MPs ‘baffled’ as former Soca agents asked to probe scandal it ignored

Defunct agency now replaced by the NCA ‘sat on’ evidence of blue-chip hacking for seven years

MPs reacted with incredulity as it emerged that investigators from the now-defunct Serious Organised Crime Agency may be involved in a new probe into the blue-chip hacking scandal – despite originally “sitting on” the evidence for years.

Giving evidence in Parliament, the Information Commissioner admitted trying to co-opt former Soca security officials into pursuing 19 clients of rogue private detectives who have escaped censure for up to seven years.

Christopher Graham said that he was in talks with Keith Bristow, the new head of the National Crime Agency – which replaced Soca last Monday – to assist with an investigation into law firms, financial organisations and insurance companies who hired corrupt PIs that unlawfully obtain personal information.

But MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee reacted with amazement, as the ICO is examining evidence that was only forced out of Soca when The Independent revealed it had ignored the illustrious blue-chip clients for up to seven years.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee, said: “Let me just get this straight. You are going back to the  NCA to help with this investigation, when this whole thing started with Soca – which is now the National Crime Agency. I am baffled. Had this started by Soca earlier… you wouldn’t have to now be going back to the very people who gave you the files in the first place. It sounds like a bit of a merry-go-round.”

Later the former Labour minister added: “One of the concerns of  this committee is that Soca sat on the files. We still don’t know why. And you’re giving it back to an agency that Soca is now a part of. So you are giving it back to the same people that were part of the original investigation.

“It doesn’t seem to me the best way to proceed with an independent investigation. The Committee is not done with Soca yet. No-one has given us a satisfactory answer… as to why it took them [so long] to give you the documents. We don’t want you to go back to the very people that sat on the evidence… I think it would compromise your independence, frankly.”

Investigators from the ICO have spent two weeks examining 31 files of invoices, notes and reports originally seized by Soca during an investigation that began in 2008. Some of the material dates back to a historic Scotland Yard inquiry from 2006. Both probes took no action against the clients of the private detectives, who were jailed in 2012.

Mark Reckless MP asked Mr Graham, who has powers to investigate criminal breaches of the data protection act, whether he was happy that Soca “sat on this information for seven years and did not pass it to you?”

Mr Graham replied: “The decisions that were taken in the past, those that were responsible for them are accountable.”

Later in the hearing, James Clappison MP questioned claims from the former Soca director-general Trevor Pearce, who previously told MPs that the clients of private investigators may not know that confidential information had been obtained unlawfully.

The senior Conservative MP said: “It would defy common sense that someone would say, ‘Here is my bank account, please take it.’” Mr Graham appeared to agree with him, replying: “Yes.”

The names of almost 100 blue-chip companies identified by Soca were handed to the Home Affairs Select Committee in July.

But the agency ruled that the information should be classified to protect the “financial viability of major organisations” rather than “tainting them with public association with criminality”.

The Home Affairs Select Committee voted unanimously to publish the secret list, but was persuaded to delay after the ICO launched its investigation.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The number of GP practices with 10 or more doctors has grown by 75 per cent
science
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game