Lib Dem MP quits Commons committee over aide’s spying trial

A Liberal Democrat MP whose former aide is accused by MI5 of spying for Russia has resigned from the Commons defence committee.

Mike Hancock, the MP for Portsmouth South, said he hoped to rejoin the committee after the deportation hearing involving Katia Zatuliveter, with whom he had a four-year affair, was over.

“I would like to make clear that at no time did I pass on material to Ms Zatuliveter which was not in the public domain or which was classified,” Hancock told the Lib Dem chief whip, Alistair Carmichael.

Zatuliveter’s counsel, Tim Owen QC, said on Wednesday that MI5 only became interested in her last year after Anna Chapman was expelled from the US accused of espionage.

Owen was cross-examining a female MI5 officer, identified only as Witness ZZ, at a hearing of the Special Immigration Appeals Commisison.

ZZ, giving evidence behind a screen, denied the suggestion. Owen said the fundamental difference between the cases was that the FBI had concrete evidence against Chapman, something MI5 did not have on Zatuliveter.

He said the 26-year-old was too “fragile” to work for Russian intelligence. Reading a statement by her brother-in-law Andy Cowburn, Owen said: “I have always thought her to be easily impressed by people in politics, and she has made some very poor decisions in her life.”

Owen continued: “It would have been acutely embarrassing for the security services to step back from their decision and admit that you have got it wrong … the more information you learn, what emerges is a rigid and inflexible determination to fit everything into a preconceived idea of who she is.”

It is the first time the commission, which normally deals with deportation cases involving alleged terror suspects, has heard a case involving alleged espionage. Most of the evidence has been about Zatuliveter’s love affairs, and allegations that she was vulnerable to “honeytraps”, rather than spying activities.

ZZ frequently replied that she could not confirm or deny points or suggestions put to her.

The hearing, which continues on Thursday, will include further evidence from MI5, some expected to be heard behind closed doors.

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