Monday 1 July 2013

Project Riverside And The SOCA Report

The latest from my regular contributor.

Last weekend, the Independent published a genuine scoop - 'The Other Hacking Scandal' (here)

Tom Harper obtained and reported on the full and unredacted version of the 2008 Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) report on 'Project Riverside'. It collated and detailed five investigations uncovering serious illegalities by 'rogue element' private investigators. The Indy's scoop triggered a chain reaction amongst some of Harper's fellow journalists seeking to blame Leveson for keeping them in the dark.

They are outraged - outraged, I tell you - that LJ Leveson failed infinitely to expand the remit given to him by the Prime Minister. Obviously, he should have included corporate, legal and insurance abusers of illegal data harvesting and blagging via dodgy private investigators. Leveson had surely headed a conspiracy to suppress the SOCA report - 'Private Investigators: The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry and Others Unlawfully Trading in Personal Data' (public version here).

The use by corporate and law firm clients of private investigators must have been deliberately suppressed and kept "secret" because no victimised and maligned journalists had ever heard of such things before 2013. The 'powers that be' must have connived for years in the cover-up for fear the press would wield their trusty sword of truth to expose these shocking malpractices. How dare 'they' conspire to keep it all out of the public domain?

Over the years perhaps the press could have, er.... read some of the media reports?

Santha Rasaiah of the Newspaper Society sent to the then Director of the PCC, Guy Black, a copy of a 1997 case in which a Rachel Barry, a former private investigator, had been convicted at Harrow Magistrates Court on 28 October 1997 of a total of 12 offences of procuring the disclosure of personal data and of selling the information procured, in contravention of s.5(6) and s.5(7) of the Data Protection Act. The report of the case in the Data Protection Registrar claimed that the clients of Ms Barry had included the proprietors of the News of the World, the People, the Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday.  (p357 here)
Ah... problematic. It would have been a little difficult to front page splash on the private investigator's corporate, legal and insurance clients without implicating the press too, I guess.


"Corrupt detective selling information to criminals and private detectives" (Guardian, here) .
He was convicted for "obtaining information from the police computer and sabotaging numerous court cases.... (aiding) professional criminals in the south London area to avoid capture and evade charges by providing them with information about police investigations.......the IRA, driving offences, drugs, anything,"
'The information he provided was invaluable,' says Mick, a one-time armed robber...He would be able to tell you what statements the police had obtained, who they had interviewed, which properties were under surveillance, which phones were being tapped - the lot. Worth its weight in gold. You would pay between £5,000 and £10,000 a time, but it was well worth it.'

A news report about illegal data gathering by private investigators for business rivals: "The two-year inquiry unearthed evidence that a police officer had illegally tapped information from a protected database was sparked by a row between two prominent businessmen." (here)

Plus, there were categorically no journalists implicated: "The investigation found no evidence that any media organisation was involved in the obtaining of the data." The chain of private investigators could apparently access information on targets "which could include details of their criminal background, their financial situation, medical history~ telephone records and current whereabouts. The originating customers ranged from individuals involved in matrimonial matters up to multi nationa! financial institutions looking to obtain information in relation to a range of civil matters." (pages 9-10 here)

But that 2002 investigation, Operation Reproof, collapsed before trial so suspects were not convicted - including John BOYALL and Christopher DEWSE.

Wait a minute - those names are familiar. John BOYALL (see here) and Christopher DEWSE (see here).  I think I remember - weren't both implicated in the 2003-4 Operation Motorman investigation into journalists' use of private investigators? (see here)


(WPP?) What Price Privacy? (here) and (WPPN?) What Price Privacy Now? (here)

A substantial amount of the material found in the 2008 SOCA Report (redacted for public, version published 2012) can be found in these two Information Commissioner's Office 2006 reports, including extracts from the notorious 'Blagger's Manual'.

As Operation Motorman begat Operation Glade, it's not surprising that WPP? and the SOCA Project Riverside report concurred on the 5 culprit groups:

2006 WPP? p16
On the demand side, the customers come from the following main groups:
- the media, especially newspapers
- insurance companies
- lenders and creditors, including local authorities chasing council tax arrears 
- parties involved in matrimonial and family disputes
- criminals intent on fraud, or seeking to influence jurors, witnesses or legal personnel.

2008 SOCA Project Riverside Report
The clients of private investigators can be categorised mainly, but not exclusively as follows:
a. domestic – persons seeking to discover activities of their partners, mainly in matrimonial and family proceedings;
b. debt recovery tracing – seeking to discover the locations of debtors;
c. insurance claims – loss adjusters investigating the veracity of claims;
d. media – seeking material for “scoops” about high profile figures;
e. criminal fraternity – the frustration of law enforcement.

