American whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are infamous, but history has largely forgotten Richard Tomlinson - one of the first and bravest whistleblowers of his time. Impressively, while Manning and Snowden have overwhelming public support and advocacy, Tomlinson won his battles singlehandedly.
Richard raised a number of concerns about the conduct of his employer, MI6 . He subsequently suffered severe organisational reprisals, including character assassination, and severe consequences for his employability. How does a man challenging the largest secret service organisation in the UK then get a job in that country? We should remember that MI6 is no ordinary employer - they have the resources and intelligence to defeat the best.
Few sought to question how Richard was surviving? Did he have friends to support him or legal representation? Richard wasn't just entertainment; he was a person like everyone else.
Wikipedia provides a good summary of Tomlinson's adventures. Essentially, he tried to take his former employer to an employment tribunal, as he felt that, in 1995, he had been unfairly dismissed. His case was that he had become suicidal and depressed following the death of his long term girlfriend, who had tragically died from cancer. He stated that he had been suffering from post traumatic stress after witnessing violence against a civilian during the Siege of Sarajevo.
MI6 was alleged to have been ill equipped at dealing with his condition. MI6, in turn, argued that he was dismissed for "not being a team player, lacking motivation and having a short term interest in the service". They did, though, concede that he had experienced a "personality clash" with his line manager. Another reason cited was that he was "going on frolics on his own". Interestingly, no proper reason was given for his dismissal. Tomlinson reported that while on mid assignment, he was barred from entering MI6 headquarters. His friends report that he was sacked following his complaint about MI6's unethical tactics.
During his legal challenge, Tomlinson argued that his supervisors had disregarded his personal circumstances. He attempted to take MI6 before a Tribunal, but MI6 obtained public-interest immunity from the then foreign secretary. Tomlinson was left with no further legal recourse but to publicise the manner in which he had been treated. It was then that the real cat and mouse chase began. It can only be described as an effort to silence him.
In 1997, he was imprisoned under the Official Secrets Act 1989. He had provided a summary of his proposed book, detailing his time with MI6 to an Australian publisher. After 5 months of a year long sentence he was given parole. He left the country and published a book called the " The Big Breach". Having failed to publish it here, it was eventually published in Moscow in 2001, and serialised in the Sunday Times. He made a number of allegations that were partly verified during public hearings.
Many years ago, I came across a Richard's blog. He had published correspondence with the Treasury Solicitors, and MI6 were again unhappy. Richard had been writing a book called the "Golden Chain" and MI6 wanted copies. Tax payers' funds were wasted chasing Richard, while their ex-director, Stella Rimington, was free to publish her novels without interference.
Richard's blogs mysteriously disappeared, leaving readers to check his Wikipedia page to find out where he had set up the next one. This chase through the internet went on for months. Having watched the manner in which MI6 conducted themselves, it amazed me that their lawyers had not considered something simple like mediation.
MI6 pursued Richard Tomlinson relentlessly. Before spending thousands of pounds of public money, they should have understood that the best way to deal with Richard was either to grant him a public hearing or come to a mutual agreement. It is obvious to any average person that they hired Tomlinson because he was one of the most intelligent and capable of men. This means he wasn't going to be a walk-over.
Like all organisations, MI6 grew weary of their pointless cat and mouse chase and gave in. By 2009, they apologised for his mistreatment, allowed Tomlinson to return to Britain, agreed to unfreeze royalties from his book and drop all threats of charges. The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee recommended that MI6 should be subject to UK employment law. Interestingly, since 2000, staff at MI6 have had the same employment rights as other British citizens. Sadly, these procedures were not allowed retrospectively. MI6 succeeded in preventing a fair hearing of Mr Tomlinson's concerns by blocking his rights to a legal remedy.
Throughout the decade, Richard survived and has attempted to continue to live his life. He once said "It is much more difficult to break into a new career aged 40". It certainly is and it is an issue poorly recognised by the system. What makes Richard one of the bravest whistleblowers is that he used his intelligence and stamina to outwit his opponents until he was fully vindicated. He also fought to survive under incredibly difficult circumstances. The UK should recognise and award this bravery and welcome him back by awarding him a permanent job and pension rights. This may set an example that the system has changed for the better.
Society has the expectation that most whistleblowers are superhuman. This is not the case; their journey is dangerous, long and lonely. Only the bravest and the most intelligent make it to the finishing line. Richard Tomlinson made it, and should be remembered for his determination, intelligence and ability to stand by what he believed to be right. Moreover, he never gave up.
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." ― Winston Churchill
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