Belfast Telegraph

Tinker, tailor, ageing MP with face like a hobbit, spy

By Christina Patterson

He looks like a hobbit who's been locked away from sunlight and hasn't been allowed to sleep, or shave, or cut his hair.

He looks like a hobbit might look if it had a bit of a tummy and tried to hide it with strange leather jackets and jauntily knotted scarves.

But looking like a hobbit doesn't seem to have done Mike Hancock any harm. It doesn't, for example, seem to have stopped the MP for Portsmouth South from having a relationship with a fellow Lib Dem councillor, or from developing a very close friendship with a 21-year-old Russian blonde.

The trick, according to the fellow councillor, who thought Hancock was going to leave his wife for her, is teddy bears: "He keeps sending you teddy bears. He tells you what you want to hear." It isn't clear whether Mike Hancock had any teddy bears with him on a trip to St Petersburg in 2006, when he met a 21-year-old student of international relations who was acting as his tour guide.

What we do know is that Katia Zatuliveter was soon living in London and spending her days working as a parliamentary researcher and her nights curled up in bed with her boss. It's possible, of course, that she was only ever attracted to hairy men three times her age. It's possible that the Dutch diplomat she slept with at a conference, and the Serbian delegate she slept with at a conference, and the Nato official she slept with at a conference, were all just too young. And that what she'd been waiting for was to wrap her skinny arms round a sagging stomach and press her lips against pouchy, grizzled cheeks.

It's also possible that this affair, which lasted four years, was exactly what it looks like. He gets firm flesh and skin like a peach; she gets to work where she wants.

But MI5 doesn't think it was a straightforward transaction. MI5 thinks that what Katia Zatuliveter wanted wasn't a job and a nice life in London. It thinks that what she wanted was secrets. And that Mike Hancock was the victim of a honeytrap.

You can see why MI5 might think that, particularly since it first started thinking it just after a pretty girl called Anna Chapman was arrested by the FBI.

And if, for example, it had just seen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and thought, perhaps, that being a spy during the Cold War looked an awful lot more exciting than being a spy now.

You can see why, if you worked for an organisation that used to make people think of car chases, and beautiful women, and villains stroking white cats, and which now advertised vacancies for 'solution architects', and 'procurement managers', you might feel a bit cheated.

And why you might feel disappointed that most of the people you were meant to be monitoring were religious nutters with bushy beards.

You can also see why you might want to get out of the office and question people like Katia Zatuliveter in places like the Savoy and the Kempinski Hotel, which is not only very smart, but also sounds like the kind of hotel a spy might stay in. You can certainly see why you might want to justify your job by thinking that people you thought looked like spies were spies. And why you might feel nostalgic about a time when everyone wanted your country's secrets.

You can see why you might want your lawyers to say things like 'You have ensured that the Russian intelligence services have eyes and ears in the House of Commons' and why hearing them say them might give you a thrill.

But it's also possible that, when the person you're accusing of being a spy looks surprised to hear her former boss described as 'powerful', you might feel you'd got rather carried away.

You might, in fact, feel a tiny bit silly. And particularly when you hear her tell the court that he was "just a backbench MP".

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