The Sunday Mirror has dismissed claims it used anti-surveillance measures to secure an interview with Suffolk Strangler suspect Tom Stephens.
Retired criminal investigator Dave Harrison told the Leveson Inquiry yesterday that colleagues in his Serious Organised Crime Agency surveillance team had witnessed Stephens ‘being picked up and driven around by a team that carried out anti-surveillance manoeuvres”.
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Harrison alleged Stephens was then dropped off at a hotel to be interviewed.
An interview with Stephens, who was cleared of any involvement in the murder of the Ipswich women following the arrest of killer Steve Wright, appeared in the Sunday Mirror on 17 December 2006. He was arrested the following day.
Today Sunday Mirror crime reporter Justin Penrose explained how Stephens was interviewed by another Sunday Mirror reporter, Michael Duffy, at a car park near his Suffolk home – not at a hotel as Harrison claimed.
The paper approached him for an interview after he was identified in a local newspaper as ‘someone who associated with prostitutes”, said Penrose. He was then traced through the electoral role and agreed to an interview.
Penrose said he was not aware if anyone involved in obtaining the interview was a private investigator. Asked if anyone involved had links to the special forces – a claim made about a News of the World surveillance team by Harrison yesterday – he replied: ‘It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Counsel to the inquiry David Barr then asked Penrose whether counter-surveillance techniques were used in getting Stephens to the car park. ‘I’m sorry if I appear flippant, but I almost laughed out loud when I heard that quote,’he said.
Trinity Mirror‘s counsel Desmond Browne QC said the sequence of dates alluded to by Harrison yesterday also exposed holes in his story.
‘The [Stephens] article was published the day before the first briefing and two or three days before the second, which was said to have raised the question of the so-called Sunday Mirror surveillance team
‘In fact, what one sees from this article is firstly that there was no team, no special inquiry agent, no special forces, as was put…”
Lord Justice Leveson then interrupted Browne saying: ‘Well you don’t necessarily see that from the article because it wouldn’t necessarily be admitted in the article if it was true.”
Browne replied: ‘What one sees from the article is in accordance with the evidence of Mr Justin Penrose, who was part of the team in Ipswich – that in fact the interview did not take place in a hotel but in fact in a pub car park and lasted over two hours… It doesn’t look as though the police were surveying Mr Stephens at the time.”