Tim Tate

Author, Film-Maker & Investigative Journalist



I have today resigned from the Management Committee of the Society of Authors.

The Society of Authors has recently been under an intense spotlight over allegations about Twitter posts by Joanne Harris. On Thursday, November 17, members overwhelmingly rejected a motion at the AGM, calling on Joanne to step down from her role as Chair of the Management Committee.

I can only speak of my experience in Management Committee meetings in the past year, but in these I have always found Joanne a courteous and professional Chair.  Likewise, I have always found the Society’s CEO, Nicola Solomon, assiduously attentive to the issues which the Management Committee tried to address.  I do not know either well enough to be called a friend, but our discussions have always been collegiate and respectful.

Unfortunately, my recent experience of the Management Committee itself has been rather less congenial.

I was honoured to be elected to the Committee one year ago. I had hoped to use my background, and the lessons learned during my 40+ year career, to serve the Society’s 12,000+ members.

It was for my experience as an investigative journalist that at the start of this month I was appointed to a subcommittee, set up to examine formal complaints made against Joanne and Nicola by five individuals.

Sadly, the impartiality and integrity of that investigation subcommittee has been undermined internal disputes. Today, these made it impossible for me to continue, in good conscience, to serve on the Management Committee.

As a journalist, author and film-maker I have campaigned for openness and transparency. I am therefore posting below the full text of my resignation letter, submitted today.


I have always been – and remain – a believer in the importance of trade unions. The Society of Authors is a trade union and its staff do extraordinary and vital work on behalf of all authors. I am profoundly saddened that recently the Society’s Management Committee has not conducted itself as well as those staff, and the creative community we all belong to, deserve.

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Dr. Andrew Murrison MP takes “issues of integrity and wrongdoing in high places seriously”.


We know this because those are exactly the words he wrote in response to an email I sent him in the middle of January.


I had asked Dr. Murrison, as my constituency MP, what he intended to do about the emerging evidence of unlawful parties inside 10 Downing Street during the COVID lockdowns, and specifically if he would hold the Prime Minister to account for his involvement in them.


Dr. Murrison’s response was measured, but very clearly indicated an unwillingness to tolerate Boris Johnson’s antics.  But he was – then – waiting for the outcome of the Sue Gray and Metropolitan Police investigations and would not “pass judgement” until they had reported.


Nonetheless, Dr. Murrison was at pains to stress his record of standing up for integrity – and against the Prime Minister – during the then-recent Owen Patterson lobbying affair, in which Boris Johnson ordered his MPs to vote for a doomed Parliamentary motion which would have changed the rules by which Mr. Patterson – another Tory MP – had been found culpable of improper lobbying, and thus let him off the hook.


“You might have noticed from my reaction to the Owen Patterson lobbying scandal that I take issues of integrity and wrongdoing in high places very seriously, once the facts are established.


“In the Patterson case … my ex-colleague was found by the Independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to have engaged in paid lobbying for two businesses. I believed it was not right to change the rules on the hoof for a colleague. I therefore did not support the Government then. Many of the same rules and arguments apply now.”[1]


Curiously, however, within a fortnight Dr. Murrison’s commitment to “integrity” seemed to slide somewhat. After the interim Gray report was released, I wrote to him again, asking him what he intended to do about the Prime Minister in view of its findings.


Although he now viewed Boris Johnson’s actions – and those of his staff – “very seriously indeed”, this hand-wringing was couched in (and indeed preceded by) a ringing declaration of loyalty to the Prime Minister.


“I supported Mr. Johnson’s leadership bids in 2016 and 2019 and have continued to be strongly supportive of the policy direction of his government …


“Mr. Johnson has accepted the interim Gray Report, apologised and set out what he intends to do … Please be assured that I take what is alleged to have happened very seriously indeed. As MS. Gray observes and Mr. Johnson accepts, there were failures of leadership and judgment.


“However, I must also acknowledge that Mr. Johnson has delivered on Brexit when nobody else could, has generally make [sic] the right calls on Covid … that there are far more jobs in the economy than we thought possible eighteen months ago, and that of G7 members, the UK is leading the economic recovery from the pandemic in part because of the courageous decisions the government took at the start of the crisis and at the end of last year …”


Quite how all this – even if true (and there are multiple reasons for scepticism) – could excuse what Sue Gray’s interim report had revealed was unclear. Nor was Dr. Murrison yet ready to pronounce final judgment on the Prime Minister: that would have to wait for the full Gray report and the result of Metropolitan Police enquiries.


“To be honest, Ms. Gray’s update adds very little. Frustratingly for those wishing to inform their position with the anticipated full and objective statement of the facts, it will now be necessary to await the outcome of the Met investigation and Ms. Gray’s subsequent report …


“The situation remains dynamic. You can be assured that I will be watching developments like a hawk. At this stage I rule nothing in or out. However, I am bound to say that what continues to matter most to me is delivery by government and the betterment of the lived experience of those I have the privilege to represent. The position I adopt and the actions I will take will always be driven by an assessment of how that can best be served.”[2]


This email seemed to be backing away from Dr. Murrison’s previous celebration of his own record on matters of probity – a suggestion I put to him later the same day, but which he was quick to reject.


“No, I’ve been consistent. No softening at all. I think I would look pretty daft if I called for him to go and the Met then exonerated him.”[3]


Alas, for Boris Johnson – and presumably for Dr. Murrison – the police did not “exonerate” him. Instead they issued him with a Fixed Penalty Notice, making Johnson the first Prime Minister – ever – to be punished for an offence while in office.


Nor did Sue Gray’s final report provide any greater comfort. In May, it disclosed a succession of drink-fuelled parties inside Downing Street, where officials vomited on the walls, fought with each other, damaged property and verbally abused both police and cleaners within the building.


All of this took place in breach of the COVID lockdown rules which the Prime Minister had imposed on the entire country; and photographs showed the Prime Minister drinking toasts to his staff at some of the events. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Gray excoriated those at the head of the Government.


“I found … failures of leadership and judgment in No 10 and the Cabinet Office. The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. It is also the case that some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders. The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”[4]


On the day the Gray Report was published, Boris Johnson made a statement in the House of Commons. He described himself as “humbled” by the findings and promised that he had “learned my lesson”.


Strangely, however, one of these first “lessons” appeared to be his re-writing of the Ministerial Code to remove all its previous references to “honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability”, and to reduce the penalty for breaching the Code from automatic resignation to a temporary loss of pay and/or an apology.


Since this occurred while Johnson was – and is – facing investigation by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee for allegedly breaching the very same Code, this seemed to be a repeat of the Owen Patterson fiasco: an attempt, in Dr. Murrison’s own words, “to change the rules on the hoof” and protect “a colleague” – in this case the Prime Minister himself – from the consequences of his actions.


Last week I wrote again to Dr. Murrison, asking him in the light of all this, and of his commitment to issues of integrity and wrongdoing in high places, whether he now intended to submit a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson: the answer is – apparently – ‘no’.


“In my view Sue Gray’s findings, whilst shocking, do not materially alter what we already knew or suspected. Consequently, my previous remarks on the matter are unchanged including those made online and in the national press”.[5]


The latter turned out to be an article by Dr. Murrison in the Guardian in which he described himself as a “serial Boris supporter”, praised “his brand of Brexity, one-nation Conservatism”, and indicated that the decision on whether to remove the Prime Minister would be based not on integrity, but rather on the pragmatics politics of whether Johnson was “an electoral asset or liability.”


If this pre-police fine and pre-Gray Report judgement was somewhat gnomic, Dr. Murrison is today even less willing to tell his constituents what he plans to do about the dominant and most urgent issue in British politics.


