Daily Mirror, 11th November 1982
THE SEEDY TRAITOR JAILED FOR 38 YEARS (Daily Mirror, 11th November 1982)
Geoffrey Arthur Prime has a seedy look about him. It is a gaunt, sallow seediness easily associated with his last job – an occasional careless mini-cab driver.
He sat – or rather crouched – in the dock of Number One Court at the Old Bailey yesterday, swallowing hard, covering his failed face with a hand that trembled. After all, he was sitting on a plain wooden chair in a dock fit for traitors to tremble in.
His very ordinary, High Street-tailor blue suit gaped awkwardly at the back of his neck. His brown drab hair was a series of tufts that stuck out here and there.
Only his broad blue-striped shirt with its contrasting white collar plus a quite, stylish medium blue paisley tie, hinted that there was more to him.
It was difficult to believe that this man—the type you would ignore because he sits alone in the corner of a pub – could have just been sentenced to 38 years in prison.
But there, sitting just a few yards away from him, all the tools of the contemporary spy were laid neatly out on a lawyers’ oak table that you could play table tennis on.
It was all there. As if someone had bought a job lot from the set of Smiley’s People.
Prime leaned forward, rested his pointed chin on his thin knuckles, and gazed unemotionally at his instruments of deceit.
A black briefcase with a false compartment. Code pads, secret writing paper, envelopes addressed to East Germany which were to carry secret messages in invisible ink, not to mention a copy of a highly-secret memo in his own handwriting.
Oh—then there was an ordinary-looking black portable radio. You could get Radio Two on it. Also a special wavelength to East Berlin.
There was even a cream, bakelite, old tape recorder – complete with condemning spools – that sat insignificantly amid this tableful of treason.
Prime’s mood, his scuffed look, changed into a mild wince as the Attorney General, Sir Michael Havers, handed exhibit after exhibit up to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane.
Lord Lane—pink and white complexioned, with a voice like a magnum of port, and perhaps role-playing a little bit—handled each item with distant disdain.
Just as he did with the sordid card-index system that the corrupt Prime had built up on under-age girls—the obsession that finally led to his graceless unveiling as a Russian agent.
The Lord Chief Justice kept gazing at Prime with a mingled expression of astonishment and contempt. There were moments when he appeared to be staring him out.
The only sounds that Prime made were the much-repeated words “Guilty”.
By the time the last charge was read—treason and child molestation included—the very word “guilty” was like a broken whisper.
One could only feel sorrow for Prime’s lawyer – the lyrical George Carman Q.C. He was the man who successfully defended Jeremy Thorpe in the same court room.
The pang of sorrow came when the Lord Chief Justice sentenced Prime – reading out consecutive and concurrent prison terms like cricket scores. Mr. Carmen [sic] had been adding up Prime’s future, incarcerated years with his ballpoint. When he realised it came to 38 years, he looked more horrified than his client.
HOW MANY MORE SPIES? (Daily Mirror, 11th November 1982)
Master spy Geoffrey Prime began a 38-year jail sentence last night amid demands for a massive security clampdown.
MPs were appalled to learn from the sensational Old Bailey trial that for 14 years Prime fed the Russians with some of the most vital secrets of the Atlantic alliance. They will confront Premier Margaret Thatcher with their anger in the Commons today.
Some MPs share the fear of American security officials that other spies may still be active inside the key base where Prime worked.
Labour MP Donald Anderson said last night: “I think it is more likely than not that there was another person involved—possible more than one.”
Prime, a 44-year-old language expert, entered the world of espionage while serving with the RAF in Berlin in the sixties.
He later worked his way up to a top security rating in the Government’s code-cracking base at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. During his career in treachery he passed top-secret documents to Soviet contacts in Berlin, Vienna, London, and in Potsdam in East Germany.
It was only after he was arrested for sexually assaulting young girls that his role as a Russian agent came to light.
Passing sentence—35 years for spying and three years for the sex offences—The Lord Chief Justice said a huge proportion of the damage Prime had done was “quite irrevocable”.
Lord Lane told the traitor: “By your treachery you have done incalculable harm to the interest and security of this country.”
The court had heard that there was no evidence to support “wild speculation” that the spy had endangered the lives of British agents or betrayed secrets about nuclear warheads.
