Sunday, November 25, 2007

Umbrella Murder 25th November 07

I understand there's a programme about this subject on the Discovery channel tonight. Unfortunately I don't have Sky but I think it's probably a repeat of the Channel 5 documentary. As I've said before, if you find my blog and you'd like to post a comment, I'd be very pleased to hear from you.

Saturday, October 06, 2007


I'm not adding any postings to this blog, but it's open in case anyone's interested in the subject or can throw more light on it. If you leave a comment and email address, I will respond. Your email address will not be published on the blog.

I had a meeting with Jack Hamilton last year in London. He was utterly charming, and interested in what I had to say, but I've now pretty much given up any idea of getting in touch with the authors or anyone else involved in the book publication.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Umbrella: murder weapon or not?

This blog is about a book that I was involved in publishing, which was subsequently suppressed due to its sensitive content. On Wednesday 17th May, there was a documentary on Channel 5 at 8.00pm, and I published this blog to coincide with it. Please scroll down and read my first posting for background to the story.

Georgi Markov was assassinated in 1978. Until that point, most of the world was unaware of his existence, yet, 28 years later, his murder is still widely remembered because of the James Bondish nature of his death. You only have to Google "umbrella murder" to know that. Even Prince Charles made reference to it in a letter to Jessica Douglas-Home, following his attack on Ceausescu:

"...Anyway I hope what I said helps to stir up the debate and raise some people's awareness. I also hope you receive this before some frightful undercover agent stabs me in the left buttock with a poisoned umbrella!"
From "The Prince of Wales, A Biography" by Jonathan Dimbleby.

It was an incredible story. Markov was
shot by a pellet containing ricin, one of the world's most deadly poisons, from the tip of an umbrella. Or was he?

Markov reported that he felt a small sting, like a wasp bite, as he stood at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge. A man behind him apologised as he bent down to pick up his dropped umbrella. At the time Markov thought no more of it. The man left the bus stop and got into a waiting taxi.

The story of the umbrella gun grew from this recollection, yet there is no real evidence that the pellet was shot from an umbrella. It's a supposition, fueled by reports that the KGB had been developing an umbrella with a compressed air device. What is generally not known is that it wasn't found to be powerful enough to fire a pellet through clothing and into flesh deep enough to deliver a lethal dose of ricin.

Ten days prior to Markov being shot, another Bulgarian dissident, Vladimir Kostov, was shot by a ricin pellet in Paris. He saw the assailant and there was no sign of an umbrella. He survived because the sugar coating on the pellet had partially been removed as it penetrated his thicker clothing, thereby delivering a smaller dose of poison.

There had been a previous attempt on Markov's life. Whilst he was on holiday in Sardinia, there had been a plan to administer poison by mixing it in a drink or into some suncream. Markov was warned and the plan failed.

Following the blanket of secrecy following Markov's death, the only news to leak out was his own account of the events, as related by his wife. The international press loved it and even in Bulgaria there were pictures of the inner workings of the umbrella gun in their newspapers. The sensational assassination was a strong message to other Bulgarians to think twice about defecting. (Bulgarian visitors to the west were forced to endure downpours of rain rather than risk carrying an umbrella.)

So why was this myth perpetuated and never corrected? Thereby hangs a long tale, painstakingly researched by two Bulgarian journalists. Their book was published in 1994 but suppressed before it could be sold. It contains information which was not revealed in the recent documentary. To my knowledge the book is being sold by Amazon and other distributors illegally on the internet. I don't know who has released the books and I am not receiving a penny of the money due to me. If anyone has any information about this, I would like to hear from them. It is yet another mystery surrounding the whole story.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Umbrella Assassin: Revealed

Many of those in the UK who have followed the Umbrella Murder - the story of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident who was allegedly murdered by a poison-tipped umbrella in 1978 - will have watched the Channel 5 documentary last night with interest.

I thought it was well-presented, compelling, and authoritative.
Jack Hamilton has been unearthing the truth about Markov's murder since he went to Sofia after the political reforms of 1989. The director, Mark Radice, told the story well, with some lovely camera work and haunting music. Inevitably there were a lot of still photographs, but clever editing and digital effects ensured movement and flow that carried the story along.

Jack had obviously covered much of the same ground as the Bulgarian journalists who wrote The Umbrella Murder, doggedly tracking down snippets of information and chasing up leads. Much of his material is corroborated by Bereanu and Todorov. Originally they published their findings in Bulgaria in 1991, which they did at some risk to themselves, but they wanted to tell their story in the UK, and that's where we came into the picture.

The story of Georgi Markov's assassination has attracted an unprecedented amount of interest and speculation around the world – a story that has been unfolding since 1978 and shows no sign of losing its fascination. It is surrounded by mystique, with the flavour of a James Bond novel. There is a reason why this blog's eponymous subject was suppressed. It revealed theories and facts that are politically sensitive. I am not at liberty to reveal them all here in this blog, but I will present one or two surprising deviations to the story told on television last night.

David Shayler: snippets from Shaylergate 2000

The Umbrella Murder – and hints at how it was suppressed – was mentioned by Gordon Logan with reference to David Shayler's web site in March 2000:

Lastly, visitors to Shaylergate might like to know that Jane Tienne, the Cambridge lady who was, in her own words 'ruined' after trying to publish a book that merely suggested MI6 involvement in the Markov murder, is now incommunicado. I spoke to her twice. The first time she was animated and spoke freely. The second time, she was frightened. I passed her phone number to a few interested parties, so that they could hear the state that the security services had reduced her to. She was telephoned by some journalists wishing to get hold of a copy of the suppressed book, she refused, and her phone is now dead.