“I do not intend to comment further at this stage on Mr Johnson’s future or on any confidence issues relating to his status as leader of the Conservative party. However, I will continue to actively support the government in carrying forward the policies that flow from the manifesto on which I was elected in 2019.”[6]


Quite what happened to Dr. Murrison, the champion of integrity in political life, in the weeks since January is impossible to know: it seems to have vanished behind his veil of determined non-transparency and Tory real-politik.


Sadly, as the American writer, producer and political commentator Jon Stewart, once noted: “If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.”




[1] Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP (Conservative: South West Wiltshire), January 16, 2022.

[2] Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, February 1, 2022.

[3] Second Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, February 1, 2022

[4]   “Findings Of Second Permanent Secretary’s Investigation Into Alleged Gatherings On Government Premises During Covid Restrictions” (May 25, 2022): “Conclusions”, p.36

[5] Email from Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, May 30, 2022.

[6] Ibid.

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I’m very flattered to have been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

RHS does very important work, and I hope to be able to contribute.

My thanks to all at the Society for this genuinely humbling endorsement.

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I was very flattered to be interviewed by Letter Review – Oliver Adams’ excellent site for professional writers to share their experiences and tips.


Here’s the resulting piece.


5 Questions With Nonfiction Author Tim Tate: The Letter Review Interview


My thanks to Oliver and all at Letter Review.

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Inspired – I think – by my biography of cold war superspy Michał Goleniewski, Shepherd For Authors asked me to write about my top five Cold War spy books – both non-fiction and fiction.


The piece was published this morning (January 31). If you enjoy books about espionage in the murky depths of the Cold War, do visit the site: here’s the link:



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I was delighted to speak at three literary festivals this autumn about my biography of Cold War super spy Michał Goleniewski.

Photo credit: Joe Fenna, @fennaphoto

Huge thanks to all the organisers at the Chelsea History Festival, Ilkley and Berwick Literary Festivals for all their hard work and support.  Berwick’s appearance was via Zoom, and  is now viewable on the Festival’s YouTube page: if you enjoy Cold War spy stories, this one is truly extraordinary !

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I was very honoured to have been asked to sign copies of The Spy Who Was Left Out In The Cold at the fantastic Goldsboro Books in London’s West End

Thank you to all the team there for a terrific experience.


And if you love books … make sure you pop into Goldsboro: it’s a really wonderful book shop!

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MI5 and the curious case of Michał Goleniewski

Sixty years ago the most important Cold War spy the West had ever known defected at the US Consulate in West Berlin.


Lt. Col. Michał Goleniewski was a very senior officer in the Polish Intelligence Service, who simultaneously worked for the KGB. For almost three years, under the self-chosen cover name ‘Sniper’, he had risked his life to smuggle an unprecedented haul of Soviet Bloc intelligence documents to the West; when he defected, across divided Berlin in January 1961, he provided hundreds more microfilm frames and top secret documents.


In total – according to the CIA’s assessment report – he provided details of 1,693 spies and their handlers, burrowed into western governments and intelligence services throughout Europe and the United States. After his defection and safe housing in the United States, arrests, trials and convictions of Soviet bloc spies followed in Britain, France, Sweden, Germany and Israel – though, strangely, not the United States. Each was the direct result of Goleniewski’s information; in many cases, his intelligence was the vital factor


In the UK alone, Goleniewski’s information led to the arrest of the Portland Spy Ring, which had betrayed highly sensitive Admiralty secrets to Moscow, and the capture of George Blake – the KGB’s long term mole inside the Secret Intelligence Service MI6. In April 1961, the five Portland Spies were convicted at the Old Bailey and sentenced to between 15 and 25 years in prison; the following May Blake was sent down for 42 years.


Unsurprisingly, western governments were profoundly appreciative. The CIA deemed him “one of the West’s most valuable counter intelligence sources” and “the best defector the CIA ever had”. It sponsored the first of his (bigamous) marriage ceremonies in the US, as well as a private Bill in Congress which theoretically allowed him to apply for US citizenship.


In the same period, MI5 praised “the inestimable value” of his information and placed on record its profound gratitude for his “copious” and “invaluable” services on behalf of British national security. For good measure it sent him an antique silver tankard as a token of the nation’s gratitude.

