Straw leaves way open for possible prosecution of spy

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Home Secretary Jack Straw today left the way open for a possible prosecution of Melita Norwood, the great-grandmother who spied for the Russians under the codename Hola.

Home Secretary Jack Straw today left the way open for a possible prosecution of Melita Norwood, the great-grandmother who spied for the Russians under the codename Hola.

In a Commons statement, Mr Straw said that, in the light of comments by Mrs Norwood when her spying activities were exposed, the papers in the case were "currently being studied again by the prosecuting authorities".

He also disclosed that four other cases were being considered for possible prosecution after revelations made by KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin.

Mr Straw rejected calls to publish a list of all those against whom spying allegations had been made, insisting: "We must not slide into trial by denunciation."

He hailed the Mitrokhin documents, put together over almost 30 years work in the foreign intelligence archives of the KGB, as a "unique testimony to a brave individual who worked alone against tyranny".

Of Mrs Norwood, Mr Straw said she was first vetted for access to government secrets in 1945 when she worked for the British Non-Ferrous Metal Research Association.

"Although there were concerns in 1945 about her, there were insufficient grounds at that time to warrant withholding her clearance for access to sensitive documents.

"Further investigation, however, led to her vetting clearance being revoked in 1951. She had not in practice had authorised access to Government secrets after 1949."

Miss Widdecombe welcomed Mr Straw's announcement that prosecuting authorities were to look again at the case for prosecution of Mrs Norwood and others.

But she asked how the earlier decision not to prosecute squared with the decision to prosecute former MI5 agent David Shayler, who is currently in France.

Miss Widdecombe also asked the Home Secretary to confirm that age was not a factor in the decision not to prosecute Mrs Norwood.

She said if age had been a factor "that would stack up rather oddly with your decision in the case of General Pinochet".

Miss Widdecombe welcomed the fact that there would be close examination into the activities of the security services but she said there was one activity that they had got right.

"That was the decision to put the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament under surveillance since among the revelations there have now been established links between CND and Stasi.

"In that context given the links between CND and members of the current Government will you reassure the House that no currently serving minister had any contact with any of the persons named in the Mitrokhin archive."

Mr Straw did not reply to that question but he said Miss Widdecombe had previously called for all spies in the archive to be publicly named.

Such an action amounted to "trial by denunciation".

Mr Straw said all the key decisions relating to the prosecution of people named in the Mitrokhin archive were made under the previous Tory administration.

Hearing the news at her home in Bexleyheath, south east London, Mrs Norwood, 87, said she was "not altogether surprised" the authorities were re-examining her case.

She told PA News: "I've brought it all on myself, the whole thing. What with (shadow home secretary) Ann Widdecombe having a go and everything I'm not altogether surprised.

"I'll just have to lump it and see what happens. I'm not worried at the moment."

Mrs Norwood said Liberty, the human rights group, had offered to help her fight any action brought against her, but admitted she would not relish a legal battle.

She said: "I don't look forward to it, not a bit, but if it comes, I'll just have to lump it. I brought it all on myself."