Hundreds of journalists 'allowed to escape trial'

 

The former head of the organisation responsible for data protection was accused yesterday of avoiding the prosecution of hundreds of journalists involved in illegally paying private investigators for personal information by putting the matter "on ice if not in perma-frost".

Robert Jay QC, counsel to the Leveson Inquiry, told the former Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, that by targeting private investigators in a trade that netted the firm at the centre of the commission's investigation a potential £500,000, he missed the "spider's web" of journalists.

Despite a report published by the Information Commissioner's Office in 2006, which detailed thousands of data transactions and 305 different journalists involved in illegally using the services of a private investigator, Steve Whittamore, to obtain personal information and numbers, no journalist has been prosecuted.

Mr Jay repeatedly asked the former commissioner if the decision to avoid chasing the press was either a "policy decision" or basic "incompetence". Mr Thomas denied backing off from prosecuting journalists during Operation Motorman in 2003 – the probe which uncovered almost industry-wide use of Whittamore's firm.

An ICO investigation found Whittamore was the national press's go-to man for private numbers, ex-directory details, vehicle registrations and the numbers of friends and family' from confidential telephone lists.

Though Mr Thomas eventually agreed it was "theoretical, but not a dead possibility" that journalists may have been prosecuted following a raid on Whittamore's Hampshire offices, Mr Jay told the inquiry it was "as dead as it could possibly be".

Having blamed cost and logistics for not going after reporters and editors, Mr Thomas later said he was "glad he had not prosecuted journalists" because the impact on his office would have been "huge".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea