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The BBC's Jon Silverman
"No one here believes a spy trial would have served any useful purpose"
 real 28k

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe
"She was totally unrepentant - it is serious wrongdoing"
 real 28k

Melita Norwood's lawyer John Wadham
"She was never realistically going to be prosecuted - she has become a political pawn"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 02:14 GMT
KGB spy escapes prosecution

Melita Norwood: Passed atom bomb secrets to Russia

The former KGB spy who passed atom bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, Melita Norwood, 87, will not face prosecution, the solicitor general has revealed.

Britain Betrayed
The cases of four other spies uncovered through information brought to Britain by former KGB chief archivist Vasili Mitrokhin are also not being referred for investigation.

Solicitor General Ross Cranston QC said it was "clear that any prosecution would fail" and to proceed would be "quite wrong".

Mrs Norwood called the decision "marvellous" but refused to make any more detailed comment.

KGB chief archivist Vasili Mitrokhin: Revealed great-grandmother's past
Home Secretary Jack Straw in October told the House of Commons that Mrs Norwood could still face the courts because of her public admission of guilt on the BBC's Spying Game programme.

The great-grandmother, who now lives in south London, admitted she was the source of secrets passed to the Soviet Union enabling it to build its first nuclear bomb.

But the solicitor general ruled her confession on camera would not be admissible as evidence in court.

"There is little prospect of obtaining admissible evidence; and in any event any prosecution would probably be stayed on the ground of abuse of process," he said in a statement to the House of Commons.

His decision had only been made public because of the enormous publicity already surrounding the case, Mr Cranston said.

The reason in each instance is the same, namely that sufficient is known about the case to make it clear that any prosecution would fail.
Solicitor General Ross Cranston
Hull University lecturer Robin Pearson escaped prosecution on the same grounds as Mrs Norwood, while "Romeo agent" John Symonds had been granted immunity in 1984 by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The identities of the other two spies spared the courts remain secret.

Opposition anger

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe attacked the government's decision.

The decision not to prosecute acts of major and sustained treachery is utterly feeble.
Ann Widdecombe
Serious crimes must always lead to prosecution when possible, she said.

"When you have serious crimes - and treachery is always a serious crime - and you have a confession it does seems extraordinary to me that it is not going to court.

"It's common sense to assume you at least had a case to test in the courts," she said.

"The decision not to prosecute acts of major and sustained treachery is utterly feeble."

A number of Tory MPs insisted the government should prosecute anyone suspected of spying, irrespective of age.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes demanded the solicitor general make a statement to Parliament explaining his decision.

He said: "It may be that it is in the public interest that these people are not prosecuted, but an announcement a day before the House rises without any opportunity to ask questions does not give any confidence in the government's decision."

Exiled MI5 whistleblower David Shayler said incompetence by the British secret services meant Mrs Norwood had no legal case to answer.

Ideology led to betrayal

When Mr Mitrokhin, the former KGB archivist, defected to live in the United Kingdom he brought with him an unprecedented wealth of documentary evidence about the Russia secret service.

This led to Mrs Norwood being uncovered as the so-called "granny spy" and a flood of similar stories based on the information he brought to Britain.

Mrs Norwood had said she was ready to face prosecution, admitting: "I've brought it all on myself, the whole thing."

She started to pass secrets while working as a secretary for the British Non Ferrous Metals Research Association.

Ideology and personal admiration for the politics of Russia led her to betray her country.

Her late husband, who was the only person to know of her spying at the time, disapproved of her actions.

The news came as a shock to her daughter, who works in a school laboratory.

Mrs Norwood also has two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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See also:
20 Sep 99 |  UK
Grandmother: I was right to spy
21 Dec 99 |  UK
Shayler: Now drop my prosecution
13 Sep 99 |  UK
Melita Norwood: A secret life

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