Master spy catcher with Special Branch
Born: October 5 1914. Died: September 15, 2013.
Ferguson Smith, who has died aged 98, was in charge of several major espionage cases as a member of Metropolitan Police's Special Branch, including one involving the notorious Portland spy ring that operated from quiet suburban backwaters. Mr Smith masterminded the inquiries with meticulous care - all were gruelling and required much tact and diplomacy. In the case of the Portland spies, he eventually nailed them after observing their movements from a neighbour's spare bedroom.
The case gripped the nation and in 1983 Hugh Whitemore wrote a hit play, Pack of Lies, which was seen in the West End and included Judi Dench in the cast. The composite character of Stewart was modelled on Mr Smith.
He was also involved in other covert operations and the arrest of the notorious double agent George Blake and the Admiralty clerk John Vassall. With typical dedication, Mr Smith hid in a cupboard at Brixton prison to monitor a conversation made by Klaus Fuchs, the atom spy.
Ferguson George Donaldson Smith (affectionately known as Fergie) was the son of a successful wholesale grocer in Aberdeen. His father claimed the family was involved in the creation of Robertson's marmalade.
He attended Aberdeen Grammar School where he was a talented linguist and an excellent sportsman - captaining the cricket and rugby teams - and captain of school. He remained a passionate hillwalker and in his youth regularly walked the Cairngorms.
He enlisted in the RAF in 1941 and trained as a navigator in Canada, where he was commissioned. On his return to Britain, he joined No 101 Squadron flying Lancasters from Lincoln.
In 1944, his squadron played a crucial role in the aerial bombing of Berlin. On one sortie, as Mr Smith and his crew were approaching Berlin, they were attacked by an enemy fighter.
His aircraft was severely damaged and Mr Smith badly wounded, but he continued at his post and helped two gunners trapped in their turret. Somehow, the mission was completed and the bombs were dropped on the target.
For his bravery, Mr Smith was awarded an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation reading: "His courage, fortitude and determination were worthy of the highest praise."
After recuperating, he returned to duty and in 1945 was awarded a Bar to his DFC and demobbed as a flight lieutenant.
He returned to Special Branch where his linguistic skills - he was fluent in German, French and Russian - proved of immense value during the heady days of the Cold War.
For the rest of his career, he was involved in secret and clandestine investigations requiring the utmost tact and diplomacy. One such operation was the monitoring of a right-wing association in the Fifties called Anarchist Black Cross.
He was assigned to protect the Duke of Windsor on his infrequent visits to the UK after the war. With much grace, he refused a gratuity from the former monarch saying simply: "I don't take tips."
In 1962, he was promoted to detective superintendent and led the investigation into the Vassall affair. John Vassall was a naval attache at the British embassy in Moscow and had been honey-trapped into a homosexual party by the KGB.
The truth, that Vassall had provided highly sensitive information to the Soviets, emerged four years later when Vassall was back at the Admiralty. Mr Smith arrested him in 1961 and Vassall was convicted the following year.
Also in 1961, Mr Smith broke one of the most important Soviet spy rings ever to operate in the UK. Mr Smith was observing a house in Ruislip in north-west London inhabited by Peter and Helen Kroger who were friendly with their neighbours Bill and Ruth Search. Mr Smith gained access to the Searches' house by saying he was carrying out a neighbourhood watch.
He occupied the Searches' house and his investigation revealed the Krogers were actually Morris and Lona Cohen, part of the Portland spy ring. The Portland spies, led by Gordon Lonsdale in Dorset, had monitored the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment for many months.
The Krugers photographed and encoded as microdots naval movements including details of HMS Dreadnought, the UK's first nuclear submarine. These they then sent to Moscow.
On the same day Special Branch arrested Lonsdale in Dorset, Mr Smith moved in on the Krogers. When Helen asked to stoke the boiler Mr Smith's suspicions were raised. He examined her handbag where he found photographs of secret documents and films. Later Mr Smith found fake passports and drawers full of cash in the cellar. He took them to Scotland Yard to be charged.
The whole operation was a major coup for Special Branch and brought Mr Smith much praise for the methodical manner in which he had led the complex and diplomatically controversial investigations. He was appointed commissioner of the force.
Throughout his years as head of Special Branch, he concentrated its activities on the Soviet Union and countries behind the Iron Curtain. But from the 1970s he included the IRA. He also provided VIP protection duties and accompanied the Queen on a state visit to Ghana. He retired in 1972.
He was appointed CVO and maintained a military bearing all his life, always sporting an RAF moustache. He enjoyed reading poetry and on his retirement, enjoyed walking in the Surrey countryside.
He married Margaret Murphy in 1944. She predeceased him and he is survived by their son and daughter.
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