All of which makes Goleniewski’s absence from the story of the Cold War somewhat peculiar. Whilst he does crop up as a shadowy figure, tentatively referred to in accounts of the Portland spies and Blake, by and large he has been airbrushed from history. Ostensibly this is – on the rare occasions it is explained – due to his unfortunate and entirely bogus claims, beginning in 1964, to be the (long-dead) Tsarevich Alexei Romanoff, only son of Tsar Nicholas and thus heir to the Russian Imperial Throne.

Some years ago I began researching Goleniewski’s remarkable story; I wanted to discover what drove an extraordinarily brave and devastatingly effective spy for the West to become a deranged Romanoff pretender. The result is my book, The Spy Who Was Left Out in the Cold, published today by Transworld/Penguin[1].

It proved to be surprisingly difficult to prise information out of the governments who had benefitted from his genuinely courageous efforts. After some Freedom of Information Act prompting, the CIA released a portion of its files; these led to other documents it had de-classified which yielded rather more (and more disturbing) records of the way the Agency handled its former star defector. These showed that it reneged on its commitments, starved him of money and plainly began harassing and discrediting him.


Unlike the CIA, MI5 is specifically insulated from Freedom of Information Act requests. Although a substantial number of its reports on Goleniewski’s information can be found in other historic de-classified files on the successful Security Service espionage cases which followed, today’s occupants of Thames House were regretfully unwilling to disclose anything further.


I wrote to MI5’s archivist asking whether it still held a file on Michał Goleniewski. To its very real credit, the Security Service responded (it is under no legal obligation to do so). It confirmed that a file on Goleniewski sits in its registry, but that “after careful consideration, we have concluded that we are unable to release it to TNA [The National Archives], due to the continuing sensitivity of the material contained within it.”


What could this “continuing sensitivity” possibly concern ? Goleniewski defected exactly 60 years ago, and the Soviet Bloc for which he worked collapsed three full decades ago. What information in his MI5 file could be current – let alone “sensitive” today ?


Speculation is generally anathema to the practice of good journalism. But in this case, documents I located in archives across the United States offer signposts to possible explanations. His own, previously unpublished letters, affidavits and detailed complaints show that he warned MI5 about a “middle-ranking” mole in its own midst: a spy, working for the KGB, who was never uncovered in a decade-long blundering internal investigation. Similarly, there is some evidence that he tried to persuade British intelligence to act against Kim Philby, months before Philby’s escape to Moscow.


Added to this, documentary evidence clearly shows that MI5 continued to consult – and pay – Goleniewski for more than a decade after the CIA abruptly severed ties with him on the basis that he had lost his mind. The Security Service was surprisingly untroubled by his entirely fraudulent claims to be Alexei Romanoff.

The continuing western secrecy surrounding the long strange case of Michał Goleniewski is all the more puzzling in the light of the release of his Polish intelligence service files – more than 1,100 pages in total. These dossiers, held at the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw, reveal a much more nuanced, if even more disturbing, picture of the best spy the West ever had – then lost.


It is surely a sorry state of affairs when the records of the communist Polish Intelligence Services are more available than those of our own – especially since Goleniewski was ostensibly a traitor to his homeland but, initially at least, a hero to Britain and the United States.


But unless or until Britain’s deeply unsatisfactory Freedom of Information Act is tightened, MI5’s most peculiar “sensitivity” will continue to keep secret the full story of the debt this country – and its allies – owe to Michał Goleniewski.

[1] A US edition, titled “Agent Sniper” will be published in December by St. Martin’s Press

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I was very honoured to be interviewed for the February 2021 edition of Ivan Wise’s excellent podcast, Better Known.


It’s a great series, focusing attention on six things which should be – as the title says – better known. I hope my suggestions provoke some interest and food for thought.


You can find the podcast here: https://betterknown.co.uk/2021/01/31/tim-tate/

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The true – but hidden – cost of ‘legal’ prostitution in the world’s most famous Red Light District.



