Was Our Man In Washington Kim Darroch involved in a ‘sex for scoops’ affair with a glamorous TV journalist… and is Foreign Office bid to hold court case behind closed doors an effort to save his blushes? GUY ADAMS investigates
- Male civil servant, 37, arrested in October 2020 on suspicion of two crimes
Before dawn on October 13, 2020, no fewer than 14 officers from the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit slip through the front door of Schomberg House, a nondescript red-brick block of flats on a quiet side street in central Westminster.
Dressed in bullet-proof vests and carrying a variety of weapons, they creep up the staircase in silence, before gathering outside Flat 20, a two-bedroom rental property believed to be occupied by two thirtysomething professionals.
At 5.50am, a battering ram smashes down the door and all hell breaks loose.
‘I recall being woken by a violent crash as the door and its frame were broken through,’ one of the occupants said later.
‘Suddenly, there were sounds of people bursting into the flat and shouting . . . I thought we were being burgled.’
The diplomat in question is Kim Darroch (pictured). Now known as Lord Darroch of Kew, he was the UK’s Ambassador to the U.S. between 2016 and 2019, when he was forced to resign after secret Foreign Office memos found their way to the Mail on Sunday
That scandal involved rumours that the married 69-year-old Darroch had, during his ambassadorship, pursued an affair with a blonde TV journalist named Michelle Kosinski (pictured)
Officers burst into each of the bedrooms; others start ransacking the communal areas. The remainder take up defensive positions, guarding doors and windows.
Within seconds, the unit has identified its ‘target’, a 37-year-old male civil servant. Bewildered, half-naked and barely awake, the man learns that he’s under arrest on suspicion of two crimes: violating the Official Secrets Act and committing misconduct in a public office.
‘The police began ransacking my flat, but it was clear they wanted me out of the flat while they did this,’ he recalls. ‘So they dragged me from my bedroom to the living room and started interrogating me while I was disorientated.’
Once the suspect has surrendered both his mobile telephones and laptops, as well as their passwords, it’s time to go.
He’s escorted out of Schomberg House, which is roughly 200 yards from MI5’s imposing riverside HQ, driven across the Thames and booked into a cell at Southwark police station.
So begins a long, traumatic and surreal journey which culminated this week, some two-and-a-half years later, in an appearance at the High Court in London.
Here, the man’s dramatic arrest has spawned a highly unusual court case.
It centres on claims that the 14-man counter-terrorism raid was staged as part of a far-reaching conspiracy, hatched in the upper reaches of Britain’s Government, to cover up a scandal involving allegations of sex, lies, and betrayal . . . by one of our most senior diplomats.
The diplomat in question is Kim Darroch. Now known as Lord Darroch of Kew, he was the UK’s Ambassador to the U.S. between 2016 and 2019, when he was forced to resign after secret Foreign Office memos — in which he’d described his host nation’s then president, Donald Trump, as ‘inept’, ‘insecure’ and ‘incompetent’ — found their way to the Mail on Sunday.
As for the alleged conspiracy, that has been set out in very great detail in an array of court documents filed by the target of the Schomberg House raid, whom we shall call ‘A’.
The now 39-year-old is currently based in Washington DC, and is suing for damages related to the impact the police operation had on his life and livelihood.
The legal papers explain that ‘A’ was taken into custody on the aforementioned morning of October 13, 2020, on suspicion of being the Whitehall insider who leaked Darroch’s secret Foreign Office memos to the Press a year earlier.
However, the man vigorously denies the claim. And no charges were ever filed.
In a lawsuit against the Government, ‘A’ instead argues that the arrest, which led to him losing his job and briefly becoming homeless, was orchestrated by senior UK officials to divert attention from a second major scandal that was then threatening our relationship with the U.S.
That scandal involved rumours that the married 69-year-old Darroch had, during his ambassadorship, pursued an affair with a blonde TV journalist named Michelle Kosinski.
U.S. authorities allegedly came across evidence of the fling during a probe into how the glamorous, 49-year-old CNN reporter — who was not exactly a famed scoop-getter — had managed to break a string of high-profile diplomatic stories in the course of a few short months in 2018.
