SPY SCANDAL: HOME SECRETARY'S STATEMENT

The following are edited extracts from a statement by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary on issues relating to information supplied by Vasili Mitrokhin:

In 1996 the previous government decided that the story which Mr Mitrokhin's information revealed, should be placed in the public domain. It was decided by the previous government that the best way was by way of a proper historical analysis. The material was made available to Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University, whose book, co-authored with Mitrokhin, will be published this week. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, then foreign secretary, has told me that these decisions were made with his consent.

[Melita] Norwood was first vetted in 1945 for access to government secrets while she worked for the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association. The Security Service raised doubts about her communist associations, but further investigation by the Service and the police did not substantiate these doubts and she was given clearance for access to sensitive documents.

The Security Service kept her case under review and further investigations raised new concerns. She did not have authorised access to government secrets after September 1949 and her vetting clearance was revoked in 1951. She was vetted again in 1962 but was again refused clearance.

In 1965 the Security Service mounted an extended investigation of Mrs Norwood. The investigation left the service with the view that she had been a spy in the 1940s but it provided no usable evidence to support that view. The home secretary of the day, the Rt Hon Sir Frank Soskice QC, was informed of the service's suspicions. The service decided not to interview her because that would have revealed the service's knowledge which was relevant to other sensitive investigations then under way.

There is no reason to doubt the detail of the material drawn from Mr Mitrokhin, nor that the KGB regarded Mrs Norwood as an important spy. However the vetting system prevented her from having authorised access to government secrets after 1949.

When Mr Mitrokhin's notes of the KGB archive material became available to British Intelligence in 1992, they confirmed suspicions about Mrs Norwood's role. The view was taken by the service that this material did not on its own provide evidence that could be put to a UK court. Moreover, a judgement was made by the Agencies that material should remain secret for some years as there were many leads to more recent espionage.

I was made aware in general terms about the Mitrokhin material in 1997. I was first made aware of the role of Mrs Norwood in a minute in December 1998 which informed me of the plans to publish the book. The minute informed me the Security Service were then considering whether to recommend the prosecution of Mrs Norwood. The Attorney General was made aware of Mrs Norwood's case earlier this year.

The Attorney General's position was explained to me more fully in a note of 29 June which reported that 1992 represented the last opportunity for the authorities to proceed by way of a criminal investigation/possible prosecution. In a minute dated 31 August I was told that the Security Service legal adviser had written to law officers to ask whether Mrs Norwood's alleged admissions to the BBC changed the position on possible prosecution. In a reply to the Security Service earlier this month, the law officers reflected the Attorney General's view that the position was unaffected by the interview.

So far as the Symonds case is concerned, I was not personally briefed on this case until this weekend, though officials in my Department have been aware of it. I understand that his case and claims were investigated at the time. The Law Officers have now been made aware of the case and will be studying the transcript of the forthcoming BBC programme.

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