- Journalists were from Mirror, News of the World and Mail on Sunday
- They thought police records were from ‘Court Records Office’
- No evidence they knew source of the information
Seven journalists from papers including the Daily Mirror and the News of the World were questioned as part of an investigation into allegations of police corruption in 2004, the Leveson Inquiry was told today.
The journalists were not arrested but were interviewed over the purchase of information which was from the Police National Computer (PNC), said Detective Chief Inspector Brendan Gilmour.
Operation Glade, which started in August 2003, stemmed from a Devon and Cornwall Police investigation into police corruption, code-named Operation Reproof, which linked to Operation Motorman, an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office into the activities of private investigators selling information to the press.
Investigators found a paper trail showing that a Metropolitan Police civilian employee, Paul Marshall, was conducting checks on the PNC and passing them on to ex-police officer Alan King, Gilmour told the inquiry.
The information was passed to private detectives Steve Whittamore and John Boyall who were selling them to national newspaper journalists.
A search of Whittamore’s office disclosed a huge cache of documents revealing a network of police and public employees selling personal information obtained from government computer systems, which was then sold on to journalists from various newspapers, mr Gilmour said.
“Whittamore kept very detailed ledgers of his business, and he had invoices in there going out to the various newspapers and named invoices within these newspapers. And that’s where the seven names came from,” he said.
The prospect of investigating journalists did not present any fear, although police did realise the “significance of what we were doing”, he went on.
‘Court Records Office’
In January 2004 the decision was taken to question seven journalists but not to arrest them, which was not necessary as he had managed to arrange for them to attend by invitation, Gilmour said.
Between January 19 and 31 of that year two freelance journalists, a journalist with the News of the World, one from the News of the World Scotland, one from the Daily Mirror, one from the Sunday Mirror and one from the Mail on Sunday were interviewed.
Gilmour said they were asked about Whittamore’s invoices which often showed CRO (Criminal Records Office) and were often checks about previous convictions.
But during interviews the journalists said they thought the checks were legitimate court checks and that CRO stood for “Court Records Office”.
Gilmour said: “We put it to them that they couldn’t possibly accept or assume that that information would get turned around so quickly, I think a matter of hours in some cases.
“I think without exception, from memory, they all said that that is genuinely where they thought it was from, regardless of our suspicions.”
But they all “stuck with that line” and said they would not have used Whittamore had they known the information was being accessed or obtained illegally, Gilmour said.
When asked specifically about information on people’s previous convictions, the journalists “pleaded ignorance”, he said, adding: “They just said they wouldn’t have used Whittamore if they had known it was being obtained illegally.
“I did take the view, as I said earlier, it was put to journalists then that the speed with which the checks were being turned around would suggest they weren’t being obtained through courts or court records.
“But that said, we couldn’t establish guilty knowledge on the part of the journalists as to where the information was coming from.”
Lack of evidence
The inquiry heard that on March 6 2004 the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the journalists.
Marshall and King pleaded guilty to a charge of misconduct in a public office, while Boyall and Whittamore admitted obtaining personal information contrary to the Data Protection Act 1998.
All four were given conditional discharges in April 2005.
Gilmour said in a written statement that the sentences were a “disappointment” to police and the CPS and were “viewed as being unduly lenient”.
He said while it was accepted that the journalists had indirectly caused the information to be unlawfully accessed, the investigation could not find evidence that they knew the source of the information.
Gilmour said the allegation in the case was very specific, directed at a single employee using the PNC for unlawful purposes.
He added: “In 2003, the concept of the national newspapers routinely using police employees to source sensitive information was still relatively unknown.
“On that basis, I believe the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) response was appropriate.
“I have no doubt that if a similar allegation were to be made now the investigative approach would be significantly different.”
The inquiry also heard from temporary Assistant Chief Constable Russ Middleton about Devon and Cornwall Police’s corruption probe Operation Reproof – one of many inquiries carried out during the last decade into the suspected corruption of public officials.
Middleton said the investigation, which began in 2002, was launched after a man attended a public meeting in Plymouth with a list of criminal convictions relating to someone bidding for a building development in the city.
Officers began investigating the source of the man’s information.
They discovered a network of information being passed on by a retired policeman at the Department for Work and Pensions as well as an officer accessing information from the police national computer.
The information given to private investigators who then traded it on to others including national and international companies such as insurance firms and lawyers.
The information was presented in report form with no clue about how it was obtained.