Thursday 24 October 2013

The Argument Hashtag

A humourous post from my regular contributor.

A newbie walks into Twitter.

Mr Newbie: Ah. I'd like to have an argument, please.

Twitter: Certainly sir. that's what we're here for.

Mr Newbie:  This is my first time on Twitter.

Twitter:  I see. Well, do you want to have the full argument?

Mr Newbie:  Umm, what would be the cost?

Twitter:  Well, It's 6 tweets for a five minute tiff, or all day for the 'Full Dacre' as we call it.

Mr Newbie:   I think it's probably best if I start with the tiff and then see how it goes from there, okay?

Twitter:  Fine. I'll see who's free at the moment.


Twitter: (mutters to self) ...he's free, but he's a little bit conciliatory. Ahh yes, Try here, on the Leveson hashtag.

Mr Newbie: Thank you. (wanders into Twitter)


Mr Newbie:  Ummm... Well, I was told that...


Mr Newbie: What?


Mr Newbie: *innocent face*  But I came here for a civilised argument!!

Angry man:  OH! Oh! I'm sorry! This is abuse!

Mr Newbie: Oh! Oh I see!

Angry man:  Aha! No, you want the press Chablis Bar, next door.

Mr Newbie:  Oh...Sorry...

Angry man: Not at all!

Angry man:  (under his breath) Stupid git.

(Mr Newbie goes into #ChilledChablis)

Mr Newbie: Is this the right room for an argument?

Mr Hack1:  I've told you once, you can't come in here.

Mr Newbie  No you haven't!

Mr Hack1: Yes I have.  Members only.

Mr Newbie: Members...?

Mr Hack2: Members ONLY.  Entry only if you've worked on tabloids, man and boy, fifty three years plus, sub-ed, freelance, back bench....

Mr Newbie: No you didn't tell me that!

Mr Hack3: Yes we did!  It's in the Editors' Code, everybody knows that. Ee, those were the days...

Mr Newbie:  Aha!  I see!  I'm in the 3 Yorkshiremen hashtag by mistake, aren't I!

Mr Hack1:  No you're not!

Mr Newbie:  Yes, I am!

Mr Hack2:  No, you're not!

Mr Newbie:  Yes, I AM!

(wanders off to the Leveson hashtag)

Mr Newbie: Is this the Leveson hashtag, please?

Mr Clever-Clogs:  It might be... but we're having an existential crisis of Sartre-ian proportions, so we don't quite....

Mr Newbie:  No you're not!

Mr Clever-Clogs:  Yes we are!

Mr Newbie: No you're not! I can see you're having a civilised debate on press regulation and...

Mr Blackand-Whyte:  That's enough... time's up!

Mr Newbie: Eh?? No, it isn't!

Mr Blackand-Whyte:  Yes, it is!  Unless you commit to the Full Dacre for the rest of the day, you'll have to leave.

Mr Newbie: OH. Oh, I get it... count me in!

Mr Steering-Group:  However, this remains a Charter written by politicians, imposed by politicians and controlled by politicians. It has not been approved by any of the newspapers or magazines it seeks to regulate.

Mr Newbie:  Ah, that's better..... No, it isn't! (smiles)

Mr Steering-Group: Yes it is!

The Right Hon Mr Authority-Figure MP:  A free press was one of the things that distinguished us from authoritarian regimes. Now we abandon it without a shot being fired in anger.

Mr Newbie: No it hasn't!!

Mr Cheesed-Off:  Sick of cries about our “free press” from national newspapers, whose handful of proprietors often don’t even pay UK taxes. #Leveson

Mr Mike Giggler:  He would say that, wouldn't he!!!!

Mr Newbie:  Now look, this isn't an argument!


All:  Yes it is!

Mr Newbie:  No it isn't!


Mr Newbie:  It's just contradiction!

All:  No it ISN'T!

Professor Philosophiser:  Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

Mr Blackand-Whyte: Not necessarily... I might be contradicting in my spare time.

Mr Newbie:  (exasperated) No, you aren't!

Lord Justice Leveson:  Don't look at me.  i am not prepared to argue about it -  I'm just an adjective.

Mr Newbie: NO, YOU'RE NOT!


Mr Newbie exits Twitter.  #facepalm

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Express Investigations: What Whittamore Did Next

A guest post by Chris Brace aka Mr Ceebs.

