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1961: Five Britons accused of spying for Moscow

Three men and two women have gone on trial at the Old Bailey charged with plotting to pass official secrets to the Russians.

All five have pleaded not guilty to the charge that between 14 April 1960 and 7 January 1961 they conspired to break the Official Secrets Act.

The accused are: Gordon Lonsdale, 37, a company director from north west London, Henry Houghton, 55 a civil servant from Weymouth in Dorset, Peter Kroger, 50 a bookseller and his wife Helen, 47, a housewife of the same address in Ruislip, Middlesex and Ethel Gee, 46, a civil servant of Portland in Dorset.

The Attorney General, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller QC, opening the case for the prosecution, said the five were involved in a plot to sell secrets on Britain's first nuclear submarine to the Soviet Union.

High-powered wireless

He said civil servants Miss Gee and Mr Houghton, who met while working at the Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland in Dorset, were passing on secrets to a go-between, Mr Lonsdale, who, in turn, would take the information to the Krogers' house for transmission to Moscow.

The jury was told Mr Houghton was being followed by police and was seen meeting Miss Gee and travelling with her up to London on several occasions, where they met a third of the accused, Mr Lonsdale.

They were arrested after one of these meetings with Mr Lonsdale, in London. A shopping bag carried by one of the accused turned out to contain four Admiralty Test pamphlets and a tin of undeveloped film which included details of HMS Dreadnought, Britain's first nuclear submarine.

Later the same day, police went to the home of the Krogers in Ruislip.

After being told she was under arrest, Mrs Kroger asked if she could go and stoke the boiler.

But a suspicious police officer insisted on searching her handbag first and found a white envelope inside which contained a letter written in Russian and a sheet of paper with typed black numbers in code.

They were later found to be grid references to a map showing locations for meeting places.

A further search of the house revealed a trap door in the kitchen which led to a small cellar.

The bathroom had been adapted to double as a photographic dark room.

Upstairs in the loft they found more cameras and photographic equipment, a 74ft (22.5m) radio aerial and high-powered wireless capable of transmitting to Moscow, as well as $6,000 in $20 bills.

Mr Manningham-Buller said: "I would suggest that here was the hub of a spy ring and, in view of the money found there, the bank of a spy ring."

Further searches of the other defendants' properties revealed 4,747 stashed away in Miss Gee's bedroom - she was at the time earning only 10 per week.

Mr Houghton's house revealed a number of navigational charts with pencil markings and a plan of Admiralty property in Dorset.

More money was found hidden in a paint tin in his garden shed.

There was also a wireless set in his living room capable of receiving transmissions from anywhere in the world and other equipment included a cigarette lighter with a false bottom, torches with hollow batteries and flasks with secret containers fitted into them.

In Context
The trial of the group who became known as the Portland Spy Ring lasted about two weeks. At the end of it the Krogers were revealed to be Morris and Lona Cohen, wanted in America on spying charges in connection with the Rosenberg case.

They were given 20 year sentences. In 1969 they were exchanged with British spy Gerald Brooke.

Lonsdale was identified as an illegal Russian, Konon Molody, and sentenced to 25 years.

He served less than four years and was released to the Russians in 1966 in exchange for Greville Wynne an Englishman accused of spying in Russia.

Lonsdale was regarded as a hero in the Soviet Union and later wrote his memoirs, with the help of Kim Philby, which were made into a film.

Houghton and Gee were each sentenced to 15 years in prison. They both served 10 years, changed their names and got married after their release.

In June 1961 an official report blamed lax security at the Admiralty for the Portland spy ring.


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