ICO releases names of 115 journalists who used convicted private eye - including Rebekah Brooks

The Information Commissioner’s Office  has released the names of 115 journalists who paid a private detective for information.

Although the detective, Steve Whittamore, was convicted of illegally obtaining secret information, the released table of names does not say whether the journalists bought information which was legally, or illegally, acquired.

The mere fact that a journalist appears on Whittamore’s list of customers does not mean the information they bought from him was illegally found.

The most high profile name on the list is Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) the chief executive of News UK. The list dates from 2003 when Brooks was editor of The Sun.

The ICO published the names of publications which used Whittamore.

But it fought against a legal bid to force it to release the names of individual journalists who used the detective.

Last month the Upper Tribunal at the Royal Courts of Justice rejected an appeal by the ICO which sought to overturn a lower tribiunal decision ordering it to release the names.

Christopher Collenso-Dunne first sought the names of the journalists via a Freedom of Information Act request to the ICO in 2011.

The ICO argued that the names were “sensitive personal data”.

According to the first tribunal judgment, the list of journalists which must be released comprises “those instances where there was at least a question mark over the legality of the transaction (but not an allegation of criminality as such)”.

The tribunal said: “Having carefully examined the information.. we have concluded that it does not constitute information as to the commission or alleged commission of any offence by any of the journalist identified in it.

“It does contain evidence that the investigator engaged by the journalist committed, or contemplated committing, criminal activity. And, self-evidently, it discloses that the investigator received some form of instruction from the journalist.

“But there is no suggestion…that the journalist had instructed the investigator to use unlawful methods or that he or she had turned a blind eye to their adoption or, indeed, whether he or she had in fact expressly forbidden the investigator from doing anything that was not strictly legal.”

Whittamore’s services included finding ex-directory telephone numbers and finding addresses from mobile telephone numbers and vehicle registration plates.

He also accessed telephone bills and BT "friends and family" telephone number lists. Whittamore’s methods included ‘blagging’ – using deception to obtain information over the telephone.”

The names were released to Collenso Dunne yesterday and have since appeared here on the Information Rights and Wrongs blog.

News UK said in a statement: "All the issues around Operation Motorman have been thoroughly investigated by the police, the Information Commissioner’s Office, parliament and the Leveson inquiry. The Information Commissioner himself stated in a 2010 decision notice that ‘not all the journalists whose names are held were necessarily involved in unlawful activity’. At News UK, the use of search agents or private investigators is tightly monitored and regulated."

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