You don’t get to be a tabloid without the police issue cheerleading outfit. Especially if you’re one of the mid-market examples, constantly worried about immigrants and the unemployed.  The Express managed  to spend  money watching a range of terrorist suspects and those in the police who have watched them.

For Abu Quatada, they managed to spend £1075 to investigate over a single days story. This is for someone under house arrest,  so you don’t need a PI to follow someone around. But it’s also someone banned from using phones and computers, so you would question what services were being supplied, unless it’s all the mentioned persons family, or their DWP records being blagged. Interestingly, the Express were willing to spend more on a single hate figure than they spent on investigating the 7/7  bombers, on whom they only managed to spend  £705. One thing that it does suggest is that in the case of Quatada, the attacks have been started by the Newspapers rather than by leaks  from relevant government departments. If it had come from handouts from the home office and DWP then Desmonds troops would have been able to save money by not spending cash on PI’s

Looking further down the list there are a whole range of possible terror suspects who Desmonds troops are willing to throw a few pounds at a PI to find their details. Here are a few examples with the amount paid
Haroon Rashid (Atalah)  £264. (Yassin)Hassan Omar £76 London Bombers £212 London Bombings £705 Girma Yeshi £76 Abdul Muhid £100 abdul rauf £76 Zahoor Iqbal £271 
If you are to look at the people involved, there are several questions to ask. If they are following the same pattern as has elsewhere been employed, then it’s possible that details have been exchanged with co-operating servants of the law. Otherwise, it would involve acquiring friends and family details from a variety of databases (most likely phone companies) none of which can be done legally. After all, these people are all under arrest, or have taken part in terrorist activities that have left them far from this mortal coil. Either situation leaving them at best unlikely to answer a phone that is now in the hands of the police, and possibly leaving you having to answer some very awkward questions from men in uniforms with no sense of humour.

Further inside the list are a variety of current and former police officers probably the most interesting of which is Sir David Veness.  Now Sir David is the former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations at the metropolitan police from 1994 to 2005 and then United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security. From 2005 to 2008, When he was transferred out from the met, he was replaced by Andy Hayman so but for the international adventure, he could have been the man facing awkward questions in front of committees and judges. It may be that he will be a witness in Leveson part 2 as some of the alleged criminal activity will have happened at a time when he was the man holding the hot seat, rather than Hayman.

The Quick and the Dead

From talking to both journalists, and those who have encountered them, the most despised part of the Newspaper art is the so called “death knock” were hapless journalists or photographers are sent round to acquire quotes and pictures of the newly grieving relatives, sometimes even before the Police have arrived to tell the victims family that the unfortunate is no longer with us. (that is an apparent  cascade of dawning comprehension as to the situation on both sides of the conversation that cannot be a pleasant experience)

In amongst the lists provided by the express are a large number of names of the recently departed.  Now seeing as finding the individual named in the stories phone number would be at best unproductive, you can only assume that the connections are being trawled for friends and family contacts to add colour to the stories.

If you are remotely well known, or have died in an unusual way then the paper seems to find it open season on your friends and relations  And if  you’re a death that manages to hit the front pages then  there appears to be no limit.

Some days over the last several years it has seemed if the Express isn’t trying to tell you that the cure for cancer hasn’t been discovered, or the weather is going to be how it doesn’t eventually turn out then it’s either still punting spurious stories based on the people’s princess. However on days when that isn’t occurring then it’s working on driving the same old crowd of Bullying McCann conspiracy theorists into a frenzy.

Looking through the document (noted here) in there are a variety of McCann linked stories that have been investigated.

Searchline and System Searches came up with the following billed Items for those investigated

McCann (ref 093/L) £135 published Daily express 04/05/2007

Murat (ref 099/L) £464 published daily express 07/12 2007

Rob Murat (ref 100/L) £464 published daily express 07/12 2007

Kate McCann (ref 132/L) £382 published Daily Express 20/9/2007

Kate McCann (ref 136/L) £499 published Daily Express 9/11/2007

Kate McCann colleague (ref 137/L) £264 published Daily Express 9/11/2007

Kate McCann friends(ref 229/L) £499 published Daily Express 9/11/2007

Gerald McCann (ref 14656) £282 published Daily Express 21/9/2007

And that isn’t including named friends of the McCanns (a no doubt incomplete list from the paperwork)

