The Sunday Times has denied allegations that it commissioned a private investigator to illegally obtain information about politicians over a period of 15 years.
John Ford told the BBC his targets included several leading members of the Labour government elected in 1997, including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and that the list of things he had done during fishing expeditions to get information about them was “endless”.
His methods included “blagging” or pretending to be the victim in phone calls to a bank or utilities provider to obtain personal data.
Ford claims to have been contracted between 1995 and 2010 by The Sunday Times, which denied commissioning Ford or any other individual to act illegally.
A spokesperson for the newspaper said: “The Sunday Times has a strong record of investigative journalism over decades and has employed many contributors and researchers to work on stories, or parts of stories.
“The paper strongly rejects the accusation that it has in the past retained or commissioned any individual to act illegally.
“Some allegations related to the research work of John Ford have been aired previously and we cannot comment on the specifics of these new allegations which all predate 2011.”
Ford told the BBC’s Amol Rajan that he was prepared for whatever legal repercussions would now come his way because “what I want is my conscience to be clear”.
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who believes he was one of Ford’s victims, told the Today programme he is taking legal advice over the allegations.
Blagging is defined as knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data or information without the consent of the data controller in the Data Protection Act 1998.
The law carries a defence if the obtaining, disclosing or procuring of personal data can be justified as being in the public interest.