Operation Motorman was the 2003 investigation into the illegal trade in personal information by the British Press. In April 2005, Steve Whittamore and John Boyall and two men who had given them access to the police computer, pleaded guilty to procuring confidential police data to sell to newspapers and were given conditional discharges. The Information Commissioner’s report “What Price Privacy Now?” identified 32 different publications which were using the services of private investigators to obtain private information but no further regulatory or political action resulted.
A number of details about the activities of Mr Whittamore and his associates have slowly emerged into the public domain. In September 2011, the “Independent” published details of its own investigations into this. The piece, “Exposed after eight years: a private eye’s dirty work for Fleet Street” contained a number of important new pieces of information concerning Mr Whittamore’s operation.
On that occasion the “Independent” reported that there were 17,000 requests for information by journalists to to Mr Whittamore. A number of these targeted victims of crime. Mr Whittamore’s role in the Dowler story has already been reported (he told a local newspaper “I was just the middle man”). Other victims of crime apparently included
- the parents of Soham murder victim Holly Wells.
- the parents of murdered schoolgirl Sara Payne
- victims of the Dunblane massacre.
According to the “Independent” the Table below – the ICO’s table which recorded 3,757 transactions – substantially understated the number of cases. In fact there are said to have been 17,489 orders from media organisations, including 1,028 from News International (including 90 from arrested News of the World journalist Greg Miskiw), 6,774 from Trinity Mirror titles.
Further information emerged last week after an investigation by ITV News. It published the first detailed look at who was paying Whittamore for what. It calculates that the most requests were from 65 journalists working for the Daily Mail and its Weekend magazine: a total 1,728 transactions, which is almost double previously disclosed by the Information Commissioner.
ITV News calculated that the Daily Mail paid Whittamore £143,150 for this potentially illegal information. The next biggest spenders were said to be the Daily Mirror who spent more than £92,000, followed by the People, which spent more than £76 000.
The spending of other newspapers on possibly illegal searches included:
- The Mail on Sunday – £62,025
- The Evening Standard – £29,598
- The Sunday Mirror – £27,807
- The News of the World – £23,306
- The Daily Express and the Observer both spent around £13,000
The full details of what we calculated each newspaper paid, and for what, can be viewed here, together with the number of transactions previously calculated by the Information Commission in his report “What Price Privacy Now“.
ITV news reported that
“There were also several boxes of invoices with not as much detail as the books. So it’s impossible to tell from these what was legal and what was potentially illegal. But they do show the newspapers were actually spending even bigger amounts of money for Steve Whittamore’s information, although we don’t know what for. From the invoices we found News International spent an additional £490,738.66, Trinity Mirror: £376,918.07, Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail: £268,311.40, Express Newspapers: £95,430.26”
There was a report of the story in the Independent – which quoted a call by Evan Harris of Hacked Off for the targets of Whittamore’s searches to be notified of what had taken place. He said:
“The true scandal about this is that there been a sophisticated but flagrant cover-up of the extent and knowledge of this by several newspaper groups and no proper investigation by the authorities of the role of elements of the press in driving this industrial-scale theft of private information. Surely now the Leveson Inquiry must start asking the newspapers what their justification for this was and to expose the conspiracy of silence that has surrounded this.”
At the hearing on 29 March 2012 Lord Justice Leveson warned participants not to leak information to the press. He declined to comment on the accuracy of the programme, and said he would consider publishing the files if there were any submissions made to him, but that information about victims of Whittamore should remain private, as the terms of reference of the inquiry are not concerned with “who did what to whom”. There was a report of his comments on the Hacked Off website.