Portland spy ring ‘could have been stopped four years earlier’, files say | UK news

An infamous Soviet spy ring that passed on admiralty documents, including information on Britain’s first nuclear submarine, could have been stopped four years earlier, declassified documents suggest.

In 1961 the authorities exposed the Portland spy ring, named after the Dorset naval base from which the secrets were stolen, arresting and eventually convicting five Soviet agents.

Two of the spies, Harry Houghton and his secret lover Ethel Gee, were British. They both worked at the base and MI5 files, newly released to the National Archives, reveal that Houghton’s then wife approached the admiralty about concerns about her husband on three occasions in 1955.

A letter from the admiralty to the security services from 1956 stated she had “alleged that her husband was divulging secret information to people who ought not to get it”.

However, it added: “It is considered not impossible that the whole of these allegations may be nothing more than outpourings of a jealous and disgruntled wife.”

In March 1961, Martin Furnival Jones, who four years later would become the MI5 director general, wrote: “It is clear that we ought to have carried out some investigation in 1956.

“If we had done so there is a fair chance that we would have unearthed Houghton’s espionage and the probability is that we would have discovered that he was being controlled as a spy by a member of the Soviet embassy.

“We might also have hit upon Miss Gee. If we had done so we should have stopped a leakage of information from the admiralty some four years earlier.”

READ  'Yelp for conservatives' MAGA app leaks users data

The files record that Houghton beat his wife – they separated in 1955 and later divorced – and even tried to kill her by pushing her off a cliff, only to be interrupted by passersby. When they returned home after the incident, she said he threw gin in her face and told her: “I’ve got to get rid of you, you know too much.”

Among the other allegations detailed in the documents, were that her husband had documents marked “top secret” relating to “underwater detection equipment and torpedoes”, would return from trips to London with bundles of notes, that he showed her a piece of chalk he said was to mark where the money would be left, that he brought Poles back to the flat – refusing to say who they were – and that he told her how he employed a folded newspaper as a “recognition signal”.

The papers, published on Tuesday, show that after the ring was exposed, the admiralty and MI5 worried about Houghton’s ex-wife speaking to the press.

Houghton, then aged 56, and Gee, 47, were imprisoned for 15 years each in 1961 but were released in 1970 and married the following year.

Gee always maintained that she acted only out of love. Redacted letters she sent to Houghton contained in the newly released files illustrate her affection for him.

“Bunty”, as she signed her letters, began each one “My Darling Harry” and, in November 1962, she wrote that “the short time I spent with you was the happiest time of my life”.

READ  The decade-old U.S. diplomatic cables leak rears its head

In one letter in 1962 she berated Houghton’s lack of “guts” and two years later rejected his suggestion they cooperate with the authorities, saying “under no circumstances would I do any kind of deal with them”.

When the authorities arranged a visit by Houghton to see her while they were both still in prison, a transcript showed that Gee, who maintained her innocence, nevertheless warned him: “Don’t speak to them in any way. I’d be back again doing another sentence.”


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.