They wondered if Darroch had passed his alleged mistress information from the Five Eyes, an international intelligence alliance involving Britain, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
British newspapers got wind of the whole thing and, in October 2020, the UK Government — which was understandably keen to prevent details being reported — learned that one title, The Sun, was on the verge of publishing. According to ‘A’, his arrest was staged to create a PR distraction.
It was hoped the ensuing kerfuffle would draw attention away from allegations that, as his lawsuit puts it, Our Man In Washington ‘leaked U.S. state secrets in exchange for sex from a CNN journalist’.
In the event, Darroch’s alleged affair made headlines anyway. On which front, it should be noted that Kosinski, who is married to retired investment banker Kimbell Duncan, denied sleeping with Darroch or getting stories from him.
‘Tabloids printing incorrect information about my private life is unacceptable,’ she said. ‘There is a great deal wrong — and simply false — about what is being reported.’
Meanwhile, Darroch, who decided in September to take a leave of absence from the Lords, has chosen not to dignify the whole thing with a comment.
What we do know, however, is that the UK Government is acutely embarrassed by the episode.
Indeed, ministers appear to be desperate for any trial at which ‘A’s claims are aired to be held in secret.
On Wednesday it applied for, and won, permission to submit a ‘closed’ defence to the former civil servant’s legal action, meaning the public, Press and even the man bringing the case will be excluded from proceedings to protect national security.
In a Kafka-esque twist, the application to the High Court was signed off by James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary — who, as head of the Foreign Office, also happens to be one of the defendants.
The bid for secrecy has sparked a wider political controversy. Senior Tories led by the former Brexit Secretary David Davis are complaining that Government lawyers are weaponising controversial legislation designed for anti-terror cases in a ‘wholly inappropriate’ manner ‘to cover up potentially embarrassing stories involving diplomats and civil servants’.
So why exactly did a former Whitehall staffer choose to pursue this landmark case? And how did ‘A’, who was previously an anonymous functionary, end up at the centre of a drama so colourful it might have been plucked from the pages of a John Le Carre novel?
The man, whom the Mail has chosen not to name, is a dual U.S. and British citizen who studied law at Oxford in the early 2000s. A somewhat eccentric individual, who suffers from dyslexia and autism, he joined the civil service and worked for a time as a press officer at the Ministry of Defence.
From 2017, he says he was ‘a rising grade 7 civil servant’ at the Department for International Trade, a role that today commands a salary of £55,000 to £65,000.
The events leading to his arrest began with Darroch’s resignation in 2019. It caused significant embarrassment to the British Government, who then charged the Metropolitan Police with finding the source of the leak of cables that called Donald Trump ‘inept’.
But their high-profile investigation, Operation Asperite, made little immediate progress.
Part of the problem was that Darroch’s unflattering remarks about Trump had been made in documents marked ‘Official’ and ‘Official Sensitive’, the lowest classification of security clearance. That meant, according to court papers, that they had been circulated to as many as 45,000 individuals, making the list of potential suspects extraordinarily long.
Another major issue was that Steve Edgington, the journalist responsible for giving the documents to the Mail on Sunday, which broke the story in July 2019, wouldn’t reveal his source.
That frustrated Scotland Yard, who at one point accused the newspaper of ‘criminal behaviour’, prompting a stern dressing down from Boris Johnson, who was then standing for Tory leader, who accused them of ‘infringing on Press freedom’.
One way or another, by the summer of 2020 the trail had gone cold. But then the police chanced upon an intriguing lead: they learned that Edgington, who was now working at The Sun, appeared to be at least vaguely acquainted with a civil servant who’d had access to the leaked cables.
That civil servant was ‘A’. According to court papers, the two men had first met at a dinner hosted by the Duke of Marlborough.
Bizarrely, ‘A’ claims he was invited to that event as a guest of his ‘god-daughter’ who, he claims, is the Tory backbencher Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown’s second wife Kym Erlich, an actress-turned-estate agent two decades the MP’s junior. (Sir Geoffrey did not respond to the Mail’s request for comment.)
While the civil servant insists he had nothing to do with the 2019 leak of Darroch’s classified memos, he admits he became friendly with Edgington, meeting for drinks on several occasions. Then, in 2020, he offered to help Edgington investigate Darroch’s alleged relationship with Kosinski.
