Wednesday 28 August 2013

A Quiet Word In Your Northern And Shell-Like....

The latest from my regular contributor.

January 12th 2012 was Northern and Shell day at the Leveson inquiry. Northern and Shell is the parent company of Express Newspapers comprising the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday. Amongst questions asked were some about the use of private investigators, 'search agencies', payments, protocols and audit trails.


First to give evidence was Nicole Patterson, barrister, Head of Legal of Express Newspapers. She was then leading an on-going internal investigation into legal compliance 2005-2012, following the News International phone hacking scandal. Her enquiries established the use of 'search agents' and that Express Newspapers journalists
would ask for details of how to contact people or addresses or whatever it was, but I -- at the time that we were looking at, I don't think anybody had really asked, 'How do you do this? How do you find your information?' They were -- as far as we were -- well, I can't say as far as we were aware because until we started having a look at this, I didn't even know that we used these search agencies.
More accurately, there weren't just the five 'search agencies' mentioned in Patterson's evidence which included Express Locate International; Longmere Consultants; Searchline; and SystemsSearches. Passing unmentioned in oral evidence were also AV Legal Services (Leeds) Ltd, AJK Research, BDI (UK) Consultancy and other sources. There is a mass of detailed and informative supporting data in the Patterson Exhibits [NP 2-6] which were not published on the Leveson Inquiry web site until many weeks afterwards thus avoiding much scrutiny (save Reuters, see below).

Oral questioning of Patterson focused in on one particular company used extensively - JJ Services - whose owner Steven Whittamore had been convicted for Data Protection offences early in 2004. Indeed much of the Patterson Exhibits take the form of dense spreadsheets highly reminiscent of the Operation Motorman files.
Q. Right... JJ Services, is that Mr Whittamore's company?
A. I believe it is.
Q. It's clear from documents we are going to look at that your company was engaging JJ Services in 2004 and 2005; is that right?
A. Mm.
Q. Is JJ Services still being used?
A. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Okay. You presumably had in mind the two reports from the Information Commissioner, ""What price privacy?" and "What price privacy now?"
A. Mm-hm.
Q. The papers in the Express Group do feature in the Information Commissioner's table in the second report.
A. Yes.
Q. And we know that JJ Services was really the focus of both reports?
Q. Did you carry out more detailed enquiries in relation to the activities of JJ Services in 2004 and 2005 of both the financial records and the journalists?
A. No, we didn't...
...the accounts department would have been searching under the name of Whittamore or JJ Services.
Q. What's quite interesting, though, is the dates. The earliest date, at least on this search, is 31 January 2005. He's still carrying out services last year. If you go to 01560 --
A. Mm.
Q. -- you can see the last item there is 30 July 2010 - "Natasha Murat."
A That's a day rate, so £240 would have been a day rate. I don't know what that really means. But the accounts department then prepared this -- the managing editor's office actually prepared this
sheet for me: "Search for possible connection to Robert Murat." What type of search that would have been I really can't tell you. A computer search? I just -- I don't know.
Q. It looks as if your internal inquiry is not getting very far thus far; is that right? 

Patterson told the Inquiry that the company's internal trawl had showed "more often than not," the amounts paid were neglible: "75 pounds, 80 pounds, 100 pounds. It's very little money." Arguably, even those amounts are quite a lot to pay for mere "...details of how to contact people or addresses or whatever...".

Here are just a sample of the hundreds of 'targets' in the Northern and Shell spreadsheets (Exhibits NP 2-6)

Maxine Carr
R Branson
Mark Thompson (Director General BBC)
London Bombers
London Bombings
Millie Dowler (murder victim 2002, Surrey)
David Cameron
Sally Anne Bowman (murder victim 2005, Croydon)
(Tracey) Temple (linked to John Prescott)
(Clive) Bolden (Tracey Temple's ex-husband)
Paul Farrelly (Member of Parliament, Labour, Member of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee 2005-present)
Ken McDonald (former Director of Public Prosecutions)
Sophia Murat
Rob(ert) Murat
Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary)
Clarence Mitchell (spokesman for McCanns)
Kate McCann
Kate McCann
Kate McCann colleague
Kate McCann friends
Ken Livingstone (then Mayor of London)
Sharon Shoesmith (Head of Haringey children's services at the time of the death of 'Baby P')
(Carina) Trimingham (partner of Chris Huhne)
David Veness (former Assistant Commissioner, Specialist Operations, Metropolitan Police)
I Puddick
Kelly Hoppen
R(osie) Wintterton (Member of Parliament, Labour)
T(racy) Temple
(Professor John) Tulloch (7/7 London bombing survivor)
C Middleton
Natasha Murat (no relation to Robert Murat)
Rhys Jones (11yr old murder victim, Liverpool)
Vincent Tabak (killer of Joanna Yeates, Bristol)
Jorge Mendonca (former Commanding Officer, Queens Lancashire Regiment, cleared of negligence re Baha Mousa murder)
Stephen Bigby (Oxford St murder victim May 2008)
David Kelly enquiries
Gerald McCann

