BBC Panorama last night made extensive revelations about the use of a detective agency by tabloid journalists to obtain information illegally.
And today the BBC came under the spotlight itself as private detective Jonathan Rees of Southern Investigations said he had worked as an inquiry agent for Panorama. The BBC said this morning it can find no evidence that this is true.
Rees was one of three men acquitted on Friday of involvement in the 1987 axe murder of his former business partner Daniel Morgan after the trial collapsed.
In 2000 Rees was convicted of criminal conspiracy to plant cocaine on an innocent person and jailed for seven years.
The BBC was given access to police surveillance tapes which revealed that Rees was employed by the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror to find out details of the bank accounts of Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, and Prince Michael of Kent in 1999.
Former Daily Mirror journalist Gary Jones (now deputy editor of The People) and Doug Kempster (then with the Sunday Mirror) were implicated by the surveillance tapes in using Southern Investigations.
According to the Met Police – as quoted by Panorama: ‘Southern Investigations was involved in corruption using serving ex-police officers to access sensitive intelligence for the purpose of progressing crime and selling information to the press.”
Panorama reported that the News of the World paid Southern Investigations tens of thousands before 2000 – and said that it continued using Rees after his release from prison in 2006.
Documents seen by Panorama indicate that the News of the World used Rees to pay for stories from the police about the murder of Jill Dando and as part of an investigation into the Stakeknife affair. Stakeknife was the codename of a British spy who infiltrated the top level of the Provisional IRA.
Panorama showed former British army intelligence agent Ian Hurst a copy of a fax which was apparently sent to the Dublin office of the News of the World in July 2006 containing details of his private emails.
Evidence uncovered by Panorama indicated that an agent working for Southern Investigations on behalf of the News of the World had hacked Hurst’s emails in contravention of the Computer Misuse Act.
Panorama doorstepped former News of the World journalist Alex Marunchak to ask him about the matter. He has denied doing anything illegal.
Following the collapse of the Morgan murder trial on Friday Panorama reporter Vivian White asked Rees about his involvement in accessing people’s bank accounts.
Rees responded: ‘What about the information you’ve gotâ€¦What do you pay to police officers for getting your information?”
White later said in a voice-over: ‘Unlike Jonathan Rees Panorama had not paid any police officers for information.”
But The Sun today quotes Rees’s lawyer saying: ‘Mr Rees has worked as an inquiry agent for Panorama.”
The BBC said in a statement: “Jonathan Rees claims to have worked on a Panorama film in the early 1990s but does not claim to have deployed then the sort of illegal practices exposed by last night’s programme.
“The BBC has searched archives dating back 25 years and can find no record of the programme he describes ever being broadcast. We have not been presented with any evidence by Mr Rees to back his claim and have also been unable to find any record of payments to Mr Rees or his company.”
A spokesman for the Daly Mirror said: “Many years ago some of our journalists used Southern Investigations. They were last used in 1999. Trinity Mirror‘s position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct.”
And here is the News of the World statement in full:
“In common with other newspapers and broadcasters the News of the World receives tip-offs and information from a wide variety of sources. We note for example that Jonathan Rees has confirmed that he worked for the BBC’s Panorama in the past.
“To date, Panorama has provided us with no evidence of wrong doing in relation to the private detectives featured in your programme. Moreover, the Crown Prosecution Service found no evidence that the reporters involved were aware those sources were acquiring material by corrupt means. Unlike some of our critics, the News of the World secures proof of wrongdoing before making serious allegations.
“As demonstrated by recent events, we will not tolerate misconduct by staff and will act decisively when presented with new evidence. The overarching principle is that we work in the public interest, within the PCC’s code of conduct and the law.
“The News of the World has a long history of investigative reporting which has led to over 250 criminal convictions during the last 20 years. We proudly stand by that record and will continue to invest in this vitally important form of journalism.”