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Royal Navy submariner jailed over attempts to pass nuclear secrets to Russian spies

Edward Devenney was a communications engineer on HMS Vigilant

Edward Devenney was a communications engineer on HMS Vigilant

  • by ANGUS HOWARTH
 

A ROYAL Navy petty officer was jailed for eight years at the Old Bailey today for trying to pass nuclear submarine secrets to Russian spies.

• Edward Devenney had become disillusioned with Royal Navy and was on verge of being sacked

• Vigilance of MI5 and decision to masquerade as Russian spies ensured national security unharmed

• Devenney had taken photos of highly sensitive material crucial to the ability of HMS Vigilant to be ‘deployed covertly and without detection’

The court heard Edward Devenney, 30, was on the verge of being sacked and he was disillusioned with the Royal Navy because his promotion hopes had been dashed through defence cuts.

But he was drinking heavily, had bouts of depression and had just been cleared of a rape charge.

He asked for his training course for promotion to be deferred for a year but his absences without leave and conduct had led to a warning that he would be sacked if it continued, the court heard.

It was only through the vigilance of MI5 officers who mounted a sting operation where they pretended to be Russian spies that national security was not harmed, said Mark Dennis QC, prosecuting.

Mr Dennis said: “The potential damage could have been considerable and could have harmed the safety and security of the United Kingdom.”

Devenney, originally from Northern Ireland, has pleaded guilty to breaching the Official Secrets Act and misconduct in public office.

He contacted the Russian Embassy offering information and later met two men he thought were Russian agents in London.

But they were British intelligence officers who recorded their meeting, during which Devenney said he was “pissed off with the navy” and did not want payment.

He was arrested in March in Plymouth where he was based.

Mr Dennis said Devenney had been a communications engineer on nuclear sub HMS Vigilant in November when he rang the Russian Embassy.

He had security clearance to go into a room where secret encrypted material was kept in a safe.

Despite not being authorised to open the safe or a code for it, he had managed to take three pictures on his mobile phone which showed vital information.

The pictures held “the essential piece of the jigsaw” to encrypted material which, if compromised, would remove the ability of the submarine to “be deployed covertly and without detection”.

He had put the pictures on his laptop but had not passed them on when he was arrested.

Devenney had also offered to give the spies details of the movements of Vigilant, which included its plans to sail to Faslane in Scotland and then to the east coast of America for nuclear testing.

Mr Dennis said he had also offered information on another nuclear sub and on a previous secret mission by HMS Trafalgar on which he had served.

His actions had been viewed by others working on submarines as “a betrayal of the secrecy, loyalty and trust” they observed.

Devenney, wearing a grey suit and blue tie, sat in the dock of oak-lined Court One and looked up at people supporting him in the public gallery.

The hearing went into secret session half way through to discuss the impact of his actions on national security.

Devenney had been in the Royal Navy for ten years and had hopes of becoming a chief petty officer and then a commissioned officer.

He worked in the “highly sensitive” communication centre of nuclear submarines, and had served on three of the four Trident vessels in the fleet.

After his arrest, he had been questioned about his motives.

Mr Dennis said: “He explained that he was disenchanted with his work and he wanted to hurt the Royal Navy.”

It had been explained to Devenney that the two men, known to him as Demitri and Vladimir, who he met at the British Museum and who took him to a Bloomsbury hotel, were not Russians.

Mr Dennis added: “The highly secret information was therefore contained.

“Although the actual damage caused proved to be minimal, that was not due to the defendant but to the skilful work of the secret service.”

Devenney had a high level of security clearance and had access of HMS Vigilant when it was undergoing a refit in Devonport.

His conduct had been causing concern and he “resented the fact he was not being promoted to chief petty officer”.

Although acquitted of the serious criminal charge by a jury, “nonetheless, the whole experience undoubtedly had an adverse effect on his behaviour”, said Mr Dennis.

Devenney was drinking heavily and suffered bouts of depression and was absent without leave on four occasions.

In January, three days before the secret meeting, he was warned he would be discharged if his behaviour did not improve by April.

In an exchange of text messages, Devenney had told one of the fake spies: “I am disillusioned by my employers and I feel let down by them. Think we can help each other.”

He also texted: “I am in the royal Navy and I am a bit p***ed off with them at the moment.”

Devenney admitted collecting information for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state between November 18 last year and March 7 this year.

Lord Carlile, defending, read a letter to the court from Devenney which said: “I have brought great shame to my family, loved ones and the submarine service.

“I accept the consequences of my actions and I’m truly sorry.

“Mostly I would like to apologise for the shame I brought on the Royal Navy.”

Lord Carlile said when the Royal Navy and Ministry of Defence reflected on what Devenney was going through: “They might think twice about leaving a person in post until the issues have been resolved.”

Lord Carlile said Devenney had been “something of a blue-eyed boy” until things began to go awry.

He added that the rape allegation led to a general collapse in Devenney’s behaviour.

 

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