Newspapers face wave of lawsuits over use of private eye Whittamore

Lawyers tell Information Commissioner to notify victims who were targets of illegal searches

News organisations responsible for more than 17,000 dubious personal information checks carried out by a disgraced private detective could face civil litigation under plans to notify victims that they were targeted.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, is facing a legal challenge to release details of victims identified in Operation Motorman, an investigation into the activities of the Hampshire-based private eye Steve Whittamore, who was convicted of illegally accessing personal data in 2005. Acting on legal advice, the campaign group Hacked Off has written to Mr Graham, demanding he inform the thousands of people who are listed in Whittamore files held by the Information Commissioner's Office as having been the targets of apparently illicit searches, including criminal-records checks, vehicle-registration inquiries and information "blags".

Newspaper groups have in recent months been given access to the files by the ICO. In its letter, seen by The Independent, Hacked Off argues that targets should be notified so they have an opportunity to challenge claims by the news groups that the searches were done in the public interest.

In an official report based on Operation Motorman and subtitled The Unlawful Trade in Confidential Personal Information, the ICO said: "This was not just an isolated business operating occasionally outside the law, but one dedicated to its systematic and highly lucrative flouting."

The Operation Motorman inquiry has been referred to repeatedly during Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into media standards. Motorman's former chief investigator, Alec Owens, who had been The Independent's whistleblower in stories on the ICO's failure to interrogate journalists, voiced his concerns in evidence to the judge.

Tina Weaver, editor of the Sunday Mirror, a major client of Whittamore's, told the inquiry "it would be surprising" if all the 123 transactions between the private detective and her paper were lawful. Express Newspapers admitted it continued to use Whittamore until July 2010. And the Mail on Sunday said it had spent £20,000 on his services and continued to hire him for 13 months after his arrest in 2003.

In its letter to Mr Graham, who appears before Lord Justice Leveson today, Hacked Off says: "It is likely, if not inevitable, that media organisations have illegally retained and processed data which the ICO has judged to have been illegally obtained."

If the ICO refuses to notify the people who were targeted by Whittamore, Hacked Off and its supporters will likely seek to have that decision subjected to judicial review. The ICO said Mr Graham would be addressing the issue today at the Leveson Inquiry.

The Independent revealed in September that Whittamore's targets included victims of some of the worst crimes from the past 15 years.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week