Yard trawls evidence from former inquiry into private detective

 

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The Independent Online

Detectