Turbulence over Virgin Atlantic as list of celebrities in 'leak' scandal grows longer

Richard Branson's airline investigates claims that passengers' flight plans were 'sold' to photo agency

Richard Branson's airline Virgin Atlantic is under mounting pressure to explain how an insider was apparently able to pass the confidential flight details of as many as 70 celebrities to a major paparazzi agency.

Emails sent to the Big Pictures agency in 2010 and 2011 contained the flight details of dozens of celebrities, including Madonna, Princess Beatrice and Sienna Miller. Some of the figures alleged to be affected are friends of Sir Richard and his family and the allegations could prove hugely embarrassing for the tycoon, who is known for his close ties to the world of show business.

A senior employee is understood to have resigned on Thursday after initial allegations that she passed on the flight details of eight celebrities including the singer Cheryl Cole and her former husband, the Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole, singer Robbie Williams and actress Scarlett Johansson.

The airline launched an internal investigation and insisted it had "robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected". But yesterday another cache of emails came to light that suggested that dozens more famous passengers may have been subject to the privacy breach.

Emails seen by the Press Gazette contained the flight details of dozens of celebrities ranging from film stars Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet to Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May. The emails, sent over several months, suggest a degree of familiarity between the two correspondents. In one, Big Pictures allegedly wrote to the Virgin insider, understood to be a supervisor of Upper-Class passengers, saying it was "trying to sort you out some money with accounts".

One email, reportedly containing details of a return flight from Heathrow to Newark taken by Borat actor Sacha Baron Cohen and his actress wife Isla Fisher, included the comment: "They're in economy!!!!!!" Big Pictures also appears to have been given an anonymous tip-off about a flight taken by people referred to as "Madonna's kids".

In a statement issued on Thursday, Virgin Atlantic called the allegations "extremely serious" and said it had launched an immediate investigation.

Virgin Atlantic's spokeswoman could not confirm whether Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson would be personally apologising to the celebrities affected and refused to comment any further pending the outcome of an investigation.

The allegations are hugely embarrassing for an airline that markets itself as a glamorous alternative to other long-haul carriers and is known to be popular with the rich and famous. Branson is yet to comment publicly.

Others who appear to have been affected include Rihanna, Russell Brand, Rob Brydon and Jonathan Ross.

Legal experts said that such disclosures may not be a criminal offence. However, solicitors for Ashley Cole and Sienna Miller said they were taking legal instructions over the allegations. No representative of Big Pictures, owned by the former Celebrity Big Brother contestant Darryn Lyons, was available to comment.

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 People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried