THE Russian Consulate in Edinburgh is to be moved from a mid-terrace townhouse to a detached property over security fears.

The Sunday Herald has learned that senior diplomats have made inquiries about a more isolated location in the capital after a visit by Russian security services. It is thought there are concerns about MI5 using sophisticated software which can monitor what is on computer screens from neighbouring buildings and listening devices which can be drilled into adjoining walls.

The consulate in Edinburgh’s Melville Street is between a UK Government building, used for employment tribunals, and an international IT company. There is no suggestion the IT company is involved in espionage, however UK Government intelligence agencies regularly use listening devices.

Last week, the Sunday Herald reported calls for senior Russian diplomats in Scotland to be questioned in the wake of the Skipal attack. A source close to diplomats at the consulate said senior staff began making inquiries about detached properties prior to the nerve agent attack. “Russian security services have been to the mid-terraced building in Melville Street and said there has to be a move to a detached property,” said the source. “Senior staff at the consulate are now actively looking for new premises in Edinburgh, which must be at least 6,000 square metres and have private parking, because they regularly have six diplomatic vehicles outside. They have been making approaches and asking people if they could find somewhere.”

Security experts have suggested the current location leaves diplomats vulnerable to surveillance methods used by spies. Former MI5 security officer Charlie Laidlaw said the Russians will want to move “to secure the perimeter and prevent surveillance devices being drilled in”. Charles Bird, a former diplomat who now teaches at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, said it is “prudent good sense” for the Russians to move to a detached property. “If you’re mid-terraced you’re concerned about the people who live next door, on either side,” said Bird. “The most obvious is listening devices in the walls. You drill a small hole and insert a very sensitive device. You don’t have to drill all the way through.

“The other thing is you can use computers to see what is on a computer screen. If you’re in close enough proximity you can read screens. There are electronic means. You can also put cameras in.” One former British intelligence officer said the UK has form on the use of listening devices.

“They were used during the Iranian embassy siege, with the flight path into Heathrow being diverted to go over the building to help cover up the sound of drilling into the walls,” said the source.

Another security source, who also asked not to be named, added: “I’d imagine the consulate feels uncomfortable with the thought of their neighbours’ ears clamped to the party wall.”

The Sunday Herald contacted the consulate in Edinburgh but did not receive a response.