And again in May 2000:

David Connett of the Express is still sitting on the Markov material, apparently trying to get hold of a copy of the book on the Markov murder that MI6 tricked Mrs Markov into taking legal action against to have withdrawn – at a cost of 26,000 quid. The publisher of the book, Jane Tienne of Cambridge, is sitting on 20,000 copies of the book, and is so frightened that she is now incommunicado, except of course, to her relatives and the minders that MI5 have provided to console her in the poverty that they have inflicted on her, and of course to ensure that she doesn’t step out of line again, which is more to the point.

Without wanting to sound paranoid, you can imagine that I found these snippets quite worrying.
I contacted Martin Bright after reading this by Gordon Logan:

In Britain, the Home Affairs correspondent of the Observer, Martin Bright, whom I met in December, has told me twice that he was going to publish a substantial article on the Markov murder - once in January and once in March - on both occasions he was pre-empted by Whitehall, which dumped stories on him, thus displacing Markov.

Martin came to see me in early 2003 and he was very interested in what I had to say. He never published that story either.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ricin, the poison used to murder Markov

Here are some facts about ricin, the poison used to assassinate Markov. The fascinating, and rather beautiful, image on the book jacket is the ricin molecule. Here is a small excerpt from the book:

A lethal dose of ricin "is about one microgram: difficult to put into lay terms, it is about a thousandth of a tiny pinch of salt per kilo of body weight. For a man who weighs about 70 kilos, the tiniest pinch could be a lethal dose.

According to the experts from Porton Down, it takes 70 times as much cyanide to kill a man. An ounce of ricin could kill 90,000 people. Furthermore, because the symptoms take a long time to develop, the murdererer can be far away before suspicions are aroused."

However, there is always balance in nature. This incredibly destructive poison is also a potential life-giver. Ricin is a common component of immuno-toxins targeted against tumour cells or in the treatment of graft versus host disease.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Umbrella Assassination: Introduction

This is the story of a book that was published but never sold, a tale of broken dreams, destroyed relationships and intimidation. It's about two ordinary women who risked publishing a book that delved into the secrets behind an open murder case. The murder of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident. Only days after the book was launched with some notable international reviews, it was suppressed.

Now that Channel 5 is broadcasting a documentary next Wednesday and the story is out, I am breaking my twelve year silence on the subject. I attempted to contact Jack Hamilton, presenter of the TV programme, when he published a piece in the Times last year, but he never replied.

Since learning that the programme is going out, I have conducted exhaustive searches on the internet to locate journalists interested in the subject, the director of the film, the writers of the original book, the publisher (my former friend and colleague) Jane Tienne, in fact anyone connected with the subject. There isn't much.

What I have discovered is that the original book is being sold on the internet – by Amazon and other distributors. I knew nothing of this. The book, to my knowledge, has been under an injunction since September 1994 and I have never seen a penny for my significant investment in it.

The Umbrella Assassin Revealed UK Channel 5, Wed 17th May at 8.00pm
Journalist Jack Hamilton
Director Mark Radice
Producer, David Dugan
A PBS production: go to website

Synopsis of my story
I first met Jane when I was working in the publications department of a Cambridge publishing company. We lost touch after 1990 and didn't meet again until the spring of 1994.

Jane asked me if I'd like to get involved in a project she was working on. As the story unfolded I became more and more intrigued. She told me how she had recently worked for a publisher when the original manuscript, written by two Bulgarian journalists, had arrived at her desk. Nobody, it seemed, was interested in it, so she decided to contact the authors directly.

Vladimir Bereanu, a TV journalist in Sofia, and Kalin Todorov, a newspaper journalist, had been researching the story for four years. It made fascinating reading. Jane decided to set up her own company and publish the book herself, which was a very courageous, and as it turned out, foolhardy, decision. It appealed enormously to me and I agreed to invest my money and time in return for a percentage of the profits in due course, and so started an intense period of months editing and producing the book, designing the cover and layout and organising print, marketing and the launch.

We enlisted the help of marketing and PR experts, but with a limited budget, the bulk of the work was accomplished by the two of us. The launch date was fixed for September of that year, giving us less than six months to print and promote the book. Recently divorced, and self-employed, I was able to devote most of my time to TUM as we called it. Jane was also divorced and supporting two children. She worked as a freelance TEFL teacher to make ends meet. Even so, she was able to make a couple of trips to Sofia and took a long holiday just prior to the book launch, leaving me to tie up loose ends. Inevitably it put a strain on our friendship.

The book launch took place at the Clink Museum in London and we had reviews in most of the major papers, the European, the NY Times etc. The authors went on a radio road show for three weeks and things were looking good.

Then disaster struck. Jane was served with an injunction and we were forced to recall all the review copies and put the books under wraps. The printers, Pendragon Press near Cambridge, agreed to store them until we had worked out what to do. Jane sought legal advice and was unwilling to discuss her options with either me or our advisors. Things got very ugly between us and we stopped communicating.

I know Jane has suffered great financial hardship and I can only imagine the effect the whole experience has had on her. For my part I lost all my savings and am still recovering from the ME which laid me low for a long time. Periodically I tried to contact Jane over the following years but she was illusive. I kept in touch with the printers to begin with but eventually I had to accept that i would never see a penny of my investment. Effectively we were silenced by forces beyond our control. Suffice to say that I discovered David Shayler's website when he was in exile, and what he had to say about the book, and Jane's situation, made it clear that we had got ourselves into something much bigger than we could possibly have anticipated.

Last year I saw this article in the Times by Jack Hamilton and tried to contact him, but without success. That is a great pity because the forthcoming TV documentary is the result of his research.

I have many unanswered questions. I would like to hear from anyone who can throw some light on what happened to the original books, and who is profiting from their sale on the internet.

I will continue to add to the blog over the next few days. Comments are welcome but I do not guarantee they will be posted.