John Alexander Symonds

“I'd say: ‘join the KGB and see the world’ - first class. I went to all over the world on these jobs and I had a marvellous time. I stayed in the best hotels, I visited all the best beaches, I've had access to beautiful women, unlimited food, champagne, caviar whatever you like and I had a wonderful time. That was my KGB experience. I don't regret a minute of it ...”


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KGB Romeo Spy Part 7 - Entrapment 1

This is the story of John Alexander Symonds life. The draft book was circulated to about 200 publishing houses and several showed an interest in offering it to the public.


Unfortunately the D-Notice Committee made objections to some of the contents on the grounds of National Security and so the book was never published.


The book is now published in its entirety on this website for the first time.


INDEX to my Biography


Foreword    Exposed    Corruption    Drury    From Fit-up to Flight 1    From Fit-up to Flight 2

Entrapment 1    Entrapment 2    Beginner’s Luck



Back to Part 6


My disillusion about the reality of serving in the police force is described on many other pages of this book – as it has permeated my entire thought processes for all of forty years - but I want you all to know, as you read these pages, that I have never sought to damage my country which was, is, and always will be, Britain.


And so when I turned up in one of the few countries where historically the English military influence had been less than that of both France and Spain!, I had no intention of signing on to serve either the country or the ideology that, in the 1970s, were deemed to be the greatest threat to western civilisation, democracy and apple pie. I was just Joe Bloggs, on the run and looking for some way - any way - to make a living for a while, hide out for a few months, and then decide exactly when would be the best time to return to London, face trial and clear my name.


Sundance Village. Saleh. Morocco. No, not for me a holiday camp, though sometimes it seemed like it. What with the beach, the pool, the hot, hot sun, the wicker parasols, the well-stocked but frequently emptied bar, and the bevy of attractive, if brash, females that used to hang around the place. Sundance may have been built for tourists but I certainly wasn’t in the tourist trade - not unless you call stomping round Africa, overthrowing some governments and propping up others, a form of tourism. No, I was hanging out at Sundance to get work as a ‘contract officer’ - at least that was what we called ourselves. To everyone else we were known - at best - as soldiers of fortune, and – at worst – as mercenaries.


I had heard about the place from a man who later became the most notorious British mercenary of all, John Banks. I met him by chance in another beach-side hang-out fifty miles north of Saleh. I had stopped there in my motor caravan and was taking a dip in the pool when he jumped in and opened conversation. He told me he had just left the Paras (the Parachute Regiment) and was on his way to start a new life as a gun for hire. He assumed I was another ex-soldier looking for the same kind of work. Down at Saleh, he said, there was a place run by an ex RAF officer, who was always on the look-out for Brits with military training. ‘This guy gets business from all over Africa. Anyone who wants to hire a few white men to get stuck in anywhere in Africa, they all go to see him. I’m heading there myself. Maybe I’ll see you there’.


I thought about it for a while and decided that a return to soldiering might well be the only option open to me. After all, I was ideally equipped. I had spent four years in the Royal Artillery, I had been commissioned, promoted to lieutenant and had been burning to go out to Malaya to see active service. But I never got that posting. Instead, I had been stuck in barracks in England and Germany, going on one training course after another without ever having the chance to put my now lethal skills into practice. Alright, so by the time circumstances had brought me to Morocco I had been out of the army for a long time, but the technology of war in colonial and post-colonial Africa in the 1970s was way behind what I had been taught a dozen years before.


So, what the hell. ‘Hey diddley dee, a soldier’s life for me’. And off I drove to Saleh to meet up with the ex-Sqdn Leader.


And so I started to look around for something else to do, and the only experience I had was as a police officer and an army officer. And I had become competent in dealing with 25-pound gun Howitzers, which was the old British army gun. Since I'd left the army, they had changed to a different gun and all the 25-pounders had been either scrapped or sold off to African countries, so there was a need in those countries for people who were knowledgeable at 25-pounders. And so I fell into that job as a contract officer, teaching African troops to handle their guns. That's how I ended up working with mercenaries.


