British spies chased Hitler's dead deputy

The death of Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's private secretary, in the closing days of the Second World War did nothing to stop Britain's intelligence services following up years of spurious sightings in the aftermath of the conflict.

A secret MI5 file, released today, reveals how British spies expended considerable energy trying to track down the stockily built Nazi despite exasperated pleas from their bosses in London that he was dead. Among the claims pursued was an approach from the London correspondent of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, who told the Security Service he had been approached by Bormann in 1951 with a request to pass secret documents to the American government. Subsequent investigation established that the "Bormann" in question was in fact one Harry Adour, a part-time waiter from north London with a history of mental instability. A Special Branch report noted: "The man admitted he had posed as Bormann but said he couldn't explain why."

The drain on the resources of the intelligence services eventually provoked a demand from London that the pursuit of Bormann be stopped. One memo said Bormann "is currently being seen in Switzerland (the most persistent locale), Bolivia, Italy, Norway and Brazil – in the last country sitting in state on a high mountain beside his pallid Führer".

Bormann died beside a railway track on 1 May 1945, possibly after taking a cyanide pill.