The home of Information Commissioner whistleblower Alec Owens – who believes official figures on the extent of blagging by journalists were ‘grossly understated’– was raided by police 12 days before he was due to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
A report in The Independent said that Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, wrote to the Chief Constable of Cheshire Police, David Whatton, asking for a search to be carried out on Owens’ home in a move described by a Labour MP as a “total misuse of resources and power”.
Owens led the ICO’s Operation Motorman investigation into the activities of private investigator Steve Whittamore, who supplied a ‘treasure trove’of legal and illegal personal information to journalists.
When he appeared before the Levson Inquiry on 30 November, Owens, the ICO’s senior investigating officer between 1999-2005, claimed Whittamore’s notebooks showed17,000 requests were made by journalists – not 3757, the official figure quoted by the ICO.
He claimed that the ICO focused its investigation on the ‘bottom of the pyramid’and that he was discouraged from going after journalists.
According to The Independent, when police raided Owens’ home they ‘took a computer file detailing 17,000 transactions made between the private detective Steve Whittamore and reporters working for national newspapers, magazines and television companies”.
However, the paper has since learned that Cheshire Police has told Owens it will be taking no further action against him and that it had acted on a complaint by Graham.
Labour MP Paul Farrelly, a member of the House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, told the paper:
The knock on the door from police can only be interpreted as a counter-productive, cack-handed attempt to put the frighteners on before testimony in the public interest to the Leveson inquiry … Given [the committee’s] unsatisfactory experience with the ICO, nothing, frankly, would surprise me, but using the police in this way is a total misuse of resources and power.
According to The Independent, the ICO ‘said it stood by its actions and that it referred the matter to Cheshire Police because ‘it would not be appropriate for us to investigate a former member of staff'”.