Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Special Forces Club

Fighting for survival, the gentleman's club for spies and the SAS

Last updated at 21:53 31 March 2007

Hidden in a quiet London side street with no nameplate on the door is one of Britain's most exclusive and shadowy private clubs.

Membership of the Knightsbridge-based Special Forces Club is strictly limited to Britain's current and former military and intelligence elite.

In debt: The Special Forces Club and, inset, Agent 'Madeleine'
But the establishment's usually quietly conspiratorial atmosphere is now charged with bitter unrest as it faces spiralling debts, falling membership and fears for its survival.
Founded by the Second World War resistance organisers, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), in 1946, the club - motto 'Spirit Of Resistance' - is a second home for ageing secret agents, veterans of the SAS, other special forces, and MI5, MI6 and CIA officers.
Located in an unremarkable Victorian terrace in Herbert Crescent, behind Harrods department store, the club's fine dining room and bar are where the conspirators behind the alleged plot to overthrow Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson met to plan the putsch.
It was here, too, that Britain's most important wartime agent 'Garbo' - who helped mislead the Germans about the location of the D-Day landing -came in from the cold, calling in for tea with his British handlers.
Among the portraits lining the stairs is one of the beautiful Madeleine, SOE spy Noor Inayat Khan, who was sent to Dachau concentration camp and shot.
But the club's existence is now threatened by extraordinary claims, including one that its chairman, ex-Royal Marine and Special Boat Service hero Major 'Ram' Seeger's, election was illegal and allegations of fraud.
The membership is divided over whether the club should take on charity status - a move which would curb its debts but disbar the descendants of SOE war heroes and wealthy private security firms.
Last month Major Seeger wrote to 2,500 members revealing losses running at £8,000 a month and an annual deficit of £138,000. He said: 'The club is depleting its reserves, has unsatisfactory working practices and there are strongly held differing views on the best way forward.
'Once it was realised last year that we were not going to break even, it was clear something much more radical had to be done. An independent auditor examined the financial controls and management system and came up with some fairly damning comments.'
Maj Seeger said the club management had to be restructured 'since without sound management the club has no future'. He revealed the club's management committee had been 'divided with no realistic prospect of agreement' which had led to a series of resignations - and that membership was at 'its lowest level', nearly 900 below what was needed to break even.
Maj Seeger was also forced to dismiss claims of theft and fraud involving staff and that his own election had been illegal. He said an internal audit had 'found no evidence of malfeasance'.
He told The Mail on Sunday: 'All these difficulties can be overcome and we are confident the club will continue to flourish.'

Charlotte Gray's daughter launches operation to save SAS club

Last updated at 21:47 07 April 2007
The daughter of wartime secret agent 'Charlotte Gray' is fighting a battle of her own ... to save a gentlemen's club for spies.
Yvette Pitt is one of a dozen former intelligence agents and elite soldiers attempting to force out the people who run the secretive Special Forces Club.
The Mail on Sunday revealed last week how the exclusive Knightsbridge club - open only to members of military units like the SAS and officers from MI5 and MI6 - was facing bitter unrest over spiralling debts, falling membership and fears for its survival.
Now a Who's Who of Britain's intelligence elite have arranged a special meeting next week calling for a vote of no confidence in its management committee, treasurer and auditors.
The group includes Mrs Pitt, whose late mother Yvonne Cormeau's heroics with the French Resistance inspired the Cate Blanchett film about women radio operators parachuted into Occupied Europe in the Second World War.

Much-decorated Mme Cormeau, codenamed 'Annette', was dropped into France in August 1943 and arranged 140 arms and supply drops to resistance fighters in the south-west of the country before and after D-Day.
Also involved are Scotland Yard terrorism expert Martin Gillvray, Mark Baillie, an Islamic terrorism expert, and Lindsay Jenkins, a former senior official at the MoD.
Other signatories include Anthony Suttill, who has links to the wartime code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park, Steve Weiss, a Special Operations Executive agent who led wartime resistance operations in Provence, and Judith Hiller, formerly of the British Diplomatic Spouses' Association.
The latest moves come after allegations of fraud and mismanagement over losses of more than £90,000 over the past two years which threaten the club's continued existence.
None of the group behind the emergency meeting would discuss the club's problems.
But one long-standing member who backs the protesters said: "Members are on notice that they will be expelled from the club if they 'go outside' or continue to agitate for more efficient management.
"I don't think you'll find anyone who is willing to talk about this, as that is not the culture of Special Forces.
"Expulsions have happened before and they really don't need any grounds at all under the club rules."
The agenda for the meeting includes discussion of 'extraordinary losses and unexplained disappearance of funds' and 'unauthorised expenditure'.
The club's latest accounts show a further £46,477 loss and the club's investments are now worth just £25,000 - less than it paid for them.
The members are also questioning why the club management spent more than £41,000 on accounting and legal fees, and nearly £12,000 on 'meeting expenses'.
The emergency vote was announced by SFC chairman Major 'Ram' Seeger, in a letter to members which said: "Once again we've ended the year with a deficit and this is much regretted ...
"There was a delay in the signing off of our accounts by the auditors because of allegations by some of our members. However, an independent audit and a second visit by the auditors showed nothing untoward."