Full details of the phone hacking of murdered school-girl Milly Dowler may never be discovered, the Metropolitan Police Service revealed today.
A witness statement from detective chief inspector John MacDonald, which was read to the Leveson Inquiry today, explained to the court that though there is evidence that the voicemails were hacked, it is unlikely there will be “any further clarity” on the issues.
As a result of incomplete call data provided by the mobile phone company, the Met explained that “a definitive conclusion is not and may never be possible.”
The court heard that Sally Dowler was given a moment of “false hope” on 24 March 2002 when space was freed on her daughter’s mobile phone answering service — the family hoped that Milly was listening to and deleting her messages. MacDonald’s statement explained that Mrs Dowler may have been able access her daughter’s voicemail message box on that day after the mobile phone company automatically deleted voicemails 72 hours after they had been listened to.
MacDonald’s statement added that Mrs Dowler and the Metropolitan Police discussed suspicions that her daughter’s voicemail was being accessed by someone else. The statement explained that Mrs Dowler was reassured that her thoughts were reasonable and possible, given that she was able to leave messages one day, but not the previous day.
The schoolgirl’s voicemail was put into a “preserved state” on 25 March, to prevent any further voicemails being automatically purged. On 26 March, Surrey Police unsuccessfully attempted to record the teenager’s voicemail messages. A message left after this attempt was later “saved”, supporting the theory that someone had accessed Milly’s voicemail and listened to the message.
The statement added: “MPS cannot rule out that someone illegally accessed Milly’s phone on 26 March 2002, however, call data is incomplete,” but the incomplete information meant MPS were “unable to conclusively establish the accuracy of this theory.”
David Sherborne, counsel for the victims, condemned the failure of Surrey Police to investigate phone hacking in 2002, and criticised the MPS’ decision to close hacking investigation and concealment of News of the World, despite uncovering “Aladdin’s cave” of evidence. Sherborne added: “If only Rupert Murdoch had “ripped the place apart” in 2006. But he didn’t.”
Sherborne also read a statement from the Dowler family, in which they thanked DCI John MacDonald and his team for their efforts to get to the bottom of this issue.
The statement added: “If Surrey Police had prosecuted this activity in 2002 then perhaps countless others would have avoided having their messages hacked by News of the World. Police neglect and deference meant it took the relentless efforts of one journalist [Nick Davies – Guardian] to uncover what the police already knew. We continue to have faith that his efforts and the efforts of the inquiry and Operation Weeting will have a lasting positive impact.
Also appearing before the court this morning, DCI Brendan Gilmour from MPS and Operation Glade, described the sensitivities of investigating journalists in the wake of Operation Motorman in 2003 to the court.
Gilmour explained that the MPS discovered that Paul Marshall, a civilian employee, was providing private detectives with information, which eventually ended up in newspapers, from the police national computer.
Gilmour stressed that whilst they were “alive to the sensitivities of investigating journalists” there “wasn’t any fear involved at all” from the MPS.
Seven journalists, identified from the ledgers of private investigator Steve Whittamore, were questioned under caution about how they obtained certain information. Gilmour explained that “quite a few of them said the info was coming from the courts”, and added that all of the journalists said they would not have used Whitammore if they had known the information was being accessed illegally.
In March 2004, the CPS advised that there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the journalists. Gilmour said “I accepted the decisions on the basis that we couldn’t prove guilty knowledge.”
In a relatively short evidence session Russell Middleton, temporary assistant Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police and deputy senior investigating officer on Operation Reproof also appeared at the Inquiry.
Middleton explained to the court that Operation Reproof began as an investigation into blackmail.
He said: “We were open minded as to what we would find”, and added that no evidence suggesting the involvement of a media organisation was found, but journalists were not “out of scope” in this police investigation.
At the start of the day’s hearing, Leveson addressed issues raised by Index on Censorship and other organisations, regarding transparency of the governments status as core participants. He said, that though he respects the organisations, he believed they misunderstood the purposes of redaction.
He added: “Redactions of any sort by the government will be approached in the same way as redactions sought by other core participants.”
Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson
Two media barons took to the stand at the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon as the first day of “proprietors week” continued.
Evgeny Lebedev, proprietor of the Independent and the London Evening Standard stressed the importance of maintaining a free, strong and robust press, describing it as an “element of British democracy which needs to be preserved at any cost”.
He added: “Those who have committed crimes need to be punished. As we’ve seen in recent revelations there’s been an extraordinary abuse of power by the press and I think the outcome of the Inquiry should prevent that from happening again.”
Lebedev also expressed concerns that intense regulation of meetings between proprietors and politicians risks creating a society where elements become feeble. He said: “If the press becomes too feeble, we end up with a tyranny of consensus.”
He added that this kind of scrutiny would “completely change the balance of how things work in Westminster,” and agreed when asked if Lebedev meant that meetings between the press and politicians was “part of the discourse of politics”.
