The Information Commissioner’s Office has confirmed that it has handed over documents from a 2003 investigation into the use of private investigators across Fleet Street to the Met police team investigating press phone-hacking claims.
The ICO’s Operation Motorman investigation into private investigator Steve Whittamore uncovered evidence of the widespread purchasing of private information but no journalist or newspaper was ever prosecuted.
After raiding Whittamore’s home police seized a cache of handwritten records documenting thousands of requests for information from journalists.
Around 4,000 requests were made by 305 journalists from 31 publications across the UK, ranging from national newspapers to consumer magazines.
The list was topped by the Daily Mail with 952 requests from 58 journalists, followed by the Sunday People with 802 requests from 50 journalists.
The list also includes the News of the World, the Sunday Mirror, the Evening Standard, The Observer, The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Times, the Daily Express and the Sunday Express.
A spokesperson for the ICO told Press Gazette that, though it has never been proved in a court of law, the majority of the information ‘could only have been obtained via illegal or illicit means”.
This is an offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act, but there is a public interest defence.
The maximum penalty is a £5,000 fine in magistrates’ court and an unlimited fine at crown court, though the ICO has long campaigned for a custodial sentence to be introduced and believes the case for this will be strengthened by the the phone-hacking revelations surrounding News International.
Earlier this week Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre told MPs that he never “countenanced” hacking or blagging on his newspaper.
He also told the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill that ‘questionable methods can be justified’if there is “a great public interest in revealing wrongdoing”, but added hacking and blagging were ‘criminal charges”.
The Daily Mirror was accused in Parliament of using phone-hacking to land its award-winning scoop revealing Sven-Goran Eriksson’s affair with Ulrika Jonsson in 2003.
In response to this allegation owners Trinity Mirror told Press Gazette earlier this month: ‘Trinity Mirror’s position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct.”
In 2006 the ICO published a report cataloguing the number of requests made to Whittamore.
Here is the list in full (number of transaction positively identified/number of journalists or clients using services):
Daily Mail 952 (58)
Sunday People 802 (50)
Daily Mirror 681 (45)
Mail on Sunday 266 (33)
News of the World 228 (23)
Sunday Mirror 143 (25)
Best Magazine 134 (20)
Evening Standard 130 (1)
The Observer 103 (4)
Daily Sport 62 (4)
The People 37 (19)
Daily Express 36 (7)
Weekend Magazine (Daily Mail) 30 (4)
Sunday Express 29 (8)
The Sun 24 (4)
Closer Magazine 22 (5)
Sunday Sport 15 (1)
Night and Day (Mail on Sunday) 9 (2)
Sunday Business News 8 (1)
Daily Record 7 (2)
Saturday (Express) 7 (1)
Sunday Mirror Magazine 6 (1)
Real Magazine 4 (1)
Woman’s Own 4 (2)
The Sunday Times 4 (1)
Daily Mirror Magazine 3 (2)
Mail in Ireland 3 (1)
Daily Star 2 (4)
The Times 2 (1)
Marie Claire 2 (1)
Personal Magazine 1 (1)
Sunday World 1 (1)