The Brown Moses blog addressed the redacted SOCA 'Project Riverside' report here.

WPP? notes that a "private investigator had been engaged by a potentially abusive husband to track down his estranged wife" and "Among the individuals whose privacy had been violated was a woman who had been involved as a vital prosecution witness in a prolonged police enquiry...(which) raised the spectre of possible witness intimidation or harassment."

Yet the accusation remains that the powers-that-be did nothing. Nothing - but only if you don't count the detailing of another 26 prosecutions cited in WPP? for 2002-06. Or several other well-publicised examples since its publication in 2006. Or even after the SOCA report intelligence cut-off date of 30/09/2007.


used by many City law firms acting for companies engaged in financial disputes or credit checks... the couple's activities can be linked to prominent law firms Arnold & Porter and Mishcon de Reya... and a large US insurance firm.



There was this case too - involving the founder of Jimmy Choo shoe empire a and high profile waste disposal business proprietor. (here)
They also had a lucrative sideline involving hacking into people's computers and tapping into their phones... Interception specialist Michael Hall installed hi-tech devices in BT junction boxes and overhead telephone wires to monitor the phone calls of its clients' business rivals or spouses.
This was Operation Barbatus.


A SOCA investigation dubbed Operation Millipede resulted in four convictions for offences totally unconnected to the press - another network operating for corporate clients including foreign exchange dealers and property developers. (here)  Some shady private investigation companies are notorious for changing their names though. (see here, 'SOUTHERN INVESTIGATIONS - What's in a Name')

Deliberately obscuring associations, past histories, questionable directorships and so on can be achieved through liberal use of name changes, 'trading as' designations with different bank accounts, and deploying almost (but not quite) identical company names which are distinct legal entities. Just as an example, from Operation Millipede above, one company was said to be owned by convicted MET-detective-turned-private-investigator Adam John SPEARS. By the time of his arrest though SPEARS had ceased to be a director of that company, 'GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE SERVICES LTD'.

[And - just in case any powers-that-be are reading - it should be clearly noted that 'GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE SERVICES LTD' have absolutely no apparent connection to the coincidentally very, very similarly named company 'GLOBAL INTEL SERVICES LTD' or to its unimplicated directors - Alison and Glenn MULCAIRE.(here)]



Channel 4 Dispatches: 'Watching the Detectives'
"Several minutes into their first meeting, the director of Crown Intelligence offers an undercover reporter a broad range of highly sensitive and potentially illegal personal data... An undercover reporter, posing as a risk analysis company representing multinationals, approached private investigators requesting background information on political activists they claimed were targeting clients... A hidden camera monitors STEPHEN ANDERSON leaning across his desk in a plush office near Hyde Park, central London, saying: "I could go through his criminal history, his financial history, bank accounts, loans, medical history." (here)
[ That name seems familiar..? ]


The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) held evidence sessions on 'Private Investigators'. The Committee was "presented with evidence that links private investigators with serving police officers, in a case that demonstrates the close involvement of investigators with the justice system. GMB described evidence that 'confidential information from police files has been leaked to the Consulting Association (headed by a private investigator)' including notes on people’s presence at demonstrations and records of contacts with the police." (Ev25)

The HASC Report (here) even revealed (Ev82) possible links to the murder of Daniel Morgan: "In response to our follow-up inquiries with Commander Spindler, we received a recall of historic cases known to the Directorate of Professional Standards Intelligence Bureau, including Operation Barbatus, Operation Two Bridges and Operation Abelard." (for more background, see here).  Following the Independent scoop, HASC Chair Keith Vaz has called a new evidence session on Tuesday July 2nd - "Committee to question the Serious Organised Crime Agency on Private Investigators" (here)

All credit to Tom Harper and the Independent - the new HASC session would not be happening without their sound investigative journalism.

The Indy also reported that former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis said:
Until the Independent told me about this, I had not the slightest clue of the scale of illegal information theft going on among our supposedly respectable professions.
Related Articles
All Rise - Justice Saunders At Southwark
The Met - Red Flags And Red Tops
Hackgate - Issues For The Burnton Inquiry Into The Murder Of Daniel Morgan
Hackgate - The IPCC and Surrey's "Collective Amnesia"
Hackgate - Alex Marunchak - Presumed Innocent
Hackgate - Springwatch
Hackgate - Elveden: Murdoch Or King Cnut?
Hackgate - Elveden - Murdoch's Catch 22

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  1. Tom Harper's expose was farcical! He took at face value statements by Hurst (variously a Corporal with Int - true - or a SAS Captain - false) and by Haslam who perjured himself at R v Harris.