Dianne Webster  (116/l) £146.88 published Daily Express 31/8/2007

Russell o’Brian (117/s) £146.88 published Daily Express 31/8/2007

Deanne Webster (139/l) £88.13 published Daily Express 21/9/2007

And then much more expensively the following came from JJ services

Murat (ref 6013)  £904 published Sunday express 26/8/2007

McCann (ref 6017) £851 published Sunday express 22/9/2007

Sophia Murat (ref 2169/g) £188 published Daily express 05/06/2007

Now JJ services is  one of the names that popped up in relation to the previous ICO  operation Motorman investigation. And from that we have a price list for their services, published in What Price Privacy

Information required Price paid to Price charged to customer

Occupant search/Electoral roll check  (obtaining or checking an address)  £17.50
Telephone reverse trace* £75
Telephone conversion (mobile)* £75
Friends and Family    £60 – £80 not known
Vehicle check at DVLA   £150 – £200
Criminal records check   £500
Area search (locating a named person across a wide area) £60
Company/Director search  £40
Ex-directory search  £65 – £75
Mobile telephone account enquiries £750
Licence check £250

Now it is noticeable that very few of these services are legal.  But even the most expensive activity that can only  be the result of illegal techniques comes to less than was charged to investigate Kate McCann or Robert Murat. Now it’s possible that they were paid to sit outside the house of Robert Murat. However, half the worlds press, including Express Journalists were there, so it seems unlikely.

You would think that something closely related to the activities on that list were a more likely source of the bill, But even though it was mentioned by DAC Sue Akers at one of her committee appearances that investigations into the paper group were happening as yet we see no signs of Express group journalists feeling the heavy hand of the Met on their collars.

Monday 14 October 2013

10 To Watch From The Home Affairs Select Committee

The latest from my regular contributor.

The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) is not giving up its pressure on SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency, now - like Dr Who - regenerated as the National Crime Agency (NCA).  HASC's probing on 'blue chip' clients using rogue PIs (private investigators) is rigorous and determined. Whilst mainstream media focus on Leveson's committee appearances and gear up for Operation WEETING trials, here's '10 to watch' from HASC:


In response to HASC Chair, Keith Vaz, the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling is decidely lukewarm on guarantoring the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) actually get the resources needed to investigate 'blue chip' clients.  After sitting on the neglected and dis-organised evidence for years, SOCA's abolition was a great excuse for a priority clearout - swiftly dumping the problem on the ICO at short notice.

The Attorney General told Vaz  "... you will be aware that the ICO's data protection work is funded through notification fees paid by organisations and individuals responsible for the processing of personal data and not through a direct grant from government. However, we will continue to work with the Information Commissioner to monitor any resourcing issues that may arise as a result of this investigation and other funding pressures."

That's just about as non-commital as you can get. (pdf p42)


HASC also asked the Attorney General what action was planned on implementing custodial sentences for breaches of section 55 of the Data Protection Act (DPA).  The enabling legislation is already in place, and more dissuasive penalties have been (over a decade) recommended by the ICO, several Select Committees - and by the Leveson Report.  

"It is the Government's view that the recommendations require careful consideration by a wide audience. We therefore intend to conduct a public consultation on the full range of data protection proposals, including on whether to introducing custodial sentences
... We think it is important that the public get the opportunity to consider the question of whether to introduce custodial penalties for breaches of section 55 in the context of Lord Justice Leveson's wider proposals relating to the data protection framework."  (pdf p42)

And here's the probable Catch 22 - just as 'nothing could be done' whilst the Leveson Inquiry continued, no doubt we shall hear 'nothing can be done' whilst criminal cases are in process, or until any appeals conclude, or until after the general election, or because there is an 'R' in the month...


More information is now available on the charging decisions reached in Operation MILLIPEDE.  A meeting in 2010 of SOCA investigating officers and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) considered a range of unspecified potential offences. The offence strategy decided upon was under the Fraud Act.

