'Enigma thieves stalked me,' says director

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The Independent Online

A museum director who was the target of a plot to discredit her by stealing a Second World War Enigma encoder told yesterday how she believed she had been "stalked" by the thieves.

Christine Large, who took over as the first female head of Bletchley Park in 1998, amid strong local opposition, said she believed her family had been spied on before the device disappeared on April Fool's Day last year.

She was speaking as the Abwehr Enigma G312, worth £100,000, was returned to display at the Buckinghamshire mansion that housed Britain's wartime Station X, dedicated to breaking Nazi codes.

On Wednesday, Ms Large, 46, had watched as Dennis Yates, an antiques dealer, admitted sending a series of letters to her demanding £25,000 for the return of the missing device. Yates, 58, who has three children, was warned by Judge Rodwell at Aylesbury Crown Court that he faced a jail sentence after he admitted handling stolen goods.

Detectives said after the hearing that they believed the Enigma machine, taken from an unlocked glass case, had been stolen with the help of inside knowledge.

Ms Large started receiving the letters, accompanied by phone calls from Yates speaking in an "Arab and mechanical" voice, five months later, demanding "repayment" and threatening to destroy G312. Speaking at Bletchley Park yesterday, Ms Large said: "Having heard all the information of the blackmail in court, it brought back the full impact it had on myself and my family.

"The sense of being stalked was there, the sense of insecurity. I constantly worked late and it's an open site and there were times when I felt threatened and I felt my family were being spied on."

Shortly after her arrival and the securing of a 250-year lease on the mansion, Ms Large, a no-nonsense former property developer, was dismissed in a boardroom coup by seven of its 12 trustees. She was reinstated after a Charity Commission investigation prompted the seven trustees to resign for reasons that have never been made public.

Referring to the fact that the 10,000 linguists, mathematicians and chess experts who worked at Station X had operated under a veil of strict secrecy, Ms Large said she had herself been forced to remain silent throughout the operation to recover the stolen machine.

She said: "I had to fight for what was right and not be cowed or give in to the kind of behaviour that was demonstrated by Mr Yates. In keeping with the traditions of Bletchley Park I couldn't talk to my colleagues or to the trustees. Except for a handful of police I had to keep it to myself. It was an incredibly stressful time."

The machine was eventually returned to the BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman last October.

Yates, of Sandiacre, Derbyshire, was arrested five weeks later while he negotiated for the return of three vital rotors from the machine. He insisted he was merely a go- between acting for a client known as "The Master" who was living in India and who had blackmailed him. Yates will be sentenced on 19 October. Yesterday he said: "Me and my family were threatened. I have been told if I keep my trap shut I will be all right."

Thames Valley Police said that the case remained open and their attempts to find the thief continued.