'Great result for British justice': Embassy guard David Smith jailed for 13 years for spying for Russia

17 February 2023, 11:10 | Updated: 17 February 2023, 16:51

David Smith comp (PA)
David Smith passed information to Moscow knowing it could endanger lives. . Picture: PA

By James Hockaday

A spy who admitted selling secrets to Russia while working as a security guard at the British Embassy in Germany has been jailed.

David Smith, 58, has been sentenced to 13 years and two months at the Old Bailey after admitting eight charges under the Official Secrets Act.

He was motivated by his support for Russian president Vladimir Putin and hatred of the UK when he began collecting classified documents in 2018 with the view to handing it over "at some stage".

Home secretary Suella Braverman described it as a "great result for British justice".

The court heard how Smith had copied a "significant amount of material over the years", despite knowing they could pose a threat to people working at the embassy in Berlin.

He began handing over documents in 2020 in a letter to a military attache at the Russian Embassy and promised “more information would be forthcoming”.

Security kiosk footage released of David Smith

In a second letter he passed photographs of embassy staff with annotated descriptions, putting them at “maximum risk”, judge Mr Justice Wall said.

Ex-RAF serviceman Smith’s conduct from 2020 was not a “one-off offence” and he was “paid by Russia for your treachery”, the judge added.

He said: “You established regular contact with someone at the Russian Embassy and this contact was a conduit through which material illegally obtained by you was passed on.”

Police launched an investigation after Smith’s second letter to a military attache at the Russian Embassy in November 2020 was traced back to him.

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David Smith undercover sting PA
David Smith speaking to 'Irina' during an undercover MI5 sting. Picture: PA

In an undercover sting operation in August 2021, two MI5 agents posed as Russian agents named "Irina" and "Dmitry" and tried to win the trust of Smith, originally from Paisley, Scotland.

On August 5, 2021, Smith was asked by an embassy staff member to escort Dmitry into the building.

He made a copy of a document Dmitry had brought and kept Sim card packaging with the defector’s phone number on it rather than destroying it as he had been instructed.

Later in his security kiosk, Smith was shown on covert film using a small camera to record about 45 seconds of CCTV capturing Dmitry’s visit saying: “If he works at the embassy they will know him.”

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A few days later, Smith was accosted at a tram stop by fake Russian spy Irina, who said somebody was passing on information that was “damaging to Russia”.

He appeared sceptical, saying it had been “sprung on me” and he needed to speak to “someone”, in an apparent reference to his handler.

The joint-operation between German police and MI5 led to his arrest on August 10 that year. Prosecutor Alison Morgan KC told the Old Bailey that he was "was plainly hedging his bets" when trying to work out if he could trust the fake agents.

Following his arrest, police found Smith’s stash of sensitive and secret documents, including correspondence to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson from ministers.

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David Smith PA
A covert camera shows Smith, 58, recording CCTV footage on his phone. Picture: PA

The court was told of “potentially catastrophic” consequences for “each and every” British official in Berlin, with the cost to the taxpayer of updating security estimated at £820,000.

Embassy staff were left with “feelings of anger, betrayal and upset and concern at the implications of their details being shared with a hostile state actor”, the court heard.

Smith’s spying could have harmed Britain’s international trade negotiations and came at a time the UK was “calling out” Russian actions, including amassing vast numbers of troops on the Ukraine border.

Mr Justice Wall had dismissed Smith’s evidence, including his claim that he only wanted to embarrass the embassy. The judge ruled that the evidence showed Smith was taking money from Russia as part of an “ongoing” relationship.

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David Smith
Smith said he felt "ashamed", but the judge dismissed this as "self-pity". Picture: PA

Smith may even have been directed by his handler when he filmed private offices, including photographs of colleagues’ family and friends on their desks.

The defendant said he was now “ashamed” at his behaviour and counted himself as a proud Scot.

He claimed he was angry at his employer, depressed and was drinking seven pints a day after his Ukrainian wife of 20 years returned to her home country.

He admitted being interested in conspiracy theories espoused by Alex Jones’ InfoWars and David Icke but denied being pro-Russian or having far-right sympathies.

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However, the prosecution pointed out his collection of Russian military memorabilia, including a flag and large toy Rottweiler, as well as his past support for Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas.

Mr Justice Wall dismissed Smith’s expressions of remorse as “self-pity”, saying he failed to acknowledge the “potentially catastrophic consequences for others”.

Smith listened in the dock with the assistance of a hearing aid and made no reaction as he was sent down.

Ms Braverman tweeted: "A great result for British justice at the Old Bailey today with the sentencing of David Smith.

"He betrayed our country and it's credit to the brilliant work of MI5, our police, and their cooperation with German authorities that he’s now been sentenced to 13+ years in jail."