IT was a salutary lesson for any wannabe spy: don’t go molesting teenage girls. Because Geoffrey Prime’s lust for young women led West Mercia detectives straight to his door and must have had his paymasters in the Kremlin wondering just how they managed to recruit such a fool.


The case shook the country in 1982, because Prime had worked at the heart of British Intelligence, as a section head at the Government’ secret intelligence base GCHQ in Cheltenham. The detectives’ probing exposed one of the biggest spy

scandals in the UK since the end of WW2 and was a real feather in the cap for their leader Det Chief Supt David Cole, who became the youngest ever head of the force’s CID when he was appointed two years before at the age of 42.


However, espionage was probably the last thing on police officers’ minds when they began their fairly routine search for a male who assaulted a 14-years-old girl at her home near Hereford. People who noticed a man in the area at the time

gave a good description and a Photofit image was compiled. They also noted his car, a Mark IV Ford Cortina, two tone brown, in clean condition and with an “S” registration. In addition, the intruder left his fingerprints in the bathroom. This was not James

Bond stuff.


Police linked the attack to other offences across Worcestershire and Herefordshire in the previous two years and Chief Supt Cole arranged a Police National Computer search for details of all Ford vehicles of a similar colour and year across

the Three Counties. A list of 426 vehicles was systematically checked by detectives from Hereford CID and after those in Worcestershire and Herefordshire had been eliminated, the search continued into Gloucestershire.


On Tuesday, April 27, 1982, only six days after the complaint, two detectives knocked on the door of Geoffrey Prime, a married man with three step-children, who lived at Laburnam Cottage, Pittville Crescent Lane, Cheltenham. Straightaway

they noticed the similarity of his car, his description and the likeness of the Photofit. Prime happily supplied an alibi and his fingerprints and the officers left. But the next day he gave himself up. Prime phoned Hereford police station to admit the offence

and when arrested held his hands up to two other sex attacks. However, this was still a long way from spying.


The first indication there might be more to the Prime investigation than met the eye came in a police statement which read: “As a result of certain items being found during a search of Mr Prime’s home, a further investigation  was started

on May 8, 1982 into suspicions he may have been engaged in espionage activities.”


At this point Special Branch was consulted and West Mercia detectives were “positively vetted” before delving into Prime’s security work and background. A more detailed search of Prime’s home uncovered GCHQ documents after the walls were

scanned by metal detectors and parts of the garden dug up.


At the Old Bailey in November, 1982, 44-years-old Geoffrey Arthur Prime admitted spying for Russia over a 14 year period and was jailed for a total of 38 years. Thirty five years of the sentence covered his spying activities, while the

other three were added on for attacking girls in Malvern, Gloucester and Hereford. Much of the top secret evidence was heard in camera, with Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane describing Prime, who spoke fluent Russian, as “a ruthless and rationally motivated spy”.

His activities had caused the nation “exceptionally grave damage”.


The Court heard that Prime first contacted Russian agents “for idealistic reasons” when he was in the RAF in Berlin in 1968. He had been trained in “the arts of a spy” in East Berlin and given the codename Rowlands. Among the skills he

acquired were invisible writing, using miniature cameras, handling microdots and the “dead letterbox procedure” (leaving documents at secret locations to be picked up later). He collected his spying payments from hiding places in the Surrey countryside.


Afterwards Attorney General Sir Michael Havers QC praised the men of the West Mercia force for their handling of the investigation saying: “The responsible authorities have nothing but praise for the masterly way in which Det Chief Supt

David Cole, Det  Chief Insp Peter Picken and police officers under them coped with what is the gravest investigation they will ever be likely to undertake. In an unfamiliar field they worked with remarkable diligence and very great care.”