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   Inside Out - South: Friday January 19, 2007
Exclusive story
Buster Crabb c/o Getty Images
"Our heroes were our heroes, and we couldn't have a war hero defecting."
Sidney Knowles.
Buster Crabb - hero to many or double agent?

Buster Crabb - the 'spy' from the Cold War?

Inside Out follows the remarkable story of war hero Buster Crabb who disappeared in strange circumstances in 1956.

It's one of the great unsolved Cold War mysteries.

We bring to light new evidence which suggests that Crabb did not die accidentally in the cold waters of Portsmouth Harbour - as the government claimed.

Crabb's former diving partner, Sydney Knowles, has given his first televised interview to Inside Out.

And he suggests that Crabb may have been murdered on the orders of British intelligence.

Headless frogman

A year after Crabb's disappearance in 1956, the headless remains of a frogman was found on the South coast of England.

Sydney Knowles identified the body as Crabb's - but told Inside Out he only did so under pressure:

"Crabb had a specific scar on his leg - which he'd got diving near barbed wire. That body didn't have one."

Sydney Knowles
Sydney Knowles sheds new light on Crabb's disappearance

Sydney Knowles first met Commander Crabb in Gibraltar midway through the Second World War and became his diving partner or "buddy".

Crabb won the George Medal for his role in removing mines from British ships.

"I loved that man," says Sydney affectionately, "the whole navy loved him."

Cold war

After the war, Crabb returned to civilian life and was revered as a war hero.

Buster Crabb

Born Lionel Crabb in 1909 in London. Joined the merchant navy in his youth.

During World War II he became an army gunner. Joined the Royal Navy in 1941.

In 1942 Crabb was sent to Gibraltar where he worked in a mine and bomb disposal unit. Received a George Medal for his work and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.

Became Principal Diving Officer for Northern Italy in 1943 where his job was removing mines in the ports of Venice and Livorno.

Acquired the nickname "Buster" after Hollywood actor and swimmer Buster Crabbe.

After the war worked in Palestine with an underwater explosives disposal team.

Demobilised in 1947 but returned to work for the Royal Navy including investigating sunken submarines.

In 1955 Crabb investigated the Soviet ship Sverdlov with frogman Sydney Knowles.

Disappeared in 1956 on a MI6 mission to investigate the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze. The body of a headless frogman was later found off Pilsey Island. Crabb's ex-wife and girlfriend couldn't identify the body. An open verdict was returned by the inquest.

However, there was still the odd diving job.

In 1955 Sydney accompanied Crabb on a secret mission to spy on the Russian warship Sverdlov on
its visit to Portsmouth.

But, according to Sydney, Crabb was finding it hard to find a job.

"He was very bitter," says Sidney.

He was also mixing with a pro-Soviet group of people - and they dragged Sydney along to parties attended by the likes of double agent Anthony Blunt.

"It's either suicide or bloody Russia," Crabb told Sidney.

Afraid Crabb was thinking of defecting, Sydney alerted MI5.

He also refused to dive with Crabb on a second Russian ship, the Ordzhonokidze - which had also come into Portsmouth Harbour.

But he believes Crabb didn't dive alone on his last fatal mission:

"He told me they'd given him a buddy diver."

This was the dive from which Crabb never returned.

Sydney believes Crabb was murdered:

"Our heroes were our heroes, and we couldn't have a war hero defecting."

Crabb theories

Over the years there have been many theories about Crabb's disappearance including:

* Crabb was a double agent involved in espionage and he had been killed by a secret Soviet underwater weapon.

* He was captured and brainwashed to work for the Soviet Union so he could train their frogman teams.

* Crabb defected and joined the Soviet Navy under the name Lev Lvovich Korablov.

* MI6 asked Crabb to defect so he could become a double agent.

* He was murdered by MI5 - Crabb was known by MI5 to have been thinking of defecting to the USSR. As a result MI5 created the mission to the Ordzhonikidze so it could murder Crabb and cover up his death.

Secret papers

All the official papers on Crabb's death were to be kept secret - at first for the usual 30 years, which was then extended to 100 years.

Buster Crabb
Crabb - war hero, diver and Cold War spy?

In 2006, BBC South managed to use the Freedom of Information Act to get hold of the official report into Crabb's last mission - which made it clear the intelligence services had been told not to investigate the Russian ships.

Now Inside Out has been able to review more papers on the case - which show how the inquest into Crabb's death was orchestrated by intelligence services.

Furthermore they indicate that there were other divers investigating the Ordzhonkidze while she was in Portsmouth harbour.

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