The government has spent £376,775 in legal fees to keep secret the identity of an MI5 agent who abused his former partner before moving abroad to carry out work for a foreign intelligence agency, it can be revealed.
Labour said that ministers had lost “any chance” of recovering the money spent to protect the agent, who had a background in rightwing extremism, the “moment somebody put the case into the public domain”.
The case of the informant, who attacked his ex with a machete and is said to have used his position within the domestic intelligence service to further threaten her, first came to light in January.
A newspaper report revealed that Suella Braverman, the attorney general at the time, had sought an injunction against the BBC, which had been seeking to run a story identifying the agent as working overseas.
The BBC insisted that there was public interest in revealing the man’s identity because of his domestic abuse. But “a source” told The Daily Telegraph that doing so would “put people’s lives at risk” and result in “very serious consequences” for the corporation.
In the end, the BBC ran a story on the man - known only as X for legal reasons - but could not reveal his identity because the government was granted an injunction preventing the publication of his name. The story revealed that the man, a foreign national, terrorised the woman and at one point threatened to kill her.
Between 1 January and 18 November, the government spent £376,775.18 on keeping his name a secret, according to government figures seen by The Independent. It is not known how much the BBC has spent on the case, parts of which were heard in private due to concerns about national security. The corporation has been contacted for comment.
Ms Braverman, who was sacked by former prime minister Liz Truss over a security breach, was attorney general when the briefing was given.
Earlier this month, a judge said that Ms Braverman had failed to prove a government source had not leaked confidential details of the case.
Mr Justice Chamberlain made the comments as he ruled against the government’s bid to get the BBC to pay its legal costs.
Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow attorney general, said: “The decision to give The Telegraph an exclusive briefing that the attorney general would be seeking an injunction against the BBC may … have ended up costing the taxpayer up to £377,000.
“The questions that urgently need to be answered are who gave that briefing, who authorised that briefing, and were the consequences known to Rishi Sunak when he made his cabinet appointments last month.”
The attorney general’s office has been contacted for comment.
Mr Braverman’s case was mounted on the “hypothetical assumption” that X was an agent because MI5 has a policy of never revealing the identity of its agents or informants.
According to the BBC, he left the UK to live abroad and went to work for a foreign intelligence service.
In the BBC story, the woman, who the corporation named as Beth to protect her identity, said X told her she would not be able to report his abusive behaviour because of his work for the intelligence service.
“It meant that I couldn’t speak out about any of his behaviour towards me, any of the violence I went through, sexual or physical, because he had men in high places who always had his back, who would intervene and who would actively kill me, if I spoke out,” she said.
Beth said that X was paid to inform on networks of right-wing extremists but that he appeared to share their beliefs and often praised white supremacists’ mass murders.
He told her he wanted to commit an atrocity himself, Beth said.
Beth reported the machete incident to the police but the case was later dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. The police and CPS said there was a lack of evidence.
The man later became the subject of another police probe which drew in counter-terrorism officers, after it emerged that he had allegedly written in a diary about killing Jews and kept Nazi materials.
But he left the country before the investigation concluded.
A second woman, who also had a relationship with X, said he was abusive towards her too.
*This article was amended at 21:14 on 25 November. The previous version used an image of MI6 instead of MI5.