Tuesday 6 August 2013

The Daily Mail Needs To Re-Think Reproof

The latest from my regular contributor.

"Police gave Leveson a dossier on hacking by big firms and lawyers... but he dismissed it in 18 minutes... Evidence about the three-year inquiry was given by Russell Middleton, who was then an acting assistant chief constable for Devon and Cornwall Police." Daily Mail (here)

It seems the Mail have finally discovered some evidence given to Leveson over a year ago about a provincial police investigation more than ten years old. And about time too.

Here's the gist of the Mail 'scoop'.

A senior officer submitted documents outlining how a little-known three-year inquiry uncovered a nationwide network of corruption. The multi-million-pound investigation found law firms, debt collectors and insurers were behind the thriving underground trade.
The senior officer, Russell Middleton of Devon and Cornwall Police (here), submitted documents called his "Witness Statement", plus short exhibits - just as everyone else who appeared at the Leveson Inquiry. As for the investigation being "little known", it was reported by David Leigh and Nick Davies in the Guardian, July 2011.
illegal PNC (Police National Computer) information had been primarily passed to respectable insurance companies, finance houses and other detective agencies
Either the Daily Mail overlooked the real significance or they missed the Guardian's story altogether. The case collapsed although evidence of blagged targets "identified two ministers and an MP. (Judge) Darlow specifically referred at a pre-trial hearing to the fact that 'particulars in respect of the [then]"chancellor of the exchequer were sought and obtained.' ... PNC checks were made by detective constable Diss on three Labour politicians, according to police interview transcripts obtained by the Guardian. All were in late 2000."

- "The first, on 13 September 2000, was on Martin Salter, the Labour MP for Reading West. Salter had displeased Rebekah Brooks, then News of the World editor. He refused her request to support her notorious campaign for Sarah's Law to 'protect us from pervs'. Shortly afterwards, on 24 September 2000, NoW readers were urged to pillory him personally in a 'naming and shaming' stunt...Salter says: 'She responded with some foul personal attacks so typical of the bullying style of the former NoW. I remember canvassing that Sunday morning and it was particularly unpleasant.' "

- "A few days later, on 18 September, DC Diss was asked to do another check, this time on Nick Brown, the agriculture minister and Labour MP for Newcastle East who had previously been 'outed' as gay by the News of the World."

- "The third occasion came two months later, on 16 November, when a check was requested on 'James Gordon Brown'. The Murdoch papers were at that point taking Blair's side in his continuing feud with Gordon Brown."

The customer sub-contracting procuring the information was private investigator Glenn Lawson of Abbey Investigations in Tyneside:
"Lawson refuses to identify his customer, but the court was told it was believed to be a newspaper.
Also in 2000, it is alleged that a News International title blagged personal data of Gordon Brown. The calls were recorded, you can listen to them, "Recording of The Sunday Times Conman "Blagging" Gordon Brown's Property Details" (here).  For more background on the blagger, Barry Beardall, see here.

But despite holding eight months of grueling public hearings at a huge cost to the taxpayer, Leveson dismissed the officer’s evidence in less than 18 minutes.

Firstly, the obvious point to note is that.... Middleton gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry - he didn't just wander in off the street. Leveson clearly considered Operation REPROOF evidence was important.

Secondly, Middleton's witness statement was intended to be 'read in' on April 2nd 2012 (as was Brendan Gilmour's evidence on Operation GLADE - more below). However on reflection, Leveson decided the importance to the Inquiry and public knowledge of REPROOF necessitated evidence to be given in person. Middleton was therefore required to appear on May 9th. 'Required to appear' are the operative words - Leveson ensured Operation REPROOF was aired by serving Russell Middleton with a Section 21 notice for compulsory attendance.

Thirdly, far from dismissing REPROOF as the Daily Mail says, there is an entire chapter on it in The Leveson Inquiry Report, together with its progeny Operation GLADE. And the next section is devoted entirely to linked Operation MOTORMAN. (Volume I, Chapter 2 pp251-257)

Fourthly, the crucial nature of REPROOF is also demonstrated by a representative sample of police forces being asked by the Inquiry if and how reflecting on Reproof had contributed to tightening their PNC security. Each was asked
Were changes made to any policies, procedures or systems relating to use of the databases and the security of the same following Operations Motorman, Glade and Reproof? If so, please specify.
Responses were patchy -

- Chief Constable, West Midlands Police: "I don’t believe so."

- Director of Information, Metropolitan Police Service: "No specific changes were made to my knowledge as a direct result of these operations..."

