Crispin Aubrey, who died of a heart attack at the age of 66 on September 28, was at the centre of one of the major trials involving journalists over the last 40 years. The campaign prompted by his arrest, and that of both his source and his journalist colleague, led to a re-evaluation of the Official Secrets Act and made the authorities less inclined to use it as a blunt instrument against reporters.
Crispin’s journalistic career began at the Hampshire Chronicle after he had studied English literature on a scholarship at Oxford. He joined the London magazine Time Out in 1974 and specialised in coverage of environmental issues - very much an under-investigated area at the time - and planning corruption.
Time Out in that era was a radical magazine and, with the help at the ex-CIA agent, Philip Agee, was investigating some of the dark arts of the security services. One TO reporter, the American Mark Hosenball, co-authored, with my namesake Duncan Campbell, a ground-breaking expose of GCHQ in Cheltenham. Home secretary Merlyn Rees issued deportation orders against both Hosenball and Agee on national security grounds. This led to the formation of the very active Agee-Hosenball defence campaign, backed by the NUJ.
A former soldier with Signals Intelligence, John Berry, was angered by the deportations and contacted Time Out. Aubrey and Campbell went to interview him but the Time Out phones had been tapped. They were arrested as they left Berry’s flat, held in Brixton prison and charged under the Official Secrets Act. This led to the ABC defence campaign, named after the initials of the three men.
The NUJ threw its weight behind this campaign, too, with the late editor of The Journalist, Ron Knowles, then NUJ deputy general secretary Jake Ecclestone and a future editor, Tim Gopsill to the fore. NUJ banners appeared on many pickets and demonstrations as the campaign gathered momentum. By the time the case came to trial at the Old Bailey in 1978, there was a public mood against the prosecution.
The three were convicted but given token non-custodial sentences. Crispin wrote a book on the subject, entitled Who’s Watching You? Crispin moved to Somerset after the trial and continued his journalism, specialising in environmental and energy issues, writing two books on the subject and editing Wind Directions, the magazine of the European Wind Energy Association.
He was a spokesman for the Stop Hinkley campaign against the building of a new nuclear power plant in Somerset and had been due to speak at a rally on the issue the week after his sudden death.
As anyone who covered the Glastonbury festival over the last twenty years would know, he was also a genial press officer there. An active NUJ member, Crispin was always grateful for the union’s support at the time of the arrests. An easy-going, generous and humorous man, he stuck to his principles throughout the case and indeed throughout a very happy and fulfilled life.
Duncan Campbell, (news editor Time Out 1975-81).