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'Far more likely' coronavirus came from lab, ex-MI6 chief tells LBC

2 May 2021, 11:54 | Updated: 2 May 2021, 12:03

By Will Taylor

Coronavirus was more likely to have escaped from a lab than to have come from an animal, the former head of MI6 has told LBC.

Sir Richard Dearlove said aspects of the virus "point in the direction of it being somewhat tailored" though he warned this may never be proven.

The former "C" of the Secret Intelligence Service – equivalent to "M" in James Bond – also told LBC's Tom Swarbrick that more information on the coronavirus' origin will soon come out.

Some have theorised the coronavirus could have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Work to establish the origin of the virus is ongoing.

Sir Richard, who headed up the spy agency between 1999 and 2004, told Tom the World Health Organisation's report, which said a lab leak was highly unlikely but further work was needed, was a "farcical investigation".

Read more: UK close to "bottom levels" of coronavirus - Prof Jonathan Van Tam

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Dearlove was 'C' of MI6 for five years
Dearlove was 'C' of MI6 for five years. Picture: PA

While he admitted "it's possible" the virus jumped to humans from nature, Sir Richard said: "But the fact that... it's far more likely, if you're a scientist, that it was put together.

"All right, put it like this… It's a natural virus that's been, as it were, mucked around with and the characteristics of things like the spike protein, which make it so highly infectious, also point in the direction of it being somewhat tailored."

He alleged that Chinese influence was hindering the publication of scientific articles on the matter.

Read more: Aid to China slashed by 95% in overseas assistance cuts

“I honestly don't think that this issue can be resolved one way or another," he continued.

"I think there's a balance of probability. Obviously, if it cannot be proven, and I don't think it can, because the evidence that could have proved it one way or another has been destroyed, because of the extent of the Chinese clean up.

"Okay, so you can't prove it's zoonotic. You can't prove it's a lab escapee. What I'm saying is there's a balance of probability."

Some have theorised the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan
Some have theorised the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan. Picture: Photo by YFC / Costfoto/Sipa USA

He expects forthcoming books to further outline the argument for coronavirus' lab origin.

Sir Richard described China as a more "acute" threat, though he added that Russia presents the most immediate challenge.

He also said the UK should commit to training the security forces in Afghanistan for another two decades, after President Joe Biden announced the Americans would leave ahead of the September 11 20-year anniversary.

It is a "mistake" to leave and the UK had become safer by deposing the old Taliban regime, he argued.

"It could be (another 20 year stay)," Sir Richard said.

Read more: UK troops to "drawdown" from Afghanistan as US forces plan to leave

"I'm not arguing for the massive deployment of troops. I'm arguing for the continued training and equipping of Afghan forces to fight this battle.

"I mean, you can't really afford now to have these geopolitical vacuums when there are such potent threats."

Islamist terror remains the biggest threat to the UK, and far-right terrorism has "so far" been more containable, he said.

In the wide-ranging interview, Sir Richard also said freedom of movement in Europe and the migrant crisis throughout the 2010s had impacted British security "to an extent".

Asked about reports of Boris Johnson and the use of his phone – with suggestions in recent days that his number was readily available online, and news he has been contactable by people in the private sector – Sir Richard said: "Politicians and phones have always been a problem.

"It is not a unique problem to any single politician, every single politician I have ever known, foreign and British, have used their phones in a way which probably is unwise, that's the nature of political life.

"It's not to do with the behaviour of politicians."