The British have finally come clean regarding the ‘Spy scandal that rocked Russia’.

In January 2006 Russian television ran a report showing how a plastic fake rock containing electronic equipment had been used by British diplomats to receive and transmit information.

The Russians had alleged that officials from the UK embassy in Moscow were seen downloading classified data from a transmitter hidden in the fake rock, onto their palm-top computers.

The television report included hidden camera footage of a man slowing down as he passed by the rock, looking down at it and then quickly walking away; another man walked by and picked it up.

At the time British officials denied any wrongdoing. Our Ambassador in Moscow was dismissive of the claims and prominent defector Oleg Gordievsky called it “a KGB stunt” . However, Jonathan Powell, who was Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff at the time of the incident has recently admitted that “they had us bang to rights”.

The grey plastic rock, about the size of a rugby ball had a flat bottom containing a cavity large enough for a transmitter and other electronic gizmos to be hidden inside.

President Vladimir Putin’s government linked the ‘rock’ incident to allegations that British security services were secretly funding pro-democracy groups. Russia soon introduced a law banning NGOs from receiving foreign payments.

The BBC documentary series, Putin, Russia and the West, begins tonight on BBC Two.