Richard Gott, literary editor of the Guardian, resigned yesterday following allegations that he had worked for the KGB.
Mr Gott, 56, met the newspaper's editor, Peter Preston, after an article in the Spectator claimed that he had been recruited by the KGB in the late 70s and reactivated in 1984. Reportedly based on information from former KGB officers and not serving or past members of Britain's security services, the article claimed Mr Gott received pounds 600 as a ''welcome back'' payment and pounds 300 for each subsequent meeting.
However, with no significant sources inside the British Government and unable to provide any secret information, the magazine said Mr Gott, a former features editor and foreign correspondent, proved a ''serious disappointment''.
In his resignation letter to the editor, which is published in full in today's Guardian, Mr Gott admitted that he had many meetings with members of the former Soviet Embassy, mainly over lunch, at which they discussed foreign affairs. ''But I should state quite clearly and unequivocally that I did not receive money from the Russians that I met.''
However, he added, that along with his partner, he went on expenses-paid trips to Austria, Greece and Cyprus, where he met a more senior Soviet figure. Accepting this ''red gold'' was, he admitted, ''culpable stupidity''.
In the late 1980s, Mr Gott was summoned by an MI6 official to explain the contacts and answer allegations he had accepted money. ''I told him that I had been pressed to take money, but I had refused . . . The MI6 man said that he knew cases where a Russian agent would say he had handed over money and then kept it to himself. So I left it at that.''
Mr Gott said it was ''reprehensible'' not to tell Mr Preston of ''this long and essentially harmless saga, since it was bound to leak out.''
Accepting the resignation with ''the heaviest of hearts'', Mr Preston said: ''We both agree that the paper should have been told about your trips to Vienna, Athens and Nicosia, and was made vulnerable in ignorance; we both agree that I should have known about your subsequent interview with the man from MI6.''
The Spectator justified the story on the grounds that just as it was legitimate for a newspaper such as the Guardian to question where ministers' loyalties lie when they accept cash for parliamentary questions, then so it was right to question the agenda of an influential journalist allegedly in the pay of the KGB.
The argument is dismissed by Mr Preston in his letter to Mr Gott. ''I think I know why the Spectator - three times invoking the case of Jonathan Aitken in its coverage this week - has been able to exhume what you told MI6 long ago. It is slimy stuff to a barely hidden agenda . . . If the Russians thought of recruiting you . . . no wonder they lost the Cold War.''
Resignation letter, page 5
Risks and recreation, page 19
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