In particular, ‘A’ says, he ‘made introductions in Washington DC with U.S. officials’ who might be able to help the journalist.
By October 2020, The Sun was ready to publish an article headlined ‘Trumpy pumpy’. It mentioned intimate messages exchanged by the pair. ‘A’ also claims to have obtained copies of the messages, which he says are being held by his U.S. lawyers.
On October 12, the newspaper approached Darroch for comment, handing a letter to Vanessa, his wife of four decades, outside their home in London.
It was just hours later that, in a different corner of London, the police suddenly decided to descend on Schomberg House.
Oddly, a senior Metropolitan Police officer then telephoned The Sun’s deputy editor in a bid to prevent the newspaper publishing details of Darroch’s alleged affair on the grounds that ‘they had just arrested the source’.
The request fell on deaf ears, The Sun published — and shortly afterwards Kosinski left CNN.
She has since collaborated on a podcast with another senior British official, Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6. Today, she works for TRT, a Turkish news outlet based in Istanbul.
But we digress. The timing of these events are now at the centre of ‘A’s argument that he was wrongfully arrested in an effort to ‘take the attention off Lord Darroch’.
Michelle Kosinski with her husband Kimbell Duncan, flanked by the Obamas
That theory is supported by, among others, Nigel Farage, who said at the time: ‘It seems the Establishment are working to protect themselves. The arrest [of ‘A’] is a classic diversionary tactic by the authorities with the Foreign Office working closely with the security services.’
‘A’s lawsuit — which names as defendants Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, the heads of the departments he claims mistreated him — alleges that the arrest caused him great harm.
On the day police burst into his flat, ‘A’ was on sick leave after having surgery for skin cancer.
This, combined with his autism, caused significant trauma, the man claims, saying he was ‘severely ill’ and ‘kept having to use the toilet while I was being interrogated. The police crowded into the lavatory . . . and watched me sit on the toilet pan. It was totally humiliating and degrading.’
His troubles really began, however, roughly 24 hours later, after he was released on bail.
Not only had his home been ‘trashed’ — ‘they tore panels off the wall and doors off cabinets and everything was in disarray . . . [police] even emptied the Rice Krispies box looking for evidence’ — but he found it impossible to access cash, since his computer devices and all forms of identification had been seized.
‘I did not have a domestic UK bank account at the time of the police raid,’ he says. ‘I used overseas banks for my financial transactions, given that I had spent most of my life outside the UK. All of a sudden I could not access those accounts.’
Police had also informed his landlord of their raid. He then gave the man three months’ notice to leave the premises. With no identification or ability to access funds, he was left on the streets.
‘I am now a homeless person living at a charity with recovering heroin addicts and alcoholics in Croydon,’ the man told a bail hearing shortly afterwards. ‘I have no permanent home address. My mail is being forwarded from my previous address to my friends.’
He was not, it must be stressed, either an alcoholic or a drug-user.
On several occasions, in the ensuing weeks, he attempted suicide, prompting the police to try (unsuccessfully) to have him sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Completing his fall from middle-class prosperity, ‘A’ also lost his civil service job. It wasn’t until April — six months after his arrest — that arduous bail conditions were lifted, allowing him to be reunited with his passport and other important documents.
With no charges having been filed, he was free to return to the U.S., where today he works for a Washington think-tank. Now he’s on the hunt for compensation.
To that end, ‘A’ has amassed a significant quantity of evidence suggesting that senior civil service and police officials behaved unlawfully. That evidence will, he promises, be made public at trial.
The Government is anxious to avoid any such circus. Yet its efforts to insist ‘A’s claim for damages is scrutinised in secret — on national security grounds — will do little to convince sceptics they have nothing to hide.
Andrea Jenkyns, a former Tory minister, said this week: ‘The public and the Press have a right to see the evidence in this case — we must have maximum transparency to get to the bottom of any allegations made.’
Paul Diamond, ‘A’s barrister, added in court: ‘We expect this behaviour from totalitarian regimes, such as Russia, China and North Korea, but it is an outrage this could happen in the UK.’
A judge with security clearance will now decide whether future hearings need to be held behind closed doors.
‘A’s case, will, in other words, continue. There is significant public interest in its outcome.
However, it remains to be seen whether we will be permitted to hear the gory details.
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