It’s good that Gordon Brown has spoken out and revealed that at least one newspaper, the Sunday Times, had tried to hack his bank account details and the medical records of his son, Fraser. It’s outrageous that anyone, let alone a much respected Sunday newspaper should sanction such dirty deeds. Should we be surprised, though? Hardly. Back on 12 December 2006 I wrote about an FOI request by my old friend Lord Ashcroft.
Those of you who have read Michael Ashcroft’s Dirty Politics, Dirty Times will know the lengths some newspapers go to to obtain information illegally. The News of the World Clive Goodman case is just the tip of a very sleazy iceberg. Lord Ashcroft has now gone a stage further in his endeavours to expose the sleazy operations of some journalists and publications and used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain even more startling information on this. Essentially, Ashcroft has uncovered via the Information Commissioner’s Office that 305 journalists used one specific agency in Hampshire to obtain illegal information from the Police National Computer, the DVLA and telephone companies. These 305 journalists worked for a total of 20 national newspapers (ie most of them) and 11 magazines. A staggering 58 worked for one newspaper, 50 for another, 45 for another and 33 for another. The laws of libel prevent me from speculating which newspapers they were, but you can probably guess just as well as I can. In total, 40 lines of enquiry were commissioned by journalists working for magazines, but half of these journalists worked for just one magazine. Read Lord Ashcroft’s full report HERE (it’s five pages long). Isn’t it strange that the original ICO report titled ‘What Price Privacy?’ received hardly any press coverage? I wonder why that was… Well if the newspapers won’t cover this new revelation I am sure Lord Ashcroft would encourage my fellow bloggers to…
Then, on my old blog, in September 2009 I wrote about blagging.
We knew, for instance that it wasn’t just the News of the World which was at it. Indeed, the Mail Group was the biggest miscreant – 58 journalists used blaggers on 952 occasions. But the Sunday Times, Observer, Telegraph and many others also used the services of the bugging agency. In the new updated edition of his book DIRTY POLITICS, DIRTY TIMES Michael Ashcroft reveals in colourful detail the lengths the Sunday Times went to to blag information from the Inland Revenue on his tax affairs. The chapter is too long to print here, but I’d encourage you to have a look at it, as it outlines in gory detail what a newspaper is prepared to do – outside the law – to gain private information. He makes a powerful case against Sunday Times journalist Nick Rufford. You can read the chapter HERE. Scroll forward to page 130 on the PDF or page 226 of the text. It’s only seven pages, but quite shocking. Perhaps the Select Committee should call Lord Ashcroft to give evidence as someone who has been on the receiving end of a ‘blagger’. Ashcroft employed a team of lawyers to get to the bottom of what happened. He was keen to take legal action against the Sunday Times. Of course, with his resources he could comtemplate such a thing. So could Gordon Taylor of the PFA. So can Max Clifford. So can John Prescott, and most of the other celebrities named. But imagine if this happened to you. Imagine if a ‘blagger’ got hold of your own details. Imagine if they accessed your voicemail and used it in some nefarious way. How would you gain redress? The truth is, of course, that legally it would be very difficult because our legal system in this area is stacked in favour of those with the resources to use it. It was ever thus, I suppose. Clearly, prosecuting authorities can only bring a case when they have enough evidence to do so. The Met and the CPS clearly didn’t feel at the time that they had enough evidence to prosecute anyone other than Clive Goodman. Yet we know that most national newspapers were involved in blagging to one degree or another, and we also know that many of their journalists were involved. The difficulty for the prosecuting authorities is presumably linking individual journalists to individual examples of illegal blagging. But it is in the public interest that the legal system, and parliamentary system is used to hold those responsible to account.
Blagging has to form a wider part of the judicial inquiry currently being set up. If the law needs strengthening so be it. Gordon Brown doesn’’t deserve what happened to him, but neither do ordinary members of the public.
If this causes the WHOLE of the newspaper industry to change its ways, so much the better.