Met's Sun phone records grab wasn't 'last resort' - it was the first thing they did, lawyer reveals

Tom Newton Dunn.JPG

Accessing the phone records of The Sun was “the very first thing” the Metropolitan Police did in its investigation into Plebgate, a lawyer for the paper has revealed.

Gavin Millar QC claims the Met accessed political editor Tom Newton Dunn’s (pictured) phone records under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in December 2012, when it began its inquiry, and interviewed the journalist for the first time in March 2013.

Millar told a National Union of Journalists conference yesterday: “The police did not ask Tom Newton Dunn to identify his source and hand over materials before they moved to get his phone records.

"He was not interviewed until March 2013. They accessed them in December 2012, right at the beginning of the investigation. It was the very first thing they did.

“And that’s a measure of how they regard these powers and who they disregard the need for the journalist to be the last resort.”

ITN head of compliance John Battle joined Millar in condemning police use of RIPA, describing it as a “wake-up call for journalists”. He said: "The game has changed”.

He told the 'Journalism in the age of mass surveillance' hosted by The Guardian: "What we have grown up on in terms of the concept where we have always thought the application was always to do with film footage or journalistic notes, it is more now to do with data. It is more now to do with what is held on your computer, or telephone records that you have.

“It is also more about not necessarily what you have, what others have which you own – the telecommunications companies, the Cloud, technology companies.

“So in the past we have had control over this information. We can say we are not giving it out… But now that doesn’t really apply. The information is held by third parties, so the game is changing.”

He added: “A certain number of fundamental questions also need to be asked. Firstly, how long has this been going on? How many applications have been made? Who has actually made the decisions? I don’t think all that information has really come to light yet."

He said: “We also have to look outside RIPA. What other legislation do these lack of protections embedded in?”

The Home Office is expected to begin a consultation in the next few weeks on changes to the RIPA code of practice which could offer greater protection to journalists and their sources.

The Press Gazette Save Our Sources petition says that public authorities should need to ask a judge before accessing any journalistic material.

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