Row over question that was lost in translation

Picture: Malcolm Wells

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A Portsmouth councillor who staged a walkout when a question he asked went unanswered had originally submitted it in Russian, it has emerged.

The question from Cllr Steve Wemyss, leader of the Tories on Portsmouth City Council, related to spy allegations surrounding Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock's parliamentary assistant, Katia Zatuliveter, who was arrested on suspicion of being an agent for Moscow.

As reported in The News yesterday, council officials ruled that the query, which asked whether the security of Portsmouth's port or the Royal Navy had been compromised by Mr Hancock's Russian links, had been submitted too late to be answered at the meeting. The Tories then walked out in protest.

It has since emerged that Cllr Wemyss submitted an almost identical query three weeks earlier, which would have been in time to be considered at the meeting.

But in an apparent dig at Mr Hancock, who is a Lib Dem city councillor as well as an MP, he had written it in Russian.

He sent an e-mail dated October 1, converted from English on a website. But it was translated so badly the council could not decipher it clearly enough for it to be admitted.

It said: 'The executive adviser for (untranslatable), regenerations and progresses has the responsibility for decisions influencing on port. What (untranslatable) the holder of a portfolio can give that it did any decisions the poor person have compromised security of port with its informed association with (untranslateable) imaginary officer KGB?' He added, in English: 'This is not encrypted, it is in Russian.'

The version of the question he later submitted in English was the same query, with an added reference to Ms Zatuliveter.

Cllr Hancock said: 'It's amazing that he wrote this question, had it rejected and didn't return it in English until after the deadline for the December meeting.

'If he's interested in security he could have asked, in English, as soon as it was rejected for its terrible Russian.' But Cllr Wemyss said: 'I don't regret it. The question was different. We're supposed to put questions like this at council and I'm very unhappy it wasn't considered.'