The head of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and a senior Scotland Yard police officer misled MPs investigating the blue-chip hacking scandal, committee members investigating the case have said.
Trevor Pearce, the agency’s director-general, and Commander Neil Basu issued a joint statement to the Home Affairs Select Committee last month that claimed Soca provided the Metropolitan police with “full access” to key computers seized years earlier from corrupt private investigators.
But following further questions from the Committee, it has emerged that Met detectives investigating historic evidence of computer hacking buried for years by Soca only received key information last week.
In a letter to Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Commander Basu was forced to admit his officers had only just been passed a list of 102 blue-chip companies who hired rogue PIs who hack, blag and steal sensitive information.
Mr Vaz said: “It is very surprising that the first time the Metropolitan Police had access to these lists was on 30 July. This is even more puzzling considering the joint statement released on 12 July 2013 by Soca and the Met which stated that ‘the MPS has been given full access to all material held by Soca’. Clearly this was not the case.”
The development piles fresh pressure on the Met and Soca, whose chairman Sir Ian Andrews resigned last week. Both organisations have faced questions since The Independent revealed law enforcement agencies had knowledge for years that law firms, insurance companies and other sectors employed criminal private investigators – yet faced no censure.
Investigators from Soca seized the hard drives from a hacker, who cannot be named for legal reasons, during a raid in 2009. Despite evidence of criminality, he was charged with only minor offences in 2011.
It is understood the Met has only obtained “incremental” disclosure of the evidence from Soca, which has baffled independent security sources.
Yet when MPs asked Mr Pearce what happened to the hard drives last month, he said: “As soon as we became aware that there may have been information on that... all of that information – the hard drive, supporting documentary evidence, statements, and indeed follow-up inquiries from our officers, was provided to the Metropolitan Police.”
Tom Watson MP said: “I have a very strong reason to believe that the contents of these hard drives contain evidence of extremely serious criminal activity that has been ignored…
“Given the way Parliament has been misled, the Home Affairs Select Committee would be within its rights to order full, independent analysis of the computers. Can anyone trust Soca with this scandal any more?”
A Met Police spokesperson replied to the allegations, saying: “Between May and December 2011 the Metropolitan Police worked with Soca who made available all of their Operation Millipede information. This was essentially huge quantities of electronic data, the hard drives of which were supplied to the MPS.
“This material was only put in list format for the Home Affairs Select Committee, and the MPS only provided with the information in that format on 30 July. In common with Soca, the MPS is not alleging that the individuals or companies on the list have, or even may have, committed a criminal offence.
“The MPS is checking the list against its open investigation and will inform the committee when this is complete.”
A Soca spokesperson said: “As previously stated in correspondence to the committee, the MPS has been provided with full access to all Operation Millipede material held by Soca. The Operation Tuleta team was involved in the preparation of the list, and requested that client information relating to their ongoing investigation be removed prior to its release to the committee. Commander Basu later received a personal copy of the list on 30 July.”