Embassy spy wanted to give employer ‘a bit of a slap’ over treatment, court told

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An ex-security guard has apologised for spying at the British Embassy in Berlin, saying he only wanted to give his employer “a bit of a slap”.

David Ballantyne Smith admitted taking photographs of classified documents at the embassy some four years before he was caught in a sting by fake Russian operatives in 2021.

In November last year, the 58-year-old pleaded guilty to eight charges under the Official Secrets Act by committing an act prejudicial to the safety or interests of the state.

David Smith court case
Court artist sketch of David Smith wearing headphones during an earlier hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Giving evidence at the Old Bailey on Tuesday, Smith apologised for his behaviour.

He said: “I am disgusted with myself. At the time I did not think what I was doing. Now I have had a year-and-a-half to look back on it, I am disgusted with myself and ashamed at what I have done.”

Defence barrister Matthew Ryder KC asked him: “Did you intend to cause serious harm to anybody?”

Smith replied: “At no time. I just wanted to give the embassy a bit of a slap because I did not think that they were treating me very well.”

Smith told the court that he was born in Paisley and counts himself as a patriotic Scot who had been proud to serve in the RAF for 12 years.

After leaving the armed forces, Smith moved to Crawley in West Sussex and worked at Gatwick Airport as a flight auditor and cabin crew member before moving to Germany and getting a job at the embassy.

He had a daughter by his first wife and married his Ukrainian wife Svetlana in 2002.

Smith, who while in Belmarsh Prison was sent merchandise relating to the Azov Battalion in Ukraine, denied having far-right sympathies.

But he expressed an interest in online conspiracy theories, saying: “Yeah, I look at David Icke and Alex Jones InfoWars to get an alternative view. I just like both sides of the story.”

Smith said he changed his views on the conflict in the Ukrainian Donbas region and became “more neutral” after visiting war cemeteries and seeing lines of freshly dug graves.

He said he began collecting classified documents around the time his wife went back to Ukraine in 2018, leaving him “depressed” and lonely.

“The more I was on my own, the more depressed I became, and the longer it went on, the worse it got, the more I started to drink,” he said.

“I was angry that everyone was sitting at home with full pay when we were having to go to work every day.

“I was getting more and more depressed. I was drinking more. Nothing changed as far as the attitude of people at work.

“I just went downhill after that. I would fly off the handle at the slightest thing. I was getting angry really easily.”

He sought help for his mental health but was only offered unpaid leave and referred to a hotline, he said.

Explaining how that connected with his offending, he said: “Living on my own, the sense of what I felt at the time, just being ignored. Drinking all the time, the depression, the fact I had been to my employer, asked for help, and they did not really do anything for me. I was angry.

“Call that spoiled child, obstinate prat maybe – I was full of my own self-importance.

“I wanted to teach the embassy a lesson.

“The attitude from the embassy – the them and us attitude. The bullying. The sense you are there for their convenience.”

He said he enjoyed the “self-satisfaction” of what he had done and wanted to highlight security at the embassy which was “not exactly great”.

David Smith court case
David Smith expressed remorse for his actions (Metropolitan Police/PA)

He denied contacting Russian authorities beyond the two letters that had been uncovered during the investigation or that he accepted money.

Following his arrest by German police, a search of his flat in Potsdam uncovered a large Russian Federation flag, various Russian books, a Soviet military hat, a Communist toy Lada car and a life-size cuddly Russian toy Rottweiler dog sporting a military hat.

Smith’s work locker was also searched and items seized including a cartoon of Russian President Vladimir Putin in military garb holding the head of former German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The caption in German stated: “Russia, please free us once again.”

Smith was extradited on April 6 last year and arrested on arrival at Heathrow Airport for offences under the Official Secrets Act.

He faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced at the Old Bailey on Friday.

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