Mirror and Star titles paid prison officers for information, says Akers

 

The Mirror and Daily Star tabloids have been sucked into the escalating corruption inquiry into payments by newspapers to public officials.

Payments to two prison officers totalling £50,000 are alleged to have been made by journalists employed by Trinity Mirror, by the Express-owned Star titles and News International, the Leveson Inquiry was told today.

The Met's deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers revealed that new evidence had been gathered by the force's specialist anti-corruption probe relating to the titles beyond Rupert Murdoch's News International.

Stories which appeared in the Daily and Sunday Mirror, the Daily Star and the Star on Sunday, which officers believe to be linked to the alleged payments, have been identified by detectives on the Operation Elveden investigation.

The owner of the Express and Star group of newspapers, Richard Desmond, told Leveson earlier this year that his newspapers had not used, paid or had any connection with private investigators, nor had they paid or received payments for information from police or public officials.

Richard Wallace, the former editor of the Daily Mirror, who also appeared in January of this year, confirmed  that "on occasion"; people working for the Prison Service had been paid for confidential  information.

On her previous appearance before Lord Justice Leveson, Ms Akers revealed that the Sun had a "network of corrupted officials"; within its "culture of illegal payments";. One Sun journalist had paid sources some £150,000 over a period a year. Evidence was offered of one individual  receiving £80,000 in illegal payments.

Today the deputy assistant commissioner revealed that one officer at a high-security prison, who is now retired, received payments from NI, Trinity and the Star titles, totalling almost £35,000.

A further payment - by Express newspapers - was made after the officer retired.

Another prison officer at a different high-security unit is alleged to have been handed more than £14,000 from Trinity Mirror over the last six years. Again the officer's partner was used to help "facilitate"; the payment.

Ms Akers said both newspaper groups were co-operating with Scotland Yard. She added there grounds to believe offences had been committed.

So far evidence heard on phone hacking has been confined to the interception of phone voicemails, or the illegal accessing of  data on computers. Ms Akers widened the net today when she said that material obtained by News International had also been taken from "stolen"; mobile phones. She said that late in 2010 one mobile obtained by NI had been allegedly examined by "experts"; hired to get past the access security and then download the handset's contents.

Although detectives have still to establish whether the practice was a one-off or was more widespread, Robert Jay QC, the counsel for the inquiry, revealed that suspected data from  stolen phones had been found in London and Manchester. He said "This suggests it was more than an isolated issue.";

The formal evidence sessions of the Leveson Inquiry will  effectively end tomorrow.

However several other Fleet Street titles will be irked by Lord Justice Leveson's suggestion today that their widespread use of the private investigator Steve Whittamore may yet form a key part of the inquiry's final report expected at the end of this year. The judge said he was giving newspapers till September to reveal which of their journalists used the services of Mr Whittamore and what has since happened to the addresses, phone numbers and other personal information harvested.

Another unresolved issue for the inquiry is the recent evidence given by Matt Sprake. As the owner of an agency Newspics, Mr Sprake claimed his group carried out surveillance operations on 3000 individuals, including Kate and Gerry McCann. The majority of the operations were carried out on behalf of the People. Lord Justice Leveson said he wanted Lloyd Embley, now editor of the two main Trinity Mirror titles, to explain the dealings with Mr Sprake.

Ms Akers is expected to update the inquiry in the late autumn on the final state of Scotland Yard's investigations.

Today she said that the Met had notified 2615 people who may have been victims of phone hacking by News International. However  only 702 were now being  described as "likely victims";.  The remainder  had not been contacted by the Met.  

On Operation Tuleta, which is predominantly looking at illegal data access involving 1010 people, the Met officer said that between 8 and 12 terabyte of data was being examined. She explained to the inquiry that the unit of a trillion bytes of data was better explained if it was seen as a mountain of individually stacked paperbacks which would be 3.5 times the height of Everest.

The final report who - and what - is involved

Lord Justice Leveson's fat lady is not ready to sing just yet. Today, he, Robert Jay QC, the three other counsel to the inquiry, his panel of assessors, the four others providing legal assistance, the secretary to the inquiry, the solicitor to the inquiry, the solicitor's team that includes other lawyers, and the seven-strong administration group can almost - almost - call the inquiry's public business over.

Over the summer break, roughly until the middle of September, Brian Leveson will be drafting the skeleton findings that will appear in his report, expected to be published before the end of the year.

Yesterday he said that he wanted his final report to appear as up-to-date as possible. That means the senior Scotland Yard officer who has been leading the re-opened investigation into phone hacking, Sue Akers, returning in the autumn to advise the inquiry about where operations Weeting, Tuleta and Elveden have got to.

Those criticised in the report will also have a last opportunity to answer accusations against them - the inquiry will send them a "Rule 13" letter. That could lead to a last-minute flurry of public appearances.

After that the pen will be in Lord Justice Leveson's hand, with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, the first member of the Government likely to see the finished work.

 

 

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