In April 2018 I received an e-mail from two young Dutch women.


Anna Hendriks and Olivia Smit[1] were then 32; they had escaped from lengthy periods of sexual slavery in Amsterdam’s Red Light District – Anna had worked in the neon-lit windows for seven years, Olivia for five – and had recently helped bring to justice the vicious pimp who forced them into prostitution, and had kept them there with violence.


Would I, these young women asked, be willing to help them tell their story ?


As a documentary maker and an author I had previously investigated Holland’s legalised prostitution industry. In 2011, my Al Jazeera series on 21st century slavery included a 30-minute film which showed that, contrary to claims that this ‘liberalisation’ helped women by ‘enabling’ them to sell their bodies willingly and safely, legalisation had, in fact, caused a significant increase in international sex trafficking of brutalised sexual slaves by organized crime gangs. (You can view the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmMhDRJt0ek)


Two years earlier I had helped a British woman, Sarah Forsyth, tell her story of being tricked and trafficked from the north-east of England to Holland’s Red Light Districts. The resulting book, Slave Girl, has sold more than 700,000 copies worldwide.


And yet, when I opened the email from Anna and Olivia I was initially hesitant. Not because their stories seemed improbable – they were all too horribly familiar from my previous work – nor because there was no hard evidence to support them: on the contrary, the women provided me with copies of police reports and court judgments which unequivocally bore out their account. So why the reluctance ?


Both the Al Jazeera film and the Slave Girl book had provoked a backlash from pro-prostitution supporters or campaigners. Sometimes this turned personal and very, very nasty: Sarah Forsyth was accused of inventing her entire story (despite the fact – reported in the book – that her pimp was convicted in a British court of trafficking her), and I was denounced for helping her write it.


But meeting and interviewing Anna and Olivia, and carefully studying their documentary evidence, convinced me that their story was simply too important not to tell. As they quietly and with great dignity stressed, if two young middle-class girls from ordinary families can so easily be sucked in to the industrialised conveyor belt of paid-for sex and forced by violence to sell themselves in the world’s shop window of legalized prostitution without anyone intervening, the same could – and does – happen to anyone. As Anna and Olivia put it:


No child dreams of this life. No little girl grows up with the hope of one day renting her body to dozens of men, night in, night out, allowing them to penetrate her, careless of the damage they cause. Yet for thousands – tens of thousands – of women this is what happens. Six nights a week, we were two of them.

Once upon a time we were not really any different from most of you. Or your children. Or a young girl you know. We were not sexually exploited by our families or anyone in authority over us; nor were we drug addicts, driven to sell our bodies for the price of a fix. And yet at the age of 16 we were groomed and then forced into the commercial sex trade.  

When – at last – we escaped we were as different from you as it is possible to be. Sex work leaves an indelible mark on those who undertake it. Over the course of our years behind the windows what we experienced, what we endured and what we saw, changed us so fundamentally that compared to you we sometimes feel like aliens from another galaxy.



I am privileged to have been trusted by Anna and Olivia to write Body For Rent.   If it wasn’t an easy story to tell – and if it is profoundly shocking to read – that only re-enforces the years of pain, fear and abuse which these two brave young women endured for long long.


I am also very grateful to my indefatigable agent, Andrew Lownie, and to Orion Books. Both saw the importance of Anna and Olivia’s harrowing story. I hope you, as readers, find it as deeply affecting as we all do. And I hope that by telling it, the book gives pause for thought to the millions who travel to Amsterdam each year, and who view the Red Light District as harmless “fun” or “entertainment”.


It is not. It is a vastly-lucrative prison which makes fortunes for those who run it and who are willing to exploit the women held captive behind the glass windows.  Anna and Olivia were two of them. All they ask is that you listen.


[1] Because of the stigma attached to prostitution – even when it is forced – ‘Anna’ and ‘Olivia’ are pseudonyms to protect the women’s identities.

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