The Cheltenham base is Britain’s biggest and most important intelligence centre.
In the Commons today Mrs Thatcher is expected to make only a short statement.
MPs are demanding a high-level inquiry. They will want to know why Prime was twice cleared for access to top-secret material; why he was able to travel unsuspected behind the Iron Curtain for spy training; and why he was uncovered only through police investigation of sex offences.
The Daily Mirror played a leading role in revealing loopholes in the system even while Prime was engaged in spying. It called on Mrs Thatcher to set up an inquiry. She refused on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence.
PRIME SUSPECT (Daily Mirror, 11th November 1982)
Geoffrey Prime is the latest in a long line of British traitors which stretches all the way to Moscow. It is unlikely he will be the last.
The “incalculable harm” he has done must be paid for by 38 years in prison—always provided that the Russians don’t spring him after a few months, as they did George Blake.
But more important than his conviction is the old question it raises again: Why can spies operate so freely in Britain, as they have done now for 30 years and more?
Prime was only caught by chance. He says he acted alone. For 14 years? Do we believe him? Is anyone checking?
How was he able to travel to East Berlin on his own passport without arousing suspicion?
How could he bring back spying equipment from there without being detected? Did he walk through the “Nothing to declare” exit at Customs?
How did a man who was both spy and sexual pervert twice survive the positive vetting procedures which are supposed to discover such weaknesses?
Who vouched for his integrity?
Who vouches for theirs?
When he was promoted and given access to the most closely-guarded secrets did no one have a closer look at him?
How was he able to remove top-secret documents over a 14-year period without effective challenge or detection?
As we have seen before, British security is a Whitehall farce.
If we can’t keep secrets better than this we might as well hand them over to the BBC’s World Service.
WHY I BETRAYED THE MAN I LOVE (Daily Mirror, 11th November 1982)
Rhona Prime, a woman torn between love for her husband and loyalty to her country, wept yesterday as she explained why she ‘shopped’ him.
Mrs Prime, 37, had just heard how he had twice abandoned plans to defect to Russia because of his love for her and her three sons.
Then she told the Old Bailey of the April night when her caring husband made a double confession to her.
Not only was he a sex pervert who attacked young girls.
He was also a spy who had betrayed his country for fourteen years.
“It was a total shock,” she said.
The day after his confession, Prime phoned the police and admitted attacking three young girls. But he said nothing about spying.
Then, while he was in custody, she discovered his spying equipment in a carrier bag beneath their bed.
For three weeks she agonised over what to do and sought advice from her solicitor, doctor and parents.
Finally she went to the police and told them the man she loved was a traitor.
She told the court: “I did not have to do it.
“But morally I had to tell the authorities, because I could not live as a Christian with that on my conscience or my husband’s conscience.
“I believe I have done him a favour and, hopefully, the country.”
Defence counsel George Carman, QC, asked what her husband thought about her turning him in.
She said: “He has taken it incredibly well. He has become a changed man.”
“He has lost all his burden and is now a new man. He was a tortured personality.”
She added: “I intend to stand by him because I am a Christian.
“I know in my heart I can forgive him. He is repentant and full of guilt. He is broken by it.”
Mr Carman asked how Prime had treated her and her three sons by her first marriage, which ended in divorce.
As Prime sat weeping in the dock she replied: “He always treated me with the greatest respect.”
Her sons, who are aged 10, 14 and 15, had more respect for him than for their real father. Prime had been “just marvellous.”
Lord Chief Justice Lord Land told her she had come out of the affair “with great credit as a woman of great character, sympathy and humanity.”
Then, as her husband was led away after sentencing, Mrs Prime collapsed weeping.
After a few moments she was led to a private room – still crying and with her head slumped on a woman officer’s shoulder.
An hour later she was escorted down to the cells to spend 15 minutes with her husband before he was taken to prison to start his long sentence.
Soon afterwards, looking calm and composed, she left the Old Bailey with her parish priest.
VICE THAT TRAPPED A TRAITOR (Daily Mirror, 11th November 1982)
Like so many spies before him, Geoffrey Arthur Prime’s treachery was exposed by a sex scandal.
Not that the brooding loner’s downfall owed much to classic spy fiction. There were no beautiful temptresses, no bugged bedrooms.
