Richard Tomlinson

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Person.png Richard Tomlinson   PowerbaseRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(spook, whistleblower)
Richard Tomlinson circa 2002
Born13 January 1963
NationalityBritish, New Zealand
Alma materCambridge University/Gonville and Caius College
MI6 whistleblower imprisoned in 1997 for breaking the Official Secrets Act 1989


In office
1991 - 1995

Richard Tomlinson is a New Zealand-born British former MI6 officer imprisoned in 1997 for breaking the Official Secrets Act 1989[1] by giving the synopsis of a proposed book detailing his career in the Secret Intelligence Service to an Australian publisher.[2] [3] The book, called The Big Breach, was published in Moscow in 2001. [4]

Education and military training

He was born in Ngaruawahia, New Zealand and grew up in Armathwaite, England. He was educated at Barnard Castle School where he was a contemporary of England Rugby players Rory Underwood and Rob Andrew. He excelled at mathematics and received double-stars in A and S-level mathematics and physics. He then won an entrance scholarship to Cambridge University. He was first approached by MI6 in 1984 after graduating from Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, with a Double First Class Honours Degree in aeronautical engineering. He also completed flying training with Cambridge University Air Squadron, won a Cambridge Blue for Modern Pentathlon. On graduation he was accepted to join the Royal Navy as a Fleet Air Arm Officer. However he instead applied for and won a Kennedy Scholarship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S., where he obtained an S.M. in Technology policy.

He worked briefly in the summer of 1986 as an intern at the World Bank and then subsequent to graduation from MIT, won a further prize from the Rotary Foundation, allowing him to study in the country of his choice for a year. He enrolled in a political science course at the University of Buenos Aires, where he became a fluent Spanish speaker.[5] He continued to pursue his aeronautical interests and qualified as a glider pilot with the Fuerza Aerea Argentina.

Military and MI6 service

In 1987 Tomlinson returned to the United Kingdom and served for five years in the Territorial Army's 21 SAS and in 23 SAS, qualifying as a military parachutist and radio operator. He also represented Britain in the 1990 Camel Trophy, competing in Siberia, USSR[6], and single-handedly crossed the Sahara desert by motorcycle. He finally joined MI6 in 1991. He completed his training with MI6 as the best recruit on his course, being awarded the rarely given "Box 1" attribute, by his instructing officers including Nicholas Langman. He then served in the "SOV/OPS" department, working during the closing phases of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, before being posted to Sarajevo as the MI6 representative in Bosnia during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. His next posting was to work as an undercover officer against Iran, where he succeeded in penetrating the Iranian Intelligence Service, presumably AVAMA.


Tomlinson was sacked without warning for undisclosed reasons in 1995. MI6 failed to follow British legal procedures intended to protect employees from abusive employers - giving him no written warning or reasons for the dismissal, and refusing to allow him access to a Union representative. Tomlinson disputed the reasons for and legality of his dismissal and attempted to take MI6 before an employment tribunal, but this was blocked by MI6 using a Public Interest Immunity Certificate. Lacking further legal recourse, Tomlinson left the United Kingdom and pursued his arguments against MI6 publicly, publishing articles in the international press about his treatment, and began work on a book (which later became The Big Breach). As a result of Tomlinson's campaign, in 1998 the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee recommended that MI6 follow legal employment procedures. However, MI6 refused to apply this retrospectively to Tomlinson's case.

Arrest and Imprisonment

On returning to the United Kingdom in 1997, Tomlinson was arrested on suspicion of breaking the Official Secrets Act by giving a four-page synopsis of his proposed book to an Australian publisher - though MI6 have never claimed that he revealed any secret information. Unusually, for someone with no prior criminal record, and for a non-violent offence, Tomlinson was remanded in custody at HMP Belmarsh as a Category A prisoner - normally reserved only for dangerous offenders. When it was announced that the trial would be held in a High Court, meaning that Tomlinson would be held on remand for up to two years, longer than any likely sentence, he pleaded guilty to breaking the Official Secrets Act. At the sentencing hearing, John Scarlett, the chief prosecution witness, claimed that Tomlinson "had gravely damaged national security" and "had put agents' lives at risk". Tomlinson, who was not allowed to call any witnesses in his defence, was given a twelve month custodial sentence. He served six months in HMP Belmarsh before being released early for good behaviour on 1 May 1998. Since 1998, foreign police services, including those of Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France and Monaco have all arrested and detained him at the request of MI6, but he has not been subsequently charged with any offence.

The Big Breach

On completion of his three months probationary licence on 31 August 1998, Tomlinson left the United Kingdom to live in exile. He set about completing The Big Breach, which was published in 2001 in Russia. Subsequently, after a Court of Appeal of ruling in his favour, it was made available in the UK. However, immediately after publication, the British Government obtained a High Court Order to confiscate proceeds from the book and any newspaper serialisation rights, on the grounds that the government owned the copyright to anything written by Tomlinson. Finally, in September 2008, MI6 dropped all legal objection to the publication of The Big Breach, released the proceeds from the publication to Tomlinson, and admitted that their previous legal actions against him were disproportionate. However, they still refused to reinstate Tomlinson in MI6, or compensate him for the loss of his career and pension. Tomlinson can now travel freely to the UK.[7] The book can now be downloaded free in electronic form (See 'External Links' below).