- Chief Constable, Durham Constabulary: "Durham Constabulary reviewed and replaced our policy for Notifiable Associations. This policy advises staff on when they need to notify the organisation of an association or friendship with someone who could pose a risk of compromise to that individual. Of particular note is the application of the current policy to private detectives.
The recommendations from the Information Commissioners Office were also the catalyst for the streamlining of an online internal confidential reporting system called ’Bad Apple’, as well as the procurement of an improved covert audit and monitoring system."

- National Service Manager for National Strategy for Police Information Systems (NSPI): "I am unable to answer this question for two reasons. I was not in post at this time and therefore have no personal knowledge of any system changes. I have also looked for references within the change control system that records all system changes to PNC that have been made or are awaiting implementation but none were identified that referred to these operations."

- Assistant Chief Constable, Surrey Police: "I am not aware of any changes made after these operations."

He told Leveson he ‘never found any direct evidence or indirect evidence linking that information being requested by or for any part of the media or journalists’.
Technically true - but not quite the whole story.
A. I think I need to make clear they weren't out of scope.The whole inquiry right from the outset was extremely open, an open-minded approach as to what we would discover.
Q There was a link -- and this brings in, I suppose, the nexus with other operations -- with a company called Data Research based in Surrey; is that right?
A. That's correct, yes.
... (We)"actually briefed the Information Commissioner's office as to what we were doing, we were aware of an interest they had in that company, we came to an agreement with the Information Commissioner that they would come along with us on the search...their investigation, Operation Motorman, then led to Operation Glade, so you could track it back and say that the seizure of that document at Data Research subsequently led to those two investigations
So REPROOF was the genesis of MOTORMAN and thence GLADE. Devon and Cornwall Police drew up a contract with the ICO which enabled D&C Police able to focus on their own investigation into an Exmouth private investigations company sub-contracted by a variety of corporate clients. That is not to say that the mass of undisclosed material from REPROOF would not be very revealing, but it explains how it was that the ICO contracted to follow on investigating press 'dark arts' specifically. For more detail on the enmeshment of Operations REPROOF, MOTORMAN, GLADE and SOCA report Project RIVERSIDE see (here).


The ICO's Operation MOTORMAN in turn briefed both SOCA and the Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) at the MET - the latter launched their Operation GLADE into four specific individuals suspected of conspiracy to misconduct in public office. The MET investigation was deemed senior to ICO's MOTORMAN and thus took precedence. This was because the ICO could only bring 'lesser' charges under the Data Protection Act (DPA) which lacks custodial sentences.

Two of GLADE'S four defendants (a civilian police worker and a retired MET office) pleaded guilty. However, the two private investigators - John BOYALL and Steve WHITTAMORE - did not. It seems that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made a bit of a hash of the prosecutions. (ICO Leveson Exhibit)
the ICO has liaised properly with the other prosecuting authorities in this case so as to enable them to know what the position is in relation to our proceedings. However it would appear that others have not liaised properly... information that had been passed [to ICO] by the CPS in relation to Operation Glade [shows]... that their Counsel had not carried out the appropriate exercise in relation to disclosure that should have been carried out and as such the CPS in Operation Glade were under intense pressure to seek a conclusion to their case that did not attract undue criticism, thereby leaving them open to offers in relation to specific Data Protection offences...
The decision to downgrade their case from misconduct to simple data protection act offences may be for a number of reasons however it is clear that the CPS did not do the disclosure exercise which placed them under intolerable pressure and therefore it seemed that they would take whatever Whittamore would offer and they accepted a basis of plea on a reckless basis. The manner in which the basis of plea was drafted was indicative of Defence Counsel being given a free reign to draft whatever basis of plea he wanted.
In other words, their bungled evidence disclosure left the CPS forced to agree the lesser DPA offences anyway, in order to avoid reputational damage. BOYALL and WHITTAMORE then pleaded guilty to the lesser offences and received small fines.

(And Whittamore received a character reference from a London Silk, Jerome Lynch QC, to use in his sentence mitigation argument.)


It's quite astonishing really how, flying in the face of the evidence, the Mail's report on REPROOF avoids any reference to its links to MOTORMAN and the bigger Hackgate picture. But then the Mail has a history with MOTORMAN, doesn't it? You can read an explanation 'The Motorman Files and Dacre's Dilemma' (here)

If there is a current clamouring for naming and shaming corporate clients of private investigators then those arguments hold equally true for releasing the MOTORMAN files into the public domain.

Recent Articles
Gloxinia And Flandria - Digging Over The Dirt
Witness Protection, Anyone?
Mayor Boris And The Met Payoffs
Project Riverside And The SOCA Report
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

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com

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