Why is this man so interested in my dustbin?: Chris Blackhurst lifts the lid on how far private investigators were prepared to go to track down leaks of information

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The Independent Online
Scotland Yard's international and organised crime branch is now investigating exactly who authorised Operation Covent Garden, British Airways' strange attempt to uncover who was supplying Richard Branson with inside information.

Two journalists were on the BA hit list: myself and Roger Eglin of the Sunday Times. We had two things in common: we had written articles in the past that were critical of BA. And we both had dustbins.

Roger's rubbish was taken by John Reilly, a private investigator, in March, last year. My house was next but he had been spotted by Eglin's neighbour and was arrested before having the pleasure of examining my youngest child's disposable nappies and the baked beans and fish fingers my other two hadn't eaten. Last month, at Isleworth Crown Court, Reilly, from Twickenham, Middlesex, was fined pounds 150. (Yes, taking rubbish is stealing. It belongs to you or the council.) The Yard is now trying to establish the exact links in the chain from Reilly to BA.

For their part, senior BA executives say that, well, yes, Roger and I were the subject of investigation - to see who we talked to - but at no time did they sanction anything illegal. This sort of work, they say, is sub-contracted.

Reilly was hired by MLM Associates, a 'surveillance and covert investigation' firm which is based in Connaught Street, central London. He maintains he does not know who hired MLM.

The firm is run by Stuart Francis- Love, above, a former corporal in the Territorial SAS, and his partner, Harry Matthews. According to Reilly, my house was checked out and found to have a high, locked gate at the side. He said he was then given my name and address. Francis-Love has been interviewed by the police.

A spokesman at Scotland Yard said the investigation, into who asked whom to do what, was 'on-going'.

Covent Garden did not draw the line at my rubbish. Lists of my department's payments to contributors were obtained from my previous employer, the Sunday Express. Documents on the covert operation say the payment lists 'were passed to us through a very discreet source, and their ownership and origin could not be legally proven to the satisfaction of a court of law.'

If anyone would ever like to see inside my dustbin, they need only ask.

(Photograph omitted)