Other Revelations

Richard Tomlinson published a list of nine names on his own website on GeoCities. The site was subsequently taken down by the host due to a complaint by a third party. He put up a link to a copy of the LaRouche list on his own website, with comments on the inaccuracy of individual entries, intending to show that he was not its author. That site too is no longer accessible. However, the full alphabetic list is available and has been archived at the Inside-News website.[8]

Diana, Princess of Wales

Full articles: Diana, Princess of Wales

Tomlinson was apprehended by French Authorities in July 2006 on a European Arrest Warrant issued by the United Kingdom. The warrant claimed Tomlinson was involved in the publication of two lists containing the names of 116 MI6 officers in 2005. The police seized computers, personal papers and other items from his home in Cannes, and from his place of employment, leading to the loss of this employment. He was subsequently cleared entirely of any involvements in the lists, though was never compensated for the damage to his career caused by the allegations. It was reported in some quarters that this arrest was linked to the inquiries into the death of Diana. During this period Tomlinson kept a number of blogs publicising his treatment.

In 2008, Tomlinson was a witness for the inquest into the deaths of the Princess of Wales and Dodi al Fayed. He had suggested that MI6 was monitoring Diana before her death and that "he knew for a fact" that [9]her driver on the night she died, Henri Paul, was an MI6 informant. He claimed that her death mirrored plans he saw in 1992 for the assassination of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, using a bright light to cause a traffic accident.

Speaking by video-link from France on 13 February 2008, Tomlinson conceded that after the interval of 16 or 17 years, he "could not remember specifically" whether the document he had seen in 1992 had in fact proposed the use of a strobe light to cause a traffic accident as a means of assassinating Milosevic, although use of lights for this purpose had been covered in his MI6 training.

On being told that no MI6 file on Henri Paul had been found, Tomlinson said that it "would be absurd after 17 years to say I can positively disagree with it, but...I do not think the fact that they did not manage to find a file rules out anything either". He said he believed MI6 had an informant at the Paris Ritz but he could not be certain, and had never claimed (despite having said so in former interviews), that that person was necessarily Henri Paul.[10]

The Increment

Tomlinson has alleged that there exists a secret paramilitary unit called "The Increment" which carries out covert operations on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, [11] [12]. He claims that operators are selected from the 'cream of the crop' of the SAS and SBS, and work on Security Service and Secret Intelligence Service supervised missions. The author Chris Ryan used the term in the title of his 2004 novel The Increment.

Post MI6

In 1999, Tomlinson enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, using a nom de guerre. He served with 3rd Company, 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment until medically discharged in 2003. Tomlinson is now believed to live in France, where he qualified and now works as an airline pilot.


A Document by Richard Tomlinson

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)Description
File:The Big Breach.pdfbook2001MI6
Diana Spencer/Premature death
Ex-MI6 officer Richard Tomlinson tells his story - of particular interest in what he has to say about the death of Diana Pricess of Wales. The UK authorites made strenuous efforts to prevent publication of the book and Tomlinson was subjected to serious harassment and terms of imprisonment


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Uncensoredwebpage1 April 2001Gordon Logan
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  1. Former spy Richard Tomlinson quizzed BBC
  2. "Ex-MI6 man jailed over memoirs", BBC
  3. "Leaks feared as sacked MI6 spy launches blog", Observer
  4. "Moscow to publish the memoirs of MI6 renegade" Telegraph
  5. ISBN 1-903813-01-8 - The Big Breach: From Top Secret to Maximum Security. - Richard Tomlinson, Foreword by Nick Fielding. Mainstream Publishing 2001
  6. Camel Trophy
  7. 'MI6 tempts rebel ex-spy back home' - The Sunday Times, 31 May 2009
  8. "The alphabetic list of MI6 officers"
  9. quoted in Stephen Davis, Truthteller page 35
  10. Hearing transcripts: 13 February 2008 - Morning session
  11. Daily Telegraph. 13 February 2008
  12. The Guardian, 26 January 2001

External links

Tomlinson has operated at least 5 different blogs, hosted by Blogger and Wordpress over the period of his disputes with MI6. For whatever reasons, none have lasted for long. As of June 2010 this is the only one remaining with little of interest on it.

Further reading

  • ISBN 1-84413-383-4 - The Increment (2004), Chris Ryan, Century Publishing (UK).
  • ISBN 0-7528-7610-4 - Spooks: Behind the Scenes (2006), Orion Books (London).
  • File:The Big Breach.doc - The Big Breach - MS Word Format
  • File:The Big Breach.pdf - The Big Breach - Adobe pdf format