It is a tiny village in the Yorkshire dales, an area of beautiful countryside in the north of England, home to just a hundred and fifty lonely rural souls, where nothing of any conceivable interest ever happens. Each week the ladies of the Malham Women's Institute put on their bonnets and gather in the old stone village hall. Here they discuss the niceties of needlework, the foibles of flower-arranging and the mouth-watering quality of their own home-made marmalade.
As far as anyone knows the Malham Women's Institute has never tried to acquire a weapon of mass destruction, finance international terrorism or plot to overthrow the state. They just visit the village hall every week, rain or shine, have a cup of tea together and talk about making jam. It is a quaint but very dull club.
So why were they being bugged?
The other day a local electrician was called in by Malham Village Hall's management committee. The wiring needed a seasonal check up. So the electrician unscrewed the sockets to make sure everything was in proper working order. It wasn't.
Concealed inside a wall-mounted socket - something like this - was a sophisticated miniature microphone and a tiny transmitter capable of beaming a clear signal half a mile and more. It is the sort of thing James Bond used to have cunningly concealed in his collar stud. The sort of thing you simply cannot buy with the freshly picked produce in Malham village stores.
Even the British police are forbidden to go around planting electronic surveillance equipment, not without a special order from a senior Government Minister. The security services might get away with it, but why should they bother monitoring a dozen tame old ladies in the middle of nowhere?
And if it wasn't the old ladies, then who? Well a local band sometimes uses the same hall for rehearsals, but the quality of their musicianship is ear-shatteringly awful. The sound alone would probably have destroyed the bug.
And when did the bugging begin? At least the secret socket provided one tantalizing clue – a date stamped on the inside: December 2005. Coming up to Christmas last year was the highlight of the Malham Women's Institute social calendar; the judging of the annual jam-making contest, and a coveted silver trophy. Rivalry unsurpassed. A motive at last?
North Yorkshire police are keeping the device under lock and key, and an open mind on the identity of the culprit. He or she is simply known as the Malham Bugger.
by Ed Boyle by Ed Boyle