Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Alive and Tweeting...the spy who nearly died in coma mystery

Alive and Tweeting...the spy who nearly died in coma mystery

By Jason Lewis

Last updated at 10:04 PM on 06th June 2009

Looking tired, his hair thinner and a shade greyer, this is Alex Allan, Britain’s intelligence chief – a year after he was struck by a life-threatening illness which led to fears he was the victim of an assassination plot.

Finally back at work in his secretive Whitehall role assessing the work of MI5 and MI6, the cause of the spymaster’s near-fatal collapse remains a mystery.

Last week, Mr Allan, Downing Street private secretary to both John Major and Tony Blair, and former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice and High Commissioner for Australia, refused to discuss what had happened to him.

Alex Allan

Back on his feet: Alex Allan strolling near his home

Until his illness, Mr Allan, 58, was fit and active and known as a keen runner, sailor and cyclist. But in July last year, weeks after he was appointed head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), he was found unconscious at his West London home.

Blonde wildlife painter Dominique Salm, 36, who rents his late wife’s art studio in his home, told neighbours he was discovered with ‘blood everywhere’.

Her account added to speculation that Mr Allan may have been targeted by a foreign spy.

The JIC chief lapsed into a coma and was described as ‘very, very seriously ill’.

He was put under police guard in hospital while toxicology tests were carried out at his home.

Speculation focused on whether he had been targeted by terrorists or a hostile foreign government and questions were raised about his personal security.

Mr Allan’s wife, artist Katie Clemson, died of cancer aged 58 in 2007 and he continued to live in what was described as ‘an artist’s enclave’ on the Thames near Hammersmith.

He had also published his personal details on his own website, including his address, telephone number and details of family and friends.

However, Government officials tried to play down the investigation into his collapse, which was overseen by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command.

No details of the police inquiry’s conclusions have ever been officially released, but Whitehall sources were quoted blaming it on pneumonia and insisted it was ‘non-suspicious’.

Despite security concerns, Mr Allan – who did not return to work until January – has also begun publishing further personal and professional details on the internet.

The short postings on Twitter reveal more details of his friends, where he spends the weekend, his travel arrangements and who he has been meeting as chairman of the JIC.

Yesterday his latest message said: ‘To Cowes for Civil Service Sailing Association regatta. No wind, but 25 boat fleet seem to have had a great week. Gave out prizes at dinner.’

The postings also reveal meetings with security delegations from a Singapore-based intelligence agency, a trip to look around the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, meetings at the Admiralty board room ‘with Nelson/ naval memorabilia. Semi-circle cut-out in table to fit stomach of former Board member’.

Last month, he flew to Washington ‘staying at ambassador’s residents (sic), meetings with all the usual suspects – including new appointments’.

Last week, at the Hampshire farmhouse where he is believed to have recuperated, his sister Jane said: ‘Alex is now fully recovered, back at work and living in London again.’

She refused to discuss what had been behind the illness.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: ‘This is a private and personal matter. Alex Allan is back at work and fully recovered.’