Scotland Yard was dragged into the blue-chip hacking scandal last night after Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was asked to release suppressed information from four little-known investigations into rogue private detective agencies.
James Clappison, a senior Conservative MP on the Home Affairs Select Committee, has written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner asking for the names of companies and individuals who hired corrupt private investigators to hack, “blag” and steal personal data.
Mr Clappison is particularly keen to learn about clients identified in Operation Barbatus, a Met investigation in 2007 that was later included in a suppressed Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) report into private detectives (PIs).
The inquiry found that the PIs were hacking computers and corrupting police officers. Two serving Met detectives were jailed after they tried to unlawfully access the New York Stock Exchange. However, none of the clients of Active Investigation Services – dubbed “Hackers Are Us” – were successfully prosecuted.
The only one to be charged with criminal offences was Matthew Mellon, an oil and banking heir who hired the company during divorce proceedings against his ex-wife Tamara Mellon, the Jimmy Choo fashion tycoon. However, Mr Mellon was later cleared by a jury who accepted he had no idea the investigators to whom he paid £12,000 were breaking the law.
Police have been under mounting pressure to disclose information they hold on the well-known clients of corrupt PIs after The Independent revealed last month that Soca knew for years that law firms, insurance companies and celebrities were hiring PIs who break the law. The agency finally handed the Home Affairs Select Committee the names of 102 clients identified in one of five investigations reviewed in its 2008 report, codenamed Project Riverside.
However, details from four other historic police inquiries included in the file have not been passed to MPs – including Operation Barbatus.
Last night, Mr Clappison wrote to Sir Bernard and said “there is a public interest in knowing as much about the circumstances of these operations as can be properly disclosed”.
Meanwhile, Sir Ian Andrews, chairman of Soca, has referred himself to the official police watchdog after he was accused of misleading Parliament. The former senior Ministry of Defence mandarin was confronted by a victim of hacking who was enraged after he watched him tell MPs that he was “absolutely satisfied” that the crime-fighting body had not previously provided false testimony to the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Ian Hurst, whose computer was unlawfully accessed by corrupt PIs, emailed Sir Ian to say he was “frankly astonished” by his evidence.
Soca did not respond but Mr Hurst, a former British Army intelligence officer, then received a letter from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) saying the agency had referred the matter to them.
However, in a farcical twist, the IPCC had to immediately send the complaint back to Soca to deal with as it had “no jurisdiction” over Sir Ian’s actions.
In a separate development, Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, yesterday wrote to the chief executives of various regulators to ask for clarification over their guidelines on the use of PIs. He said: “The context in which the companies implicated by Soca’s information have acted is crucial for us to understand their motives.”
The list of regulators contacted includes the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Law Society, the Office of Fair Trading, the Office of Rail Regulation and the Financial Conduct Authority.