I was now determined to do the police force as much harm as I could, because I'd ended up in Africa and couldn't go home, and I was often quite ill because I had hepatitis and malaria.


And so I renewed the dossier [on other allegedly corrupt police officers] and added to it, and I included everything I ever knew about all the corruption, rottenness, wickedness, duplicity, dastardly acts that I knew about or had taken part in.


And I had met at this mercenary camp a chap called Marcel. He was Mr Fixit there. Marcel was the man who was going to help me publish my dossier, because he had contacts in Germany and France. He was quite often accompanied by a colleague [who] was a much smaller man - about five foot seven or eight inches. Blond hair, blue eyes, fair-skinned and a very noticeable gold tooth in the front of his mouth.


This chap turned out to be the KGB resident or chief at the Russian embassy in Rabat. Marcel and his friend were very very interested in the corrupt acts by senior officers; very interested in my dossier. They were particularly interested in the background of the officers. They wanted to know all about it - about their family background, whether they're married, did they have mistresses, were they homosexual, did they have any perversions in pornography.


[Marcel helped arrange a trip for Symonds to Bulgaria for medical treatment, where a man called Nick took a close interest in his dossier.] Two doctors turned up, and I immediately got first-class medical attention. My short holiday extended and extended. They were very interested in senior corrupt officers. [Nick] wanted to know even more details about certain people.


Eventually I was able to guess who was being recruited, because they quite often came back to certain people.


It was only a matter of weeks before I had given my first assignment. I was to lead a team of 6 other ex-British soldiers on a mission to a small state in West Africa, where the Cold War was being fought out as a Hot One by proxies. Black soldiers from the same country were being pitted against each other, armed to the teeth by both the West and the East with third-rate weapons. But even fifty year-old rifles are lethal, and plenty of people were now being killed in a vicious civil war.


Our job, as Jimmy, explained it, was to help install a pro-western regime and prop it up by wiping out the opposition.


Mission successful. Accolades all round. Including some thanks from America’s Central Intelligence Agency which (we understood) had been our ultimate paymasters.


Then it was off to do a three-month job in Ghana which was equally successful. I was beginning to like this kind of work, even though it sometimes required me to do just what a soldier must expect to do from time to time: point weapons at the enemy and fire them.


But I had overlooked the downside. Though I never had any doubt that the enemy would be on the receiving end, not me, I had never considered that in tropical Africa the biggest enemy is sickness and disease. I left Ghana suffering from acute malaria, weak and lethargic, stuffing myself with tablets throughout the three-week drive across the north-west Sahara all the way back to Sundance Village.


When I got there I was alarmed to discover that the local medical care wasn’t up to much. There were some private clinics, staffed by French doctors but they were mostly young, newly-qualified and keen to hot-foot it back home, as soon as they had saved enough money to set up in practice for themselves. They cleaned me out my pockets but not my intestines. And I was still seriously ill when a man who called himself Marcel began to take what I assumed was a genuine interest in my recovery.


I guess each of us can say that at some time or other we have come across someone who totally changed our life. I can think of lots of people who have done that to me - their names are littered throughout this book - and Marcel is surely one of them. Just when I was at my sickest - thinking that malaria (on top of the hepatitis from which I had not fully recovered before I left England) was going to finish me off - it was this mysterious stranger who would set me on the path to my Romeo Spy career with the KGB.


Who he is really was, or is, I still do not know. What I do know is that when I was at my lowest physical ebb, weak and apathetic and with my liver near enough destroyed, along came Marcel just in time. If he had not appeared, I would probably have left Morocco in a coffin.


‘Look, Marcel, I’ve spent all my money on private doctors but I’m at death’s door, and I just don’t know where I’m going to get the care I need. I should never have left England with hepatitis, but then I didn’t know I was going to be heading off to the African jungle on all-night manoeuvres.’