Lebedev explained that both the Evening Standard and the Independent both aimed “to support and champion world class journalism that is ethically sound, in the public interest and an aid to Britain’s democracy”, despite their differing political leanings.
Counsel Carine Patry Hoskins read the court an excerpt from an article published in the New Statesman from July 2011, in which Boris Johnson “gushed” about the oligarch: “I’m proud to call him a friend”. Lebedev told the court “there are varying degrees of friendship, but yes, I would consider him a friend.”
Stressing that he considered himself to be a Londoner, Lebedev added that he and Boris Johnson only discussed topics that “any Londoner would be interested in”.
Lebedev added that as they were operating within “the same sphere of existence” it was important for him to maintain relationships with politicians, including the Mayor of London, and the Prime Minister. He described meeting with Johnson, along with David Cameron, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and explained he would soon be meeting newly-elected MP George Galloway.
Despite his relationship with politicians, and his interest in politics, the proprietor told the court he had never been asked by the Prime Minister to support a particular political party or policy.
In terms of the future of media regulation, Lebedev supported the concept of a statutory underpinning, and said that every part of the industry needed to be involved, and added that “self regulation should not be shrouded in impenetrable jargon”.
Also appearing before the court, Aidan Barclay, chairman of the Daily Telegraph publisher Telegraph Media Group (TMG), described his relationship with politicians.
Accepting that the Telegraph is unapologetically Conservative “with both a small and large C”, Barclay described a “cordial business relationship” with David Cameron.
The court heard how Barclay sent a series of texts to Cameron, congratulating him on the birth of his daughter, and referring to a “daily call” to the paper during the elections.
Barclay described his relationship with Tony Blair as “relaxed and social” and added that despite Blair’s interest in the press, there was never any discussion of topics of an editorial nature.
He added that being in touch with politicians enabled newspapers to do their jobs properly: “It’s very important to me that the Telegraph is involved in everything that goes on. In 2004, when we arrived at the Telegraph, it was in a situation where it never spoke to the Labour party and had fallen out with the Conservative party.”
Barclay also explained that even though the Operation Motorman leak table contained no entries in relation to TMG, the organisation took steps to make sure no journalists had been involved with payment to private investigators.
In terms of regulation, Barclay said it was necessary to strike a balance between “some standards of operations”, but it was important not to destroy the industry through “regulation creep”.
He added: “I’m concerned that we don’t go too far in the proposals, rules and regulations can layer on top of one another”.
Follow Index’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry @IndexLeveson
Cross-posted at Hacked Off
There is an open secret at the Leveson Inquiry. The judge knows it; the lawyers all know it; the witnesses from the press — including the editors — all know it. In fact only one significant party is kept in the dark: the public in whose name the Inquiry acts.
And it’s not a small secret but a huge one, an entire database relating to illegal activity carried out at the behest of journalists working for national newspapers over a number of years. Occasionally it is mentioned in public evidence at the inquiry, almost always in vague and general terms. Yet there is nothing vague about it; it brims with detail.
It names journalists who commissioned thousands of actions which they must or should have known were, on the face of it, illegal. It records dates and payments for these transactions. It identifies the members of the public who were targets of this activity — thousands of them, although only a handful have been told it happened.
This secret has been secret too long, and the prevailing situation at the inquiry, of nudge-nudge-wink-wink exclusive knowledge, cannot be justified legally or morally. The only beneficiaries are journalists who have done wrong and their employers, and a public inquiry into press conduct has no business covering up wrongdoing by journalists.
It is time the Motorman files were made public. They should be redacted to protect the privacy of the victims but otherwise they should be published in their entirety and in a way that clearly shows which journalists commissioned what activities for which newspapers at what prices. Then let journalists and newspapers justify their actions if they can.
What are the Motorman files?
Motorman was an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2003 into the activities of Steve Whittamore, a private investigator who for years ran a lucrative business providing press clients with addresses, phone numbers, car registrations and other information. Some of this information was legally available and some not: there is no legal way of acquiring records from the Police National Computer, the DVLA or BT’s ‘friends and family‘ database.
Though Whittamore and three associates were eventually convicted, no journalist or newspaper was prosecuted. That decision has been challenged and defended many times and the argument is now a barren one. There is no public interest today in prosecuting journalists for commissioning Whittamore and it will not happen; there is, however, a compelling public interest in the fullest possible disclosure of the files.
Yet when Hacked Off asked the Leveson Inquiry and the Information Commissioner’s Office to redact and publish them, they both said no.
In the past, the Information Commissioner has revealed that 305 journalists working for 32 publications generated 17,000 purchase orders with Whittamore in the years up to 2003. Many were innocent but several thousand involved prima facie breaches of the law.
