IT was the book that caused consternation within the Thatcher Government and at the highest level of MI5, and it was the subject of an ultimately unsuccessful court battle to halt its publication.

Spycatcher, by Peter Wright, former assistant director of MI5, published in 1987, was a sensational tell-all book about the service.

In the words of the BBC’s security correspondent, Gordon Corera, in his book The Art of Betrayal: “Fear traversed Whitehall and the secret world and everything was done to try and stop it, including an absurd court case in Australia [Spycatcher had first been published there and in America] which made the Cabinet Secretary and government look foolish.

“But their efforts were futile and out tumbled all the skeletons and the dirty laundry in one messy pile in front of a rapt British public who had not seen anything like it before”.

By August 1987 the book had also been published in Canada but in this country the Law Lords had ruled that newspapers here must not publish extracts from the book or refer to allegations made in it.

The former Labour Cabinet minister, Tony Benn, responded by reading extracts from the banned book at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park.

An Edinburgh bookseller gave away copies of Spycatcher for £30, so long as customers agreed to accept another book along with it. An Alexandria man donated a copy of the book to Dumbarton library. In Edinburgh, extracts were read out at a meeting on The Mound by Labour MPs Maria Fyfe and (above) Alistair Darling. Mr Darling said it was “outrageous and monstrous” that the book was still banned and that newspapers were not allowed to publish extracts.

In October 1988 the Law Lords unanimously dismissed the Government’s attempt to stop the British media reporting Wright’s allegations of misconduct by M15.

Wright died in Tasmania in April 1995, aged 78.

Read more: Herald Diary