February 28, 2014 12:02 am

‘Crafty and dangerous woman’ in fifth column sting

Described by spies as a “crafty and dangerous woman”, Marita Perigoe was the central figure in MI5’s wartime undercover operation to root out Britain’s fifth column, newly declassified files reveal.

The Swedish-German wife of a jailed member of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, Perigoe herself had no time for the BUF, regarding them as “insufficiently extreme’’.

Instead, she made considerable efforts to track down fellow Nazi sympathisers and pass on their details to a British agent, “Jack King”, who had told her he was a Gestapo representative in the UK.

So keen was Perigoe to enlist help to the fascist cause that she recruited her own mother-in-law to King’s team, confiding that Emma Perigoe had an “excellent capacity for memorising gun positions”.

Reporting back to his seniors, King was far from complimentary about his contact, saying she was “not a neurotic nor feminine type” but a “masterful and somewhat masculine woman . . . Both in appearance and mentality she can be described as an arrogant Hun.”

The spies expressed a mixture of admiration and alarm at Perigoe’s “spontaneous acts of espionage”, noting that she had so much “misdirected ingenuity” that she might do “much harm” to the security and war effort if not stopped. On one occasion, she went to extreme lengths to hide sensitive British defence plans in her shoulder pads.

Such was Perigoe’s “remarkable aptitude” for tradecraft that Maxwell Knight – who ran the Jack King operation – is reported as saying that he would like to have her as one of his own agents. In a sly reference to the double-cross, the file also points out: “(As a matter of fact she is an unconscious MI5 agent).”

However, King appeared to be frequently exhausted by Perigoe’s volubility and relentless drive. After spending more than six hours with her for a debriefing, he reported: “I left Marita at 6pm. She said she had more to report. I asked for mercy.”

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