. But I do not believe that the diaries of, say Philby, would have showed such a commitment. I suppose that Liddell could have been, in his humane prose, an exceptionally deceptive traitor. But a new burden of proof must now rest on his accusers, and any evidence against him must be new.

Liddell was educated partly in the French university of Angers and won the MC in the first world war, being commissioned, having joined up as a private. …

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