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MPs demand tighter controls to deter rogue investigators

A typical fine for offences relating to unlawful obtaining and selling of data is just £100

MPs have called for tighter regulation of private investigators to stop them obtaining sensitive information through corrupt deals with police officers.

A report released today calls for a one-year cooling off period for former police officers seeking work in the private investigation industry and greater penalties for anyone dealing in illegally obtained information for profit. With up to two-thirds of private investigators having police backgrounds, the MPs expressed concern over the "unacknowledged, but deep-rooted intertwining of a private and unregulated industry with our police forces."

The home affairs select committee found that phone-hacking represented a tiny part of the black market in personal data, and that authorities were not equipped to deal with the threat of corruption to the criminal justice system. The committee also expressed concerns over how the industry will be asked to bolster law enforcement efforts because of future cuts to police budgets.

It heard that, currently, the typical fine for offences relating to the unlawful obtaining and selling of personal data was just £100. The committee called for a licensing system to try to prevent abuses with anyone convicted for illegally obtaining information being barred from operating as a private investigator. Some industry estimates suggest there are 10,000 investigators operating in the UK.

The MPs proposed that dealings between police and investigators should be logged and called for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to take direct control over the investigation of cases alleging police corruption in relation to private investigators. The IPCC said that it would "carefully consider" the recommendation.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, said: "We have found that rogue private investigators are the brokers in a black market in information. They illegally snoop on our data, cash in on our private lives and only get away with a paltry fine."

NI vows to back man arrested in hacking probe

A News International employee, believed to have a technical role at the company's Wapping headquarters, was arrested yesterday by police investigating phone hacking.

The employee, a 26-year-old man, was arrested at a home in Surrey in the early hours. He was later questioned in London by officers from Operation Weeting on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of NI told staff in an email that the man was "not a member of any editorial team". The company said that it would be giving the man its full legal support.

Six people including the former NI chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her racehorse trainer husband, Charlie, have been charged in connection with the investigation. Mrs Brooks is facing three charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, while her husband is charged with one count of the same offence.

The two are due to enter pleas when they appear at Southwark Crown Court in London on 26 September.

James Cusick