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19 March 1999

It can’t happen here – can it?

Other people, in other countries, had to worry about dawn raids. Or so Gillian Linscott thought

By Gillian Linscott

On 3 December last year my husband, the writer Tony Geraghty, was arrested by Ministry of Defence police in a dawn raid, under suspicion of contravening the Official Secrets Act in his book The Irish War. Our home was searched. Tony was questioned for several hours then freed on police bail while inquiries continued. Last Friday was his 100th day on bail.

At first there is, to be honest, a buzz about being raided. “You mean they actually locked him up? Locked him in a cell?” “But what is it he’s supposed to have done? I’ve read the book and I can’t make out what their problem is.” “They searched your dirty washing? Yeugh.” We’re like accident survivors, telling it over and over. Our friends can’t quite believe it, and neither can we. OK, we know people get raided and arrested at dawn, but they’re writers in foreign dictatorships, drug dealers in council blocks, time-warped Trots in squats. When it happens to middle-aged, middle-class writers in a 17th-century black-and-white Herefordshire cottage it takes a while to get the picture into focus.

And the picture won’t get into focus again, not quite the way it was before. A walk to the garage shop for the papers, saying hello to neighbours along the way, feels like uncharted territory. Will people draw away from us? What are they saying about us? But there’s a vein of quiet anarchy in this border countryside a long way from London, and we’ve never been more grateful for it. People we’d never suspected of rebel tendencies offer only half-jokingly to paint messages on walls and parade with banners. Our friend Jim, farmer and churchwarden, rings to offer help. I joke that if they come for Tony again I might ask him to block the road out of the village with his tractor. “Tractor?” says Jim. “I’ll bring my muck-spreader.”

We managed the first month on nervous reaction, warmth of friends, jokes. But the fear is there all the time. We wake up in the mornings in the dark at 6.50am (the time they came) waiting for the knock on the door. We hear police sirens from the main road and look at each other. We walk in the damp woods overlooking our cottage, alert for traces of strangers. Our neighbours are beginning to adapt, as we are, to the idea that it might be serious. “They’re not really going to send him to prison, are they?” We tell them if he were to be charged and found guilty, it could be two years inside.

Even now, guilt gets into the most innocent things. Once your house has been turned over, however politely and methodically, once you have reason to think you have been and probably still are under surveillance, nothing is spontaneous. You think before you pick up a phone. You reconsider every phrase when writing a letter in case somebody besides the recipient reads it.

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Tony was bailed to report to the police in Herefordshire at 1pm on Friday 29 January. At one minute to one I watched as Tony and his solicitor walked into Hereford police station, then went home and waited. The solicitor promised to ring and let me know if they were still questioning him at 5pm. At about 4.30pm, Tony rang. He was waiting for me in the cafe of Hereford Safeways. Still under suspicion. Still no charge.

Five days later a bloodhound pack came to hunt in our valley. Tony volunteered to be a quarry and was pursued across 12 miles of muddy countryside by 32 baying hounds. It took his mind off things.

All this time we’ve been fighting, and friends have been fighting on our behalf, to remind anybody who will listen what’s happening to Tony. MPs write to ministers, table questions. They are referred to Chief Constable Walter Boreham OBE of the MoD police. From the start Tony’s been saying he doesn’t believe MoD police had the legal power to arrest him as a civilian in his home. I was sceptical. Surely they wouldn’t make a mistake about something so basic? But when I conuslted the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987 (£16.50 from HMSO, including express delivery) I agreed with him. Tony wrote to his solicitor. The solicitor thought it a nice point. He put it to a barrister. The barrister thought it a respectable point. Tony’s solicitor wrote to the Attorney-General.

We are becoming obsessive. Wherever a conversation starts it seems to come round to, “But if you interpret clause two, subsection 3(c) . . .” We decided to go skiing in Scotland for a couple of days and, if possible, not think about it at all. For one day, practising telemark turns down the little slope by the fisherman’s hut at Loch Vrotachan, we very nearly succeeded.

We spend a great deal of time waiting. Waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service. Waiting for the Attorney-General. Waiting for the next visit to the police station. On 8 March, Tony’s solicitor rang. The MoD police hadn’t yet heard from the Crown Prosecution Service, so they didn’t want to see him for another six weeks. Later in the day a cheerful woman police constable from the West Mercia force arrived, having been asked by MoD police to see to the formalities. Tony signed forms in triplicate, promising to be at Hereford Police Station at 1pm on Thursday 22 April. That will be 141 days.

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