Breaking the Data Protection Act can be justified if it is done in the public interest, to uncover wrongdoing, say, or to prevent crime. Some newspapers say their reporters acted for reasons of that kind but the Information Commissioner said most stories were so trivial they could never qualify as in the public interest. Either way, the newspapers’ sweeping claims that they did nothing illegal have never been tested.
We need disclosure now, during the Leveson Inquiry, because otherwise the files will be buried forever. We need it because almost every national newspaper group is implicated and it is time they explained themselves, revealing their public interest justifications in detail where they have any. And we need it because it is inevitable that some of those 305 journalists are today in senior positions at national newspapers.
Above all we need disclosure because the Motorman files go to the heart of the Leveson mission, which is to examine the culture, practice and ethics of the press, and because it is wrong that information relating to wrongdoing is kept from the public when it has been shared between the lawyers and the implicated news organisations — as it definitely has been.
What are the arguments against publication? First, let us dispense with the weakest: that this database is so vast that redacting it for publication is too much work. Not so. The Information Commissioner’s Office itself has estimated that the job would take between 15 and 30 staff days.
Next is the argument that, because newspapers say they have stopped using Whittamore, Motorman is ancient history and thus irrelevant to the Inquiry. There is an inconsistency here: nobody publicly suggests that journalists are still hacking mobile phone voicemails and yet that is clearly relevant.
In fact, the cases of Steve Whittamore and the hacker Glenn Mulcaire are remarkably similar. Mulcaire was arrested in 2006 and it is clear he began hacking in 2002 or earlier — when Whittamore’s business was at its peak. Both investigators worked closely with newsdesks to penetrate the privacy of large numbers of people by illegal means. Yet Mulcaire’s journalist clients are subject to rigorous criminal investigation while the identity of Whittamore’s journalist clients is being officially protected.
It might be argued that to publish the full list of journalists’ names would unfairly lump the innocent in with the guilty. Reporters and editors who never did more than pay Whittamore to consult an open, public database will appear alongside those who asked him for people’s criminal records.
There may be embarrassment for some journalists, but remember there is no danger of prosecution here. What matters most, as with phone hacking, is that the scale and character of the scandal is fully understood and that today’s editors and news executives, some of whom have insisted that they and their papers never broke the law, should be subject to informed public scrutiny. This is very similar to the justification for publishing all of the data on MPs’ expenses, even though only a minority of MPs had broken the law.
Finally, while it is vital that victims’ identities should be redacted from the files (they should be identified only in classes, such as “a television presenter”, “a victim of crime”, “a police officer” etc) it is equally vital that victims should be informed of what happened. This process — which is a matter of right — is under way in the hacking scandal; it is even more overdue in the Motorman affair and should begin as soon as possible.
If you agree that the Motorman file should be redacted and published as a matter of priority, please write to the Leveson inquiry saying so. The address is: [email protected]. Please copy your email to the Information Commissioner’s Office: [email protected]
Brian Cathcart, a founder of Hacked Off, teaches journalism at Kingston University London. He tweets at @BrianCathcart
The editor on the Mail on Sunday today conceded that the paper used private investigator Steve Whittamore after he had been charged with illegally trading information.
Peter Wright, who has edited the paper since 1979, told the Leveson Inquiry that Whittamore was used in a “small number of cases” after he was charged in February 2004.
In the same month, Wright said he instructed staff not to use Whittamore “unless there was an extremely good reason and all other means had been exhausted”.
Wright said the Mail’s use of Whittamore “virtually stopped altogether” in September 2004. Whittamore was given a conditional discharge in 2005.
During a lengthy exchange with Robert Jay QC and Lord Justice Leveson, Wright said he discovered in August 2011 that Whittamore provided information illicitly to some reporters. “I was uncomfortable that it appeared he might be using methods of which we would not approve, without the knowledge of those who were commissioning him,” he said.
Operation Motorman, carried out in 2003, investigated the use of a private investigators by the media to obtain personal information. In the 2006 report published by the Information Commissioner’s Office disclosing the 22 newspapers that had regularly used Whittamore to access illegally-obtained information, the Daily Mail topped the list with 952 transactions. The Mail on Sunday came fourth, with 266 transactions.
Wright said Whittamore had been used for a story published in February 2003 to establish the ownership of a scooter used by union leader Bob Crow.
He said: “Whittamore didn’t supply stories. He was used primarily to find names and addresses of people we needed to speak to in the course of researching stories.” He added that Whittamore was paid a total of £20,000 to trace information.
He said that Associated Newspaper’s request to see the ICO’s report was turned down, although the company accepted its findings.
Wright also said he did not believe the paper’s staff had used phone hacking to obtain stories.
“I have absolutely no evidence that phone hacking ever did occur,” he said. “I would hope that if phone hacking had been going on that it would have been brought to my attention.”
Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson