The High Court has granted an interim injunction preventing the BBC from revealing the identity of an alleged MI5 agent which it says is a “dangerous extremist and misogynist who physically and psychologically abused two female partners” and who told one of them he worked for MI5,“in order to terrorise and control her”.

The Attorney General had sought an order preventing the BBC from broadcasting the programme about the alleged ‘covert human intelligence source’, referred to as ‘X’. The programme, in addition to the claims regarding X’s behaviour, was to allege that MI5should have known about X’s conduct and realised it was inappropriate to use him as an agent.

The hearing of the Attorney General’s application involved both ‘open’ hearings and ‘closed’ sessions pursuant to the Justice and Security Act 2013, due to the nature of some of the evidence relied upon. In the open proceedings, the Attorney General neither confirmed nor denied that X is or was an agent but contended that publishing the allegation that he is or was one would endanger him and “…cause material damage to national security”.

Mr Justice Chamberlain accepted that the BBC’s allegations and criticisms were “serious” and had “a credible evidential basis”, and that the relief sought by the Government represented, “a very significant interference with the right of the BBC to freedom of expression and the correlative right of the public to receive the information the BBC wishes to publish”.

However, the Judge concluded that the Attorney General was more likely than not to succeed at trial in establishing that the BBC should be prevented from disclosing X’s name and image. The information about X’s identity was confidential and known only to a small group of individuals. There would be a real and immediate risk that X would be killed or seriously injured if the information were to become publicly or widely known, and including X’s name and image would come at the expense of “material damage to the effectiveness of the work of the security and intelligence agencies and, therefore, the national security of the UK”.

Despite the interim injunction granted this month, the BBC will still be able to report on the key elements of the story, including the allegations that X abused his status as an agent and that MI5 is at fault for using or continuing to use him, as long as X is not identified.