Just how many times do Northern and Shell need to pay to know the McCann's address?


When Steve Whittamore's services come under scrutiny, it becomes very clear that most of the high value invoices are from his company. JJ Services has a near-monopoly of high-end commissions, well above the average. The mundane sums of £70-£80 simply do not feature - most of his commissions cost Northern and Shell hundreds, sometimes a thousand or two. Whatever specialist, high-value tasks he was undertaking must have been extraordinarily labour intensive, high risk, sensitive, complex or all of the above.

Here are a sample of Whittamore's 'targets', together with invoice dates and amounts paid. (Exhibit NP2 pp1-3)
* a witchalls 4/24/05 ref 5824 £284,94
* rothermere 2/27/05 ref5797 £2.150,25
* bbc 3/27/05 ref5809 £837.19
* john birt 4/10/05 ref5818 £710,88
* terror bombing enquiry 7/17/05 £1,098,63
* bowman murder 10/2/05 ref5884 £846.00
* oaten 2/2/06 ref5922 £446.50
* alan sugar 3/26/06 ref594 ,£558.13
* temple bolden 4/23/06 ref5951 £1 380.63
* mark thompson 4/30/08 ref16377 £232.65
* farage 6/11/06 ref 5970 £99.88
* middleton 11/5/06 ref 6032 £246.75
* suffolk murders 12/21/06 ref 6053 £ 1,445.25
* murat 8/26/07 ref 6103 £940.00
* mccann 9/22/07 ref 6107 £851.88
* Blankett 8/22 04 ref5707 £2,687.81 (confirmed as transcription error for 'Blunkett' Exhibit NP3 p36)
and see (here).


Also adduced into evidence to Leveson were some 'taken as read'. Martin Ellice, Group Joint Managing Director of the Northern & Shell Group of Companies, exhibited samples of 3 journalists' expenses claims. Most claims were for takeaways, taxis and tipsters. But one of those journalists detailed some other routine entertaining expenses:
Exhibit MSE-1 (here)

27/04/2007 £37.50
- Entertaining computer expert contact Steve Whittamore

15/05/2008 £9.55
- Entertaining computer contact re telephone numbers

02/05/2009 £93.71
- Entertaining computer expert re special enquiries - name available to desk

15/05/10 £5.55
- Entertaining computer expert re addresses

All perfectly innocent no doubt, but demonstrating sustained contact with Steve Whittamore and associates long after his conviction (and after the convictions of NOTW Goodman and Mulcaire).


At least all the transactions, admin, VAT payable and invoices appear all accountable - even though the exact details of each task brief are not entirely transparent. Clearly Northern and Shell run a tight ship as Paul Ashford (Group Editorial Director) was able to assure the Leveson Inquiry (Paul Ashford Witness Statement here).

Q2: How you understand the system of financial governance to work in principle and in practice at the newspapers owned by your company with particular emphasis on systems to ensure that the newspapers funds are not used to pay bribes or to fund the
gathering of information by illegal methods?
A: The system of financial governance at Express Newspapers, in relation to editorial costs, is as follows: department heads and commissioning editors will commission editorial content. At the end of each month a list of all payments is signed by lan Parrott, Group Managing Editor, and me. lan Parrott and I will query any item which looks out of the ordinary... If a journalist makes a cash payment, they have to reclaim it on expenses, lan Parrott queries all such payments. I understand that they are rare and for relatively small sums.
Strange then that one particular cash expense claim escaped their controlling eyes. The journalist's claim (20/09/2007 p5 here) was for costs incurred for foreign currency exchange. The reason detailed was
Given 1500 euros by office as cash advance to be converted to sterling for cash payment to private eye.
Ian Parrott left Northern and Shell "abruptly" in August 2012. (see here)

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