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John Simpson admits affair with BBC director who turned out to be a communist spy

BBC's John Simpson had a two-year relationship with Czech agent Terezia Javorska
The BBC's John Simpson had a two-year relationship with Czech agent Terezia Javorska

John Simpson has revealed that he had a two-year love affair with a BBC executive recently unmasked as a communist spy.

Terezia Javorska, who became director of the BBC World Service’s Slovak section, passed intelligence to the Czechs for years. Her “aptness for conspiratorial conduct” won praise from her handlers, in newly declassified security files.

Simpson said he could not believe that Ms Javorska was a willing spy, instead suggesting that she was coerced under threat of harm to her family.

“She betrayed Britain… but she was also one of thousands of victims of Soviet Bloc intelligence,” Simpson said, insisting that she “genuinely loved” Britain.

Simpson, who is the world affairs editor of BBC News, admitted, however, that his assessment could be based on his romantic feelings for the “beautiful and intelligent” woman whom he met while covering a Tory Party conference.

“To me, she was a victim of a clever, manipulative intelligence organisation, and of her own weakness. But maybe, of course, I’m still swayed by my affection for her,” he said.

She remains in a coma

Ms Javorska cannot give her own account. Three years ago, she was injured in a car accident and moved to a care home. Simpson said she remained in a coma and would never recover.

This is not the first time that Simpson has had a brush with an attractive woman involved in Czech espionage; he was once targeted in a honeytrap operation involving a hotel receptionist.

Writing in the Daily Mail about Ms Javorska, Simpson said: “I knew and loved Teresa [sic], though our two-year relationship ended years before she became a spy, and I didn’t meet her again.”

He added: “If Teresa had told me that she had been trapped by Czech intelligence, I would have advised her to tell MI5.”

Czech-born Ms Javorska moved to Britain in 1969 and studied at the University of London, before joining the BBC in 1976. She became head of the World Service Slovak section, which worked alongside the Czech department.

John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor, also had another liaison with an attractive woman working for Czech intelligence
John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor, also had another liaison with an attractive woman working for Czech intelligence - MATT WRITTLE FOR THE TELEGRAPH

She met Simpson at the Tory Party conference in Brighton in 1980, where Margaret Thatcher gave her famous “the lady’s not for turning” speech. He was then the BBC’s political editor.

They began a relationship  which proved stormy - she would, Simpson said, throw books at his head - and split up in 1982. Simpson said they never met again, but he heard of her “stellar progress” through the BBC ranks. “Teresa’s brilliance and good looks made her a figure of note in the BBC’s overseas service,” he said.

According to Simpson, Ms Javorska loved Mrs Thatcher and everything British. “She adored the Royal family, and bought a tiny flat at the top of a grand building in Queen’s Gate, South Kensington, because she liked the name of the street,” he said.

“Her hatred of communism and the Soviet Union, I’m certain, was genuine.”

Documents from the Czech security service archive (StB) state that Ms Javorksa was recruited at a cocktail party in the mid-1980s. While she initially had an “inner conflict” about the risks, by 1985 she was “willing to fulfil our tasks”.

Ms Javorska is said to have supplied her handlers from the StB with information about Czech emigres who had fled to Britain, some of whom worked for the BBC. She supplied intelligence about journalists’ sources and the BBC’s methods of reporting on the Eastern Bloc.

During clandestine meetings, she used M&S carrier bags to signal potential danger, and arranged meetings at opera houses by sending messages hidden in postcards.

She “verbally signed up to conscious collaboration with Czechoslovak intelligence”, the notes say.

Her role ended in 1989 when communism collapsed, and she continued to run the BBC’s Slovak section until it closed in 2005.

Provocative photographs

Simpson guessed that the StB told Ms Javorska that they would harm her family. “She was brave, and reasonably well-off, so neither warnings nor offers of money would have had much effect. But the threat that the StB could destroy the lives of her parents or brothers might well have caused her to give way.

“What ought she to have done? Weirdly, I once found myself in something of a similar position.”

Simpson was targeted in 1984, a year after covering the Warsaw Pact conference. He received a letter and several glamorous and “a bit provocative” photographs of the receptionist from the hotel where he had stayed in Prague.

Although they had exchanged only pleasantries, she told him that she would love to meet up with him.

Simpson spoke about the approach in a BBC programme, saying that he decided to play along with it: “I know that was stupid, but my marriage was breaking up and I felt a bit vulnerable.”

But he told his BBC bosses, who contacted MI5. The security services told him that it was a honeytrap operation, and the proposed meeting never took place.

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