How a Sussex manor house became a country club for Russian spies

At first glance, Seacox Heath, an imposing 19th-century Gothic castle with its turrets, chiselled balconies, tennis courts and terraced lawns, doesn’t seem the likeliest secret base for Russian espionage operations.

Sitting in the sleepy countryside near Hawkhurst, Sussex, the grade-II listed 50-room mansion looks more like a country house for an eccentric tycoon. But in fact, since 1947 it has been used by Russian diplomats and their associates as a weekend retreat.

Since the Second World War, KGB and now FSB officers based at Seacox Heath have enjoyed diplomatic immunity from police prosecution. But last week, that special status was removed by the Home Office, which accused the Kremlin of using the castle and its 30 acres of grounds to plot espionage operations against Britain. Then, a military intelligence officer, Colonel Maxim Elovik, was expelled for undeclared spying activities.

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