Publication of Motorman files could go ahead

Database of Fleet Street deals with investigator may be as damaging as hacking scandal

The full details of the 2003 "Operation Motorman" inquiry into Fleet Street's widespread use of a private investigator could be published following a request from the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.

In a proactive move that would sideline the current restrictions of the Data Protection Act, Mr Graham wants the courts to give his office the legal green light to publish files it has held for almost nine years on Steve Whittamore.

The private investigator was regularly commissioned by national newspapers between 1995 and 2003 to access personal information that included private addresses, phone numbers and car licence plate details.

Professor Brian Cathcart, co-founder of the Hacked Off pressure group, is among those who believe that publishing the full Motorman database can match the revelations of press abuse revealed by the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World.

Notebooks taken from Whittamore's office as part of a police investigation contained the names of more than 300 journalists and 4,000 people targeted in often illegal commissions. Though the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) published two reports in 2006 based on the files, it has never publicly identified the journalists named in Whittamore's files, nor revealed the names of the individuals targeted.

The Motorman files have also been examined by the Leveson Inquiry. Although there have been discussions on opening Whittamore's commissions to full public scrutiny, inquiry sources have argued that ownership of the files is part of Mr Graham's domain.

Pressure to end the legal stand-off between Lord Justice Leveson and the ICO increased substantially after Paul Staines, who blogs under the name of Guido Fawkes, published a redacted selection of the Motorman files late on Monday night. The blog's contents were restricted to Whittamore's blue notebook that itemises commissions taken from News International titles.

Although Mr Staines claims to hold all the Motorman files, his blog does not include all the 1,027 entries from the blue book. It also omits listing all the commissions that might be seen as overtly criminal, such as searches for criminal records. However, the redactions Mr Staines carried out indicate that the editing process, which the ICO insists is complex, may not be as difficult as it claims.

Whittamore was charged in 2004 and convicted of illegally accessing data. He received a conditional discharge in April 2005.

The ICO "strongly condemned" the blog publication which it branded "irresponsible". A formal statement said: "Putting these [details] into the public domain in this way is a serious violation of many people's privacy and raises more questions that it answers."

The Hacked Off campaign said the publication should now mean Lord Justice Leveson "promptly" publishes the full evidence it holds from the Motorman investigation.

Professor Cathcart said: "Leaks were inevitable. Fairly detailed reports have appeared in The Independent, on ITN, in The Guardian and elsewhere. And now we have a data dump of the smallest of the four [Whittamore] files. Whether Mr Graham or Lord Justice Leveson wants it to happen or not, piecemeal disclosure is proceeding. This is not satisfactory and they should act swiftly to take charge."

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

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project