Mirror bought mobile numbers from detective linked to News of the World

Invoices show executive regularly paid for voicemail codes from disgraced private eye

A Daily Mirror executive bought mobile phone numbers and PIN codes used to access voicemails from a private investigations agency linked to Jonathan Rees, the notorious private detective who also had contracts with the News of the World, The Independent has learnt.

Invoices held by Scotland Yard show that, starting in 1998, a Mirror Group executive regularly paid a company called Media Investigations, based in south London, £125 a time for mobile numbers and voicemail access codes.

Media Investigations was a trading name used by Southern Investigations, a private detective agency run by Rees that was put under surveillance by Scotland Yard in 1999 to obtain information on corrupt police officers.

The Mirror's links to Rees predate the period when phone hacking became common practice at the News of the World. Rees was jailed in 2000 for conspiring to plant cocaine on an innocent mother. The News of the World, then edited by Andy Coulson, re-employed Rees's services in 2006 after he got out of prison.

In 2008 Rees was charged with conspiracy to murder his former business partner, Daniel Morgan. The case was dismissed at the Old Bailey last year.

Invoices sent to the Mirror, which have been seen by The Independent, also name a second Mirror journalist who then held a senior editorial position on the paper. They have both since left the newspaper.

Mirror Group titles used Southern Investigations on 230 occasions between 1997 and 1999, running up bills of more than £66,000 for information on individuals. Southern's work for the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror would not necessarily have been illegal. It has not been revealed before that the newspapers were using Media Investigations to obtain private mobile numbers at least two years before phone hacking became common practice at the News of the World.

Phone hacking became a criminal offence in 2000 with the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Under the provisions of the Act, only the police and the security services have the power to intercept communications or eavesdrop on electronic messages. There is no public interest defence for media organisations using the practice.

The Mirror and its former editor Piers Morgan have repeatedly denied that they had any knowledge of phone hacking or allowed it to be used to obtain stories. Claims for damages from alleged voicemail interception were lodged this week in the High Court in London by four people, including the former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Two further claims are also being considered by the lawyer co-ordinating the new civil actions, Mark Lewis,

Rees, 58, was arrested last month as part of a Scotland Yard inquiry into computer hacking. Last year he was cleared of conspiracy to murder Mr Morgan in 1987. The body of his former business partner was found in a pub car park in Sydenham with an axe in his head.

The Mirror Group, which has previously acknowledged using Southern Investigations, said in a statement last year: "Many years ago some of our journalists used Southern Investigations. They were last used in 1999. Our position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct." Last night, a spokesman for Trinity Mirror repeated that statement.

A solicitor for Rees did not respond to a request for comment. A statement released last year on behalf of the private investigator said: "Mr Rees has carried out lawful inquiries on behalf of most media organisations."

The private eye: Jonathan Rees

Based in a cramped office in south London, Jonathan Rees was far removed from the dynamism and swagger of Fleet Street's tabloids; but for more than a decade the two enjoyed a mutually lucrative relationship.

For titles such as the News of the World and the Daily Mirror, the owner of the Southern Investigations private detective agency was the golden goose who provided a stream of tips and private details on the rich, famous and newsworthy.

Rees was rewarded handsomely for his work. Southern Investigations was paid £150,000 a year by the NOTW while Mirror Group titles were billed for invoices totalling £66,000 between 1998 and 1999.

But he had a dark side. In 2000, he was jailed for six years for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice after he was caught trying to frame Kim James, a 29-year-old mother, by planting cocaine in her car as part of a custody battle.

Rees has been investigated several times over the murder of his business partner, Daniel Morgan, in 1987. The latest investigation resulted in his acquittal.