I had first met Marcel at Sundance even before my first mercenary venture, so now he must have noted how much my physical condition had declined. Also he would have recalled my perpetual griping - even during our earliest conversations - about the crooked officers at the top of Scotland Yard who had colluded to stitch me up over the corruption allegations made against me in The Times. On reflection, I can see that a trained and seasoned people-watcher such as Marcel, would have instantly spotted that my bitterness against these men - and the institution which had promoted them to posts of such power - made me ideal material for conversion to another cause. I daresay he had read Animal Farm - if he were a Communist himself, I would think it was compulsory to do so. If so, he might have compared me to the well-intentioned cart-horse [name?], a beats of indomitable labour but so easily gulled into joining the revolution and serving a bunch of thugs and opportunists just as evil as the farmers who had originally exploited him.


So now as I shuffled my feeble body around the Village, Marcel rapidly ingratiated himself into my affections. And what a charmer he was. Tall, good-looking with lustrous flowing brown hair, with excellent English, he would stand at the Sundance bar every night, buying drinks all round. This way he became almost everyone’s buddy, friend and confidant - the exceptions being those who, unlike me, could see through him. We all called him Mr Fixit because of the exceptional ease with which he procured fake passports and other bogus documents which are as much the tools of a roving mercenary’s trade as his gun, knife, garotting wire and explosives.


The sceptics among us - mercenaries with many campaigns under their belt and an even lower opinion of human nature than I - told me ‘Watch Marcel’.


What do you mean?’


‘If you want passports and false papers, fine. Just don’t tell him anything about yourself or why you’re here or what you’re up to?’


‘Why’s that?’


‘Haven’t you noticed? This place is crawling with people who aren’t soldiers for hire. They’re spooks. Intelligence agents. They just hang around Sundance looking for tit-bits about the jobs we’re sent to do. And, of course, us silly mutts, buy us a couple of free drinks and most of us’ll tell anybody anything: who we’re working for, who we’re knocking off, what head of state we’re meant to be deposing or installing, or propping up. Well, some of us think Marcel is working for French intelligence, and that would make sense because you know as well as I do, John, that we’re doing more work in the old French colonies than anywhere else. That really gets up the frogs’ noses because they still see these places as in their sphere of influence: for arms sales, mining concessions, and generally shutting everyone else out of flogging anything. You name it: ciggies, washing machines, cars. pop records, even porn, for all I know’.


‘Oh, yeah, I see what you mean’, I grunted as if in agreement, but for me the stark truth was that I didn’t have any alternative. I was, as sailors used to say when stranded skint in some foreign port, ‘fucked and far from home’. I’d cabled England to get some cash sent but that would take a week. I’d even had to sell my gold lighter just to keep myself going. And of course I was desperately ill, the local doctors were crap or rip-off merchants and here was some guy who seemed ready, willing and able to help. What was it Churchill said about shaking with the Devil?


Sure enough, when Marcel saw my physical condition he came up with an offer I couldn’t refuse. ‘If you want treatment for malaria, why don’t you go to Bulgaria? That country’s so keen to attract tourists with hard currency that it’s set up a deal with Britain which gives you people free health care. You won’t have to hang around. When you go into a hospital there, the doctors rush forward to treat you. They’ve got such good medical training, they’ve got more doctors than they know what to do with’.


That all sounded fine, but, weak and feeble as I was, I was still a fugitive. I’d only come to Morocco because it was the nearest country to home where there was no chance that I could be extradited back to face to trial. So, I asked Marcel, what’s the deal in Bulgaria?


‘No problem. From what you’ve told me, you’re only on the run over a petty corruption charge. And no-one gets extradited from anywhere on money matters alone, certainly not from a communist state to a capitalist one. No, you’ll be completely in the clear. Look, I know what I’m saying. I’ve sent other guys there from here. One even had to have a leg off and the Bulgarians did a perfect job’.


I didn’t take up his offer straightaway. I chewed it over for a week. It was about the only thing I could chew, apart from my lip, I was in so much pain from the sores and ulcers that had broken out all over my body. I was delirious too, I wasn’t able to sleep, and I was beginning to feel that very soon I might have to give up, go home and surrender,, just to get decent treatment. Otherwise it was death or Bulgaria. Given that choice, even Bulgaria sounded very welcoming.


Even more welcoming when Marcel stuck an envelope in my hand. I opened it to find a ticket from Bulgarian Airlines, and vouchers for meals and hotel accommodation in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.


By now I had got £500 sent over from London so I offered to pay him back there and then, in cash. ‘Forget it. Say no more. Just look on it as an advance on the money you’re going to earn when I get your story published in Paris. The French will love to read about dirty deeds in Scotland Yard, especially as you British are always so superior about your ‘incorruptible’ public servants , in comparison to the crooked ‘flics’ and fonctionnaires across the Channel. Just twenty miles away yet suddenly everyone’s on the take! My friend, I assure you that Parisians will love to have their suspicions confirmed that even the English suffer from original sin!’


Such a smooth talker. And music to my ears, of course. So, rising from my sick bed like Lazarus from the dead, I took up Marcel’s offer and boarded a flight from Rabat via Paris to Sofia. Not that I stopped in Sofia. Marcel had booked me straight onto an internal flight to Varna, the airport closest to the resort on the Black Sea, where I was going to stay. It was called Slunchen Bryag, which, I found out, means, quite simply, Sunny Beach. That sounded splendid. So far, so good. Just what the doctor would have ordered, if I’d had one.


It was only in the airport terminal that I became aware of a feeling which would soon become second nature to me, and remains with me to this day. It was the feeling that I was being watched, surveilled, tailed. In time, it wouldn’t be just a feeling. It would be an absolute certainty because as I knew from my own days as a detective it is almost impossible to follow someone without ‘showing out’ being spotted by the person (or persons) you are following.


On this first occasion I was not that sure. Just a twitch, a bristling of the hairs on the back of my neck. But I felt it again as I took a taxi to my hotel. Maybe I was imagining it although, from all my later experiences, I don’t think so. Indeed, as soon as I checked into the hotel, I became sure that I was the target of some kind of snare. At the reception desk I learned that I was going to have to share my room. Humff! Not what I had come 2,000 miles for, when at least back at Sundance the one thing I did have was a bed to myself.


Worse still, my designated room-mate didn’t seem like a regular tourist any more than I was. Once I had overcome my initial dismay, I was expecting to meet a nondescript middle-aged engineer or salesman taking a few days’ break. Instead I found myself sharing with a young Frenchman, no more than sixteen, so effeminate and obviously ‘on offer’ that I realised instantly that he had been hired for my especial delight. He must have been told I was sure to be receptive, because he came on to me so soon. I fended him off a few times, which sent him into a state of extreme distress. This was more than the upset of some preening quean whose charms had been spurned. It was as if the lad had lost his job or had let down some higher authority. As he hovered on the verge of tears, I felt I had to offer him some words of comfort: ‘Don’t worry. It’s only a game’. And, though I had to put up with his cloying company for two nights, he never laid another hand on me.


Later it struck me how this situation had come about. From Morocco Marcel must have sent advance word that I might be homosexually inclined. After all, that is ‘la vice anglaise’, especially for Anglais who end up in Morocco. A long list of eminent Englishmen have satisfied their deviant desires in Tangier and other louche north African towns. But not me, Guv, honest! Surely Marcel knew that, although he must have felt it was worth a try especially as I had spent most of my evenings at Sundance in my motor-caravan working on my case papers, completing the dossier which would not only clear my name but blow Scotland Yard apart. Curious, Marcel, may have thought: an English army officer who isn’t in the bar chatting to the girls or out on the town sampling the prostitutes! He must be un pedale! The thought that I might also have some loyalty to my girlfriend back home, the mother of my son, with whom I was still in love at the time, probably never occurred to him. So why not lay on some alternative goods for me in Bulgaria especially in a hotel where there might have been hidden cameras whirring.


Apart from the French youth, I had to put up with all the usual annoyances of cheap and seedy hotels everywhere: noisy guests next door, people coming in at all hours, and wafer-thin walls. Most vexing of all, I had come to Bulgaria on the promise of first-class medical care but this wasn’t like luxuriating in the London Clinic. In fact, where was any clinic in this Bulgarian equivalent of Clacton? I had spent day one on my bed recovering from the journey, fitfully reading a book, but on day two I summoned the energy to walk to the sea front. There I saw a building sporting a big red cross. It was medical centre catering mainly for people who had hurt themselves on the beach so it was a wasted trip. I should have foreseen that no nurse there could speak English, I didn’t know the Bulgarian word for malaria, hepatitis or liver, and no doctor came forward to treat me.


I went back to the hotel tired, irritable and cursing Marcel, only to be further infuriated by finding that my little French room-mate was occupying the bathroom and the place reeking of scent. He was still in there an hour later when someone knocked on the door. I opened it to see a smiling well-built man, over six feet tall, with penetrating blue eyes, a pale complexion, and fair hair which he had combed forward to conceal the fact that it was receding. As I didn’t know anyone in Bulgaria, I assumed that this must be the fellow who, Marcel said, would be contacting me.


‘Hello. I’m Nick’.


‘I’ve been expecting you’, I said, ‘but’, nodding towards the bathroom door, ‘you should know that I am not alone’.


At this, Nick looked disconcerted. He blushed, as if he thought I was about to pull a stroke on him. Was the boy in the bathroom going to compromise him or did I have abduction or assassination in mind? After all, I might have come to Sofia in the service of Her Britannic Majesty. But the anxiety quickly disappeared from his face as I quickly put on a shirt, ushered my visitor out of the doorway and walked him down the corridor. We left the hotel and headed for the beach, where I started my first conversation with the man who would play a dominating role in my life for the next seven years.


‘I’m glad you’ve shown up’, I said, ‘and only just in time. I’ve been here two days, this hotel’s a dump, I haven’t even begun to sort out my medical problems, and this queer won’t leave me alone. I’ve told him I’m not interested but he just doesn’t get the message. I’ve had enough and, if you hadn’t showed up when you did, I was going to get the first flight out of here, go back to Morocco and give Marcel a piece of my mind’.


‘I apologise’, said Nick, ‘I’ll see to all these problems straightaway’. And so he did. Within hours I was relaxing in a first class room in the best hotel in town and being treated there by a professor of medicine specialising in tropical diseases, and his retinue of nurses.


The professor’s diagnosis was grim. He said the whiteness of my gums indicated anaemia and also an enlarged spleen but these were symptoms of syphilis as well as malaria. ‘Well you can forget about the clap’, I said, ‘It’s the one thing I can be sure I haven’t picked up in Africa because I haven’t had sex at all since my girlfriend went back to England’. Unimpressed, the professor continued with blood, urine and saliva tests, and taking sample scrapings of my skin and hair. He then prescribed various injections and medicines to cope with the malaria but, as for my skin, he came up with the local cure. ‘Try the local baths. This town started as a spa back in Csarist times. The natural spring waters should work wonders on that condition’.


I was only slightly cheered by the professor’s attentions but at least now I felt that Nick was someone who could ‘deliver’ in this sadly ramshackled country, not that its deficiencies were inhibiting the other Britons whom I found rolling round the town. Most were miners from Derbyshire but whether they were there for the ideology or just for the beer, they seemed to be having a high old time. With these cheery souls boozing it up around us, Nick and I spent most of the next few days together, eating at the best restaurants entirely at Nick’s expense.


This relaxed ‘getting to know you’ process had gone on for an entire week before Nick finally got round to raising the subject of my dossier on corruption at Scotland Yard. When he did raise it, however, it was clear that he done his homework, absorbing everything I had told Marcel during my frequent tirades against the crooked senior detectives who had harried me out of England with fit-ups and death threats. I found Nick’s grasp of my case, predicament and motivation rather unnerving, as, at times, he could recall more about my life in the force than I did. He corrected me every time I got a fact or date wrong, even when my mistake was made deliberately, to see if I could catch him out. Not a chance. I found Nick’s mastery of detail unnerving, just as I was twitchy about his habit of giving me a fraternal cuddle. Only later did I discover that, where he came from, this was a national habit, signifying nothing more than cameraderie.


By this time Nick had I established a pleasant routine of having our chats in a luxury villa overlooking the sea. Here we were treated like VIPs, attended perpetually by two servants in white jackets who brought us food and drink whenever we felt like it. Of course, the atmosphere and the drink made me even keener to spill my guts about every detail of my time in the Metropolitan Police, particularly about the corruption which had enveloped and cankered my entire service as a detective. I guess I could see even then that Nick was less interested in my personal tribulations and vendettas than in my explanatory comments about the structure of the force.


I noted that he was particularly interested in how some CID officers were recruited into Special Branch and how some of those ‘SB’ officers would in turn move on to MI5. Whether they moved that far or not, the mere fact that they had got into Special Branch fascinated Nick because (I now realise) he knew that SB is essentially MI5’s private police force. If a corrupt detective of the rank and influence that I was describing could be slipped into SB, and if he were in the pay and service of a foreign power, he could surely supply as much information to the Soviets - and so do as much damage to the West -as any of the Cambridge or even the Atom Bomb spies.


Not that I had figured all that out as I vented all my bitterness and disgorged every detail within my then almost photographic memory about the endemic corruption in Scotland Yard. With over 150 ‘bent’ officers in my recall - and knowing that through Freemasonry those 150 would know many hundreds more - I was able to explain to Nick that the entire Yard, and thereby Special Branch too, was the ‘oyster’ of anyone or any organization which had the cash to open it.


But was I crazy, mad, bonkers? That was what Nick was thinking one day when suddenly, while I was rambling on, he asked me, ‘Have you ever had problems with your mental health, or been admitted to an institution at any time?’ I was non-plussed. Where had this come from? Was I sounding like I was nuts?


‘No, this is serious, John’, said Nick, with a serious look on his face rather than the benign smile he usually wore, ‘because I have just been sent this press cutting’. He passed it to me, and I was staggered to read a report about what the barrister who was due to prosecute me, John Mathew QC, had said to explain what the state had been doing to track me down. He had said that, among other measures, checks had been made at every lunatic asylum and mental hospital in Britain to see if I had been detained or had checked myself in voluntarily for treatment. Of course, the search had failed to find me but the seed of doubt had been sown. Not only would the minds of future potential jurors in England be contaminated with the thought that I was mentally unstable and therefore my allegations of high-level corruption could be ignored as a defence. The knock-on effect here and now, in the minds of Nick and his bosses (whoever they might be), was that if the British authorities seriously believed I might have disappeared into a mad-house, then perhaps I really was clinically insane. If so, then Nick was being only too right in asking me this question now, and coming to a considered view himself about whether I was sane or nuts. If I was nuts, of course, he would have to report back that I was a waste of time for whatever purpose his masters had in mind and I should simply be taken back to the airport and despatched ‘home’ to Morocco.


At the time, of course, I wasn’t capable of thinking all this through, but I remember snapping back at Nick , ‘Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers’. But I was also thinking about why such a story was being put about. Then I recalled how often I, as one of a nest of detectives working together to catch some professional criminal, and usually cooking up a false piece of evidence to prove the man’s guilt and justify charges, would deal with that villain’s subsequent claim that he had been fitted up. ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ we would chant almost in unison.’ Don’t you know he’s a nutter? Bloody crazy, mate. Psycho. Schizo. Anything that ends in O, he’s one of them!’


We even used this technique internally, if ever one of our brother or sister officers dared query our evidence, methods or motives. ‘Well, Guv’, don’t you know? The stress of the job’s really being getting at him/her recently. Can’t take the pressure. I think he/she should see the force psychiatrist? Can’t you line him/her up for a medical pension? That would be the humane way to handle him/her? Don’t you think? Guv?’ I had seen this kind of character assassination so often and even participated in it myself on occasions that instantly I could see, from this one press cutting alone, that now exactly the same thing was being done to me. Don’t shoot the messenger: just say he’s off his rocker.


I explained all this to Nick but he persisted, ‘I accept what you say, John, but have you ever received treatment for a depression?’. ‘No, I bloody haven’t!’, and suddenly I began to sense that my new-found friend Nick was not such a friend, after all. An over-reaction that perhaps proves I did have a schizoid temperament, you may be thinking, but you weren’t sitting where I was. In a faraway land where I had no connections whatever and - what’s more - where nobody on whom I could rely even knew I was there. I could have been liquidated on the spot. I knew enough about Communism - about Stalin’s 20 million corpses, and the rigged state trials in almost every satellite state to justify executing thousands of real or imagined opponents - to appreciate that I was not in a very strong position.


Now those waiters in neat white jackets looked more like enforcers or - worse still - like men in white coats! Was I about to be taken away to some Bulgarian lunatic asylum? Or even packaged up and sent back to England to face trial?


These thoughts were only fleeting but they were soon displaced by another set of panic reactions conjured up when Nick asked me, ‘Are you still in touch with ‘H’?’ [H being my closest colleague in the Met]. ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’, I replied, as I pondered how on earth Nick could come up with the name of this man - almost my only police colleague whom I had not named in my corruption dossier with whom I was still in touch. Indeed ‘H’ was still my main conduit for getting intelligence out of Scotland Yard and feeding my own counter-information back in.


Nick’s question alone indicated that he knew I was still in touch with ‘H’, on a frequent if irregular basis. Looking back, I appreciate how this must have looked to him: far from being a genuine fugitive from English justice - or, more accurately, English injustice - I could well have been a double-agent. My entire saga - the original Times story, the charges, my ‘escape’ only to pop up in a mercenary camp in Morocco which certainly MI6 knew to be a rich in counter-intelligence opportunities - could have manufactured as a front just to infiltrate me deep into the bowels of the Eastern Bloc’s intelligence networks. Very flattering to me, but, alas, not the case at all.


‘Look at all this from our point of view, John’, said Nick, firm but conciliatory at the same time. ‘You might well be an agent-provocateur. How else can you - one of the most wanted men on Interpol’s books - still be in touch with a serving CID officer who must himself be under surveillance from Scotland Yard. How can your man ‘H’ be talking to you unless he’s doing it with the knowledge - no - on the orders of Special Branch, or even MI5 itself?


‘Putting it bluntly, John Symonds, we have every reason to believe that you are a ‘plant’. You have taken the opportunity presented to you at Sundance Village to come here, not for genuine medical care, let alone to avenge yourself on Scotland Yard by assisting us, but to infiltrate our apparatus. Your suspension, trial and defection are merely scenes in a carefully-constructed but nevertheless transparent sham. You are acting under the authority of British intelligence and your handler is your alleged old partner-in-corruption, ‘H’’.


I was flabbergasted. After all the shit I had been through since that day in November 1969 when I read the front page of The Times and my world fell apart - my children’s lives in shreds, the misery inflicted on my mother, the financial catastrophe that hit us all, let alone the disgrace, ostracism and illness which I had myself suffered - after all that, I was now being told that this was all an elaborate façade, an entire fake constructed by some manic genius at the heart of MI5! Topped off only a few days ago with the bright red cherry that I am a loony in search of an asylum!


I pulled myself together and tried to refute Nick’s confection without losing my temper. No wonder, I thought, it took Joan of Arc 600 years to get past the Devil’s Advocate and become a Saint.


‘Don’t talk nonsense. You’re saying that at one and the same time the British are publicly denouncing me as a lunatic and sending me off solo to infiltrate your outfit, whatever that may be. And you’re saying I’m mad! If you believe that, you’re even madder than me! I’m staggered you believe British intelligence could have devised such a brilliant scheme. The twits that couldn’t spot Burgess, McLean or even Kim Philby! You think MI5 and 6 are Rolls-Royce operations when they’re more like the crummy old bangers - the Zapharovitzes and Ladas - I see being driven round this little town’.