For three of four defendants, offences relating to misconduct in public office were ruled out.  Why? Sadly, we don't know as no record of the rationale exists in the CPS file. Gregor McGill - whose name may be familiar from CPS formal charging statements on Operation ELVEDEN - very carefully worded his understanding: "in relation to allegations of misconduct in public office, the CPS was never in possession of sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for that offence."  Note that he doesn't say no evidence existed... but if SOCA did have any evidence, he carefully points out, the CPS was never in possession of it. (pdf p43)


Two SOCA lists ARE in the public domain, even though they were dragged from SOCA kicking and screaming.  (pdf p22)  The first is a short list of 'categories' of 8 clients (no names, no pack drill) which were used in the Operation MILLIPEDE prosecution.  Bland and uninformative, the 'used in prosecution' list includes 1 'Oil' client, 1 from 'Law', 1 from 'Rail Services' etc.  But the second list of 94 unnamed clients in categories - "judged as potentially relevant to Millipede which was not needed as evidence" - is much more informative.  It shows number and category of those SOCA chose not to use in support of the prosecution; it is an insight into the decision-making process itself.

Comparing the two lists shows the evidence selected for use in the prosecution was emphatically not a representative sample.  Two specific categories of client dominate the full list.  Topping the numbers is the vague category 'Law' - but we are not told if this includes law practices, in-house legal, counsel chambers, law agencies, paralegal, law enforcement agencies and so on.

The second highest category of clients is 'Private Investigators'.  Given that SOCA's own 2008 report (Project Riverside) identified "the harms inflicted on the UK by the rogue element of the private investigation industry", it is surprising no evidence was used in prosecution.  To clarify, Operation MILLIPEDE led to 4 convictions of private investigators - whose second largest client base was other private investigators.  By 2008, let alone charging decisions in 2010, there was ample evidence of PIs operating in connected chains.  Sub-contracting of specialists was a widely known technique - for example, in Operation BARBATUS (2007).

Yet this key characteristic did not feature in the SOCA MILLIPEDE prosecutions of 2011 - even though MILLIPEDE defendants had been on SOCA's radar since at least 2006.  HASC needs to ask more questions about that 2010 - only partly documented - MILLIPEDE charging decisions meeting.


Yes, there's a new op - Operation SPRUCE. (pdf pp 45-45)  It is the new investigation by the ICO into the MILLIPEDE 'blue chip' clients, kindly dumped on them by now-defunct SOCA in the form of 31 lever arch files.  The original plan had been had been to hand over after MET Operation TULETA prosecutions concluded.

"After consulting with SOCA and the Metropolitan Police, I can confirm that none of the 98 clients on the list was contacted during their investigations."  Given the years of delay, it is entirely possible that much corroborating evidence no longer exists.

12 clients are no longer active, 67 are still active but 24 of those are outside ICO jurisdiction, a further 11 are currently of undetermined activity status.  So far, Operation SPRUCE has determined probable offences by 19 'blue chip' clients involving 125 victims.  This is many more than SOCA's (undated) attempts to write to those victims affected.  (pdf p 29)


The unpublished Basu List (pdf pp 34-36) is far and away the most interesting of the submissions to HASC so far.  MET Commander Neil Basu, who leads all Hackgate operations, seems to have taken the opposite strategy to SOCA.  Instead of having information dragged bit by bit from the MET, Basu opted to provide HASC with MORE confidential data than HASC actaullyrequested.  This strategy can be summed up as 'be careful what you wish for - you may get it.'  Basu has submitted to HASC names and data for all MET investigations referencing PIs for 1998-2013.  This includes both closed AND ongoing investigations.

"I have included all investigations (including live investigations), but have redacted the names of the clients themselves to avoid compromising active investigations that are underway. Instead, and again to assist the Committee, I have identified the relevant industry within which they worked."  (pdf p 34)

The confidential Basu list includes:
- The names of clients who have been charged
- The names of clients who have been convicted of criminal offences
- The names of those where was insufficient evidence to justify an investigation by the MET
-  The names of those where No Further Action (NFA) resulted

To date, 7,161 people have been identified as victims (5,500 of those from Operation WEETING alone).  A further 1,250 potential victims are attributable to Operation PINETREE - the probe into a second alleged phone-hacking conspiracy at the News of the World.  Even allowing for some duplication, it is clear that the vast majority of rogue PIs victims accrue from rogue employees of rogue newspapers.

The data collation involved searches of the Police National Database (PND), CrimInt+, Integrated Intelligence Platform (IIP), MET Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) and a "Confidential Unit".  It is noteworthy that the DPS search also turned up 477 relevant hard-copy documents which have never been scanned into electronic form during 1998-2013.

