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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence