The ABC Secrecy Trial
40 Years On
In 1977 the ABC trial shone a light on the darker corners of British state surveillance and saw an unprecedented effort to criminalise journalists.
It’s been 40 years since the joint arrests of Crispin Aubrey, John Berry and Duncan Campbell. In the early seventies, Crispin Aubrey became a leading figure in the campaign to prevent the government deporting two Americans on national security grounds – former CIA case officer Philip Agee and Time Out journalist Mark Hosenball – after Phillip Agee had exposed CIA malpractices and Hosenball and Duncan Campbell co-wrote the first ever article on the GCHQ intelligence agency. Then, whilst researching an article for Time Out to expose British government secrets, he was arrested with Duncan Campbell under the Official Secrets Act for receiving classified information from John Berry, a former signals intelligence operator.
Crispin Aubrey, John Berry and Duncan Campbell appeared in court in what was known as the ABC trial (an acronym of their surnames). The ABC case attracted huge public interest as the government mounted a prosecution by turns farcical and ferocious. The case became notorious for a number of reasons, including jury vetting after the defense discovered that the jury foreman was a former SAS officer and that two other jurors had signed the official secrets act, as well as the prosecution of journalists under section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. The trial revealed much about government surveillance and also the lengths it would go to keep its activities secret. Following the trial, Crispin wrote Who’s Watching You: Britain’s Security Service and the Official Secrets Act (1981). In 2012, Crispin Aubrey sadly passed away.
This unique panel discussion will look at the events from those involved and consider its legacy today. Speakers include ABC defendants John Berry and Duncan Campbell, ABC campaigner and Statewatch Director Tony Bunyan and Sarah Kavanagh, NUJ Senior Campaigns and communications officer.
It is organised by Aubrey’s family as part of the Crispin Aubrey Legacy Fund set up to support aspiring journalists and in conjunction with the University of West of England’s Film and Journalism Department and Bristol Festival of Ideas.