The scale is staggering.  Known Operations referencing PIs 1998-2013 include Two Bridges, Nigeria, Abelard I, Caryatid, Glade, Barbatus, Abelard II, Weeting, Elveden, Kalmyk, Tuleta, Pinetree.... (for background, see here and here)


On 3 Sept 2013, Keith Vaz asked Stephen Rimmer (Interim Chair of SOCA) about SOCA Board Members declared interests - given that SOCA's Chair had just resigned for failing to declare his company in the Register of Interests (here).
Q82 Chair: ...Have you asked them whether any of their roles—for example, Peter Clarke has an organisation called Peter Clarke Associates; Francis Plowden is a director of Serco plc. This is the premier law enforcement agency as far as organised crime is concerned... we want something precise. Did you say to them, 'Have any of your interests got anything to do with private investigators?'
Stephen Rimmer: Not in those specific terms, but I am absolutely satisfied that there is no conflict of interest. 
Rimmer followed up with a letter to HASC, correcting Vaz: "During the early part of the session you referred to Francis Plowden, a non-executive director of SOCA, by saying that he was a 'director of Serco Plc'. This is incorrect. I understand that Francis is not and never has been a director of Serco Plc. He has held shares in Serco Plc since February 2005. This fact was clearly stated by him on the SOCA Register of Interests upon his appointment to the SOCA Board in August 2009. Since that date, Francis has continued to declare this interest."  (pdf p41)

However, Rimmer was subsequently forced to re-consider (p46) whether there just might be the perception of conflict of interest as, since Plowden the SERCO shareholder has been a Board member:

- SERCO had a SOCA contract as IT supplier till 2011

- SERCO continues to have a SOCA £1million pa contract for "the provision of secure storage and associated services"

- SOCA acts as a facilitator for the City of London Police for the provision of 'Know Fraud' to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. SOCA is the named party in the contract, but the City of London Police run and pay the contract directly to SERCO

- SOCA does not own but contributes maintenance and support costs to SERCO for a secure communications system of around £2,000 a year.

Stephen Rimmer is though still "satisfied that there is no conflict of interest in relation to these issues and Francis Plowden's shareholding."  (pdf p46)


In his 10 Sept 2013 letter to HASC, Stephen Rimmer promised to provide more information on other declared / undeclared directorships, business interests and consultancy activities of Board Members (such as that of the aforementioned Peter Clarke, former MET Assistant Commissioner in overall command of Operation CARYATID). (pdf p41)

Either that detail of SOCA Board Members' interests has not been published by HASC, or Rimmer has not provided the promised submission.  Either way HASC needs to follow up - and continue to press for the same attention to perceived conflicts amongst Board Members of the new National Crime Agency, SOCA's successor.


As from 7 Oct 2013, the NCA's nine-strong, all male, Board are

•    Keith Bristow – Director General (Chair)
•    Phil Gormley – Deputy Director General
•    David Armond – Director, Border Policing Command
•    Peter Davies – Director, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command
•    Gordon Meldrum – Director, Organised Crime Command
•    Gary Chatfield – Director of Operations (Temporary)
•    Tim Symington – Director of Intelligence
•    Stephen Webb – Director Corporate Services (Interim)
•    Trevor Pearce – Director, Economic Crime Command (Interim)

There is currently a selection process underway to identify four non-executive members for the Board.  It will be interesting to see if any more familiar old SOCA names appear as Non-Execs, and to scrutinise the new NCA Board 'Register of Interests' when it is made public. (see here)


New NCA Director General, Keith Bristow told HASC: "On 7 October 2013 all information held by SOCA will pass from SOCA to the NCA".

That's good to know.  All SOCA information and evidence on private investigators, serious organised crime etc etc will be safely retained (probably in private industry commissioned 'secure storage' and 'secure communications systems').

And in the interests of transparency, 'being truthful, open and accountable for our actions', it's encouraging that all public domain SOCA documents will continue to be accessible through the SOCA Library - reports such as that of Project Riverside, SOCA Annual Reports, Registers of Interest, not-protectively-marked UK Threat Assessments and so on.  That's admirable.

Errr... no.  All SOCA public domain documents have now disappeared entirely, including the entire SOCA web site.  All SOCA URLs now auto-redirect to the new National Crime Agency home page.

Well played, NCA.... but I don't think HASC will be impressed.

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