'We did some very bad things': Novelist and former spy John Le Carre at his London home in 2008

Britain's intelligence services carried out assassinations and did 'some very bad things' during the Cold War, according to the former spy and novelist John Le Carre.

Le Carre - real name David Cornwell - worked for both MI5 and MI6 during the 1950s and 1960s. His revelations come in the same week that the body of MI6 worker Gareth Williams was discovered in a holdall in his London flat.

Le Carre told The Sunday Telegraph: 'Certainly we did some very bad things. We did a lot of direct action.

But the former secret agent, who is about to have his 22nd book published, insisted that Western intelligence agencies operated very differently from their Soviet Bloc counterparts.

He said: 'Even when quite ruthless operations were being contemplated (in the West) the process of democratic consultation was still relatively intact and decent humanitarian instincts came into play.

Le Carre, 79, revealed that he was recruited into the Secret Intelligence Service at the age of just 17, in the University of Bern.

'Oh you just get approached at a party or in the English church,' he said. 'It's a very gentle process. It's like an accident of life. Like love. It's who you happen to meet.'

The father-of-four explained how he also turned down the opportunity to meet Kim Philby, the world's best-known double agent.

He was at a party in Russia and was approached by a 'shady' figure, one of Philby's minders.

'He told me he wanted me to meet a great admirer of mine, Mr Philby. It was a horrific suggestion,' he said.

'I couldn't possibly have shook his hand. It was drenched in blood. It would have been repulsive. Lord knows how many agents Philby betrayed. They were tortued in terrible ways.'