Prime was arrested last April for assaulting three young girls after posing as a handyman to get into their homes.
Detectives had picked up clues which led to his Cheltenham home. Prime confessed to the sex crimes.
He also told his unsuspecting wife Rhona that for years he had been spying for Russia.
Rhona agonised for weeks over what to do. Then she found part of her husband’s spy kit in a carrier bag under the bed.
She told police what she knew. And suddenly a local case turned into an investigation of one of the most sensational spy scandals for three decades.
At the Old Bailey yesterday Attorney General Sir Michael Havers told how Prime’s shameful secret—his weakness for little girls—finally unmasked him as a traitor.
Over a number of years the spy built up a card-index system of more than 2,000 girls.
His information, including phone numbers, came mainly from newspaper advertisements.
Prime would phone up a girl, chat for a while, then ask her when her parents would be in
His three victims were alone when he called. One, an 11-year-old, thought he was a plumber.
The others, aged 13 and 14, believed he had come to do some painting.
Prime ordered two of the girls to undress. When one tried to escape he threw her into the bath, putting his hands around her neck.
It was after the third attack that police got onto Prime’s trail.
Witnesses gave detectives a good description of his two-tone brown Ford Cortina.
Police began calling on car owners. And six days after the attack Prime was visited at his home by two officers.
He protested his innocence. But that night he made the damning confession to his wife.
Next morning Prime phoned the police and admitted that he was the sex attacker.
It was only a short step from there to the discovery that he had been a Soviet spy for 14 years.
Prime’s interest in Russian affairs had always been well known. He was even nicknamed “Boris.” Yet he was able to escape detection.
A workmate once asked Prime: “You’re not a spy, are you?”
It was a joking remark which drew such a cold response that the questioner shrivelled with embarrassment. But none of the inquisitors who vetted Prime during his years as a “mole” had come closer to the truth.
The truth about Prime was, in fact, buried deep beneath layers of natural reserve and the secrecy taught to him by his job.
Workers at the Cheltenham spy base of GCHQ are under constant surveillance. They learn how to guard their thoughts. But knowing how an alarm works also makes it easier to beat the system.
Prime, never a good mixer, kept to himself. He had a certain aloof arrogance which perhaps persuaded him that he was too clever to get caught.
He was a Times crossword fanatic. A conservative dresser who nevertheless favoured distinctive red shirts and was described as always looking “like an unmade bed.”
There was nothing obviously political in Prime’s background. He avoided arguments, showed no sympathy for left-wing views.
Nor was there anything in his modest lifestyle to suggest that he sold secrets for money.
Prime grew up in the Staffordshire village of Alton.
From school he went into the RAF. He learned German and Russian before joining the Foreign Office as a linguist in 1968 and later switching to the staff of GCHQ in Cheltenham.
In 1977 Prime, divorced from his first wife, married Rhona Ratcliff, a divorcee with three boys. They set up home in a detached chalet-style house in Pittville Crescent Lane, Cheltenham.
At about the same time, Prime quit his job at the spy centre and took up taxi driving.
To anyone who asked why he had given up a well-paid professional post, Prime mentioned pressure of work or said the hush-hush establishment was “too imperialistic … 50 years behind the times.”
Last April Prime signed on for a fitness course at a Cheltenham health club. When he was arrested his wife told the club she would like a refund of his £65 payment.
Rhona Prime was expecting her husband to be away “for some time.”
A friend who called to comfort her said: “She was shattered she told me she had no inkling that Geoff was up to anything.
“They had been perfectly happy. She just never knew.”
‘STRICT’ VETTING THAT FAILED (Daily Mirror, 11th November 1982)
Civil servants likely to have access to top-secret information must submit to rigorous investigation by senior intelligence officers.
They are asked to name two people who will guarantee their integrity. They must also name any friends, colleagues or relatives who are Communists or Fascists.
If the civil servant is having an extra-marital affair or is homosexual, that too must be revealed.
If Geoffrey Prime’s weakness for young girls had been known, he would never have been appointed. But he was positively vetted TWICE.
Prime’s counsel George Carman said yesterday: “He was totally inadequate, a sexual and social misfit.
“It is such misfits of society who provide the fertile breeding ground for ruthless propagandists.”
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