‘Alright. So what about this man ‘H’. Is he corrupt?


‘Of course he is. More crooked than anyone else I ever worked with - though not as crooked as the bastards at the top of the Yard - though maybe that’s only because he hasn’t had the opportunity of working in the West End with all its rich pickings’.


‘OK, so why haven’t you named him in your dossier along with the other 150?’


‘Because, despite everything that’s happened, he’s still my chum. And because I still need to keep some lines of communication open so I know exactly what the Yard hierarchy are doing against me’.


‘In that case, now’s the time to put down everything you know about ‘H’: every corrupt act he’s ever done. You know we’re not going to pass any of that stuff back to Scotland Yard’.


‘Alright’, I said, ‘If that’s what you want, I’ll give it to you’. And I proceeded to tell Nick about dozens of incidents in which ‘H’ had orchestrated the most brilliantly devious schemes to make money by abusing the office of constable. In revealing all this, I was frequently incriminating myself, for I had been this man’s main partner-in-crime. So now Nick had me even more under his control. Not only was I stuck in the most obscure country in the Soviet Bloc. I had now given someone who was clearly in the pay of one secret service agency or another - and whom I had only just met – enough material to blackmail me for the rest of my life.


From now on Nick was my ‘control’ in more ways than one.


That evening I left Nick in his official villa in a state of deep depression. As I walked back to my hotel, I kicked any loose stone within my tread in the same aimless way I had done as a boy along the streets of Highbury. Today this would be branded a form of regression, brought on by memories of that acutely guilty feeling that can overcome children when they first realise that they have let their best chums down. By ‘grassing up’ ‘H’, I felt that not only had I betrayed one of my few remaining friends - our joint corruption was a bond, not a barrier - I had dropped into an even bigger pit than the one I had found myself in on the night The Times had first named me.


I was also dismayed at the ease with which I had allowed myself to be entrapped. When it happened the first time, at the hands of a petty south London thief, at least I could tell myself I had been ambushed, taken wholly by surprise in a scheme cunningly contrived by some Times newspaper reporters. But this time I had no such excuse. I should have realised that Marcel’s generosity over those airline tickets was just part of the services he was rendering his Eastern Bloc paymasters. I should have seen all this coming. After all many of my fellow-mercenaries had tipped me off that he was not to be trusted. And yet I still went on to place my fate entirely in his hands. Now it was clear: Marcel was a mercenary just like the rest of us. But whereas we earned our bounties by going to some god-forsaken post-colonial statelet and shooting anything in our way, Marcel made his money by delivering suckers to the Soviets.


Just to add to my self-pity, I was now feeling that, despite revealing almost everything about ‘H’ and me, I had still not proved my point to Nick. Did anything I had told him prove conclusively that I was not a double-agent? What if, even now, he decided that all this stuff about ‘H’ was only another long chunk of baloney invented by me there and then, on the spot; or even, with truly Machievellian deviousness, constructed by me way in advance, in order to fake abject submission to the brilliance of his powers of interrogation. Would he think I was just playing up to his professional vanity, so that in future he would weld the integrity of his reputation to vouching for mine too?


They say the world of espionage is a wilderness of mirrors. By now I was seeing my own reflection at every turn, not knowing which one was the real John Symonds, or how I could ever find the way out.


Back at the hotel, I decided to enjoy a long hot bath in my beautiful luxury suite. Who knows? Tomorrow - even tonight - I may be cast out into the night, stuck on a plane to god knows where, or carted off for execution on some desolate mountain road.


Washed, scrubbed and groomed, I put on my best clothes and prepared for the James Bond equivalent of the condemned man’s ‘hearty breakfast’. For me this took the form of a fresh early evening walk to the most attractive part of Slunchen Bryag and a night’s entertainment in the foreign currency bar next to a folk-dance restaurant.




Go to Part 8


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