The Microdots Five


The trial tells the story of the microdots case quite dramatically. Charged under the Official Secrets Act were Gordon Arnold Lonsdale aged 27, company director of the White House, Albany Street, North West London; Henry Frederick Houghton aged 55, civil servant of Meadow View Road, Broadway, Weymouth Dorset; Peter John Kroger aged 50, bookseller of Cranley Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex; his wife Helen Joyce Kroger aged 47 and of the same address; and Miss Ethel Elizabeth Gee aged 46, civil servant of Hambro Road, Portland, Dorset.

The charges against them was that between 14 April 1960 and 7 January 1962 they conspired together and with other persons unknown to commit breaches of Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. They all pleaded not guilty.

Leading for the Crown, the Attorney general Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller Q.C. outlined the evidence that the prosecution would call. Gee and Houghton were both established civil servants. Gee was first employed in the Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland on 1 October 1950 where she signed the usual form which civil servants engaged in any secret work are required to sign.

But far from being an honest civil servant, Gee was engaged in obtaining and communicating information which might be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy for a purpose prejudicial to the interests of the state.

Houghton joined the Royal Navy as a boy in 1922 and was demobilized in 1945 with the rank of Master at Arms. He had a distinguished war record and had served on Russian convoys and held many decorations. On demobilization he was given employment in the Civil Service as a temporary clerk and he had signed a form declaring that he was a natural born British subject. His attention was drawn to the Official Secret Acts of 1911 and 1920.

In July 1951 Houghton was posted to Warsaw on the staff of the British Naval Attache returning to the United Kingdom in the autumn of the following year. In November 1952 he started work at the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland and worked there until January 1956. He and Miss Gee worked at the same establishment for five years together.

Then Houghton was transferred – on a salary of £741 per year – to what was called the Port Authority Repair Unit and since March 1960 had been the only clerical officer there, with the responsibility for the acceptance, distribution and filing of all the papers pertaining to the unit. He had access to Admiralty Fleet Orders, Admiralty charts and to a book called Particulars of War Vessels.

Then the real story started.

Houghton was seen at the Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch where he met Gee and together they went to Waterloo Station by underground where they continued to be followed. They walked into Waterloo Road, joining it opposite the Union Jack Club and passing the London Ambulance Service Headquarters and the newly-built Mercury House, they reached the Old Vic Theatre with its notice of ‘46th Annual Seasons of Plays’. They were joined near there by Lonsdale. All three appeared to know each other well and Lonsdale was seen to give Houghton a piece of paper the size of an envelope.

Houghton left Gee and Lonsdale in Waterloo Road and when he rejoined them later he was carrying a light blue-grey carrier bag, containing a parcel, which he gave to Lonsdale. When Lonsdale left them he took a rather curious route to his car. The walk occupied about ten minutes or so during which time he actually passed his car before going back to it. All this time Lonsdale looked very alert, continually glancing back as he turned each corner to see if he was being followed.

Exactly four weeks later, Houghton was seen to arrive by train from Salisbury carrying a briefcase. He left Waterloo Station and walked to the Old Vic where he stood waiting. Alongside it in Waterloo Road the awning cover for queues reached over part of the pavement while beside the stage door stood the old Royal Victoria public house where so many stars had taken a drink after show in the past. Waterloo Road was quite busy on this summer Saturday afternoon.

At four o’clock Lonsdale joined Houghton outside the Old Vic and together they crossed the road by the traffic lights in Lower Marsh, a continuation of The Cut and a street market. They paused in a shop doorway here and seemed to be discussing a yellow document held by Lonsdale. Then they went into Steve’s Restaurant with its signs outside for Lyons Tea and Senior Service and the menus scribbled in chalk on small blackboards. They sat at the table farthest from the door. Two witnesses sat at the table next to them and were able to hear some but not all of the conversation. Lonsdale looked at a newspaper cutting produced by Houghton and was overheard to say: ‘I wonder if this story is correct?’

Houghton replied: ‘Yes, I am sure they went over.’

The men listening gathered that these observations referred to two United States Government experts who had just disappeared and defected to the USSR.

Lonsdale was overhead to say: ‘You seem to have plenty in your attache case.’

Houghton replied: ‘Yes, I have more than my sleeping and shaving kit.’

Lonsdale said: ‘We can arrange these meetings if you would like to put them in your book.’

Houghton answered: ‘Yes, I will. They will take some remembering.’

Lonsdale then said: ‘These will be the first Sunday in each month, especially the first Saturday in October and November at Euston. The driver will sit in a car in the area. I don’t know where. I am ninety per cent sure I will be there. We will use an interpreter. You will have to find him.’

Then they went on to talk about the advantage of Houghton leaving his car at Salisbury and coming to London by train. Lonsdale next said: ‘The packet looks fat. It seems a lot of work for me tonight.’

Houghton laughed and replied: ‘Plenty. And that room at the hotel is expensive.’ He went on to say that he was meeting a South African girl that night and asked Lonsdale if he had any contacts to get her a job. Lonsdale replied: ‘She will have to come in on the ground floor. She cannot expect to be a buyer in the firm immediately.’ Just before they left Houghton was heard to say: ‘I don’t want paying yet.’

Walking back towards Waterloo Road they stopped at a telephone box. Lonsdale held the door open and Houghton went inside but neither of them telephoned. Houghton took at package from his briefcase, placed it inside a folded newspaper which Lonsdale handed to him, and gave the paper and the package to Lonsdale. The package was about the size of a foolscap file.

By this time Lonsdale was under strict surveillance. He was seen in his car and followed to Great Portland Street where he parked and went into the Midland Bank. A few moments later he retuned to his car, took out some things, including a brown attache case, and took them into the bank. He left the bank empty handed. A search warrant was obtained and Detective-Superintendent Smith went to the bank and took possession of the attache case.

The contents were curious and not the kind of things one would normally expect to be deposited at a bank for safe custody. There was a Ronson table cigarette lighter, a zip bag in which was a Praktina camera, a magnifying glass, two film cassettes, keys and other articles. After Superintendent Smith had seen the contents they were returned in the case to the bank.

The date when Lonsdale deposited the case at the bank was 26 August. His passport showed that he left Britain the next day and had travelled a great deal on the continent.

Two months elapsed and on 26 October, Lonsdale was again seen to leave the Midland Bank carrying the case and other articles he had left. He went to an address in Wardour Street from which he emerged carrying only a brown leather briefcase. It was at this point that the whole spy ring began to take shape for Lonsdale took a tube from Piccadilly to Ruislip Manor Station and was later seen in the neighbourhood of the house in Ruislip where the Krogers lived. The five accused appeared to be linked...'

Traitor: British Double Agents 1930-80 by John Frayn Turner is the third of Osprey's new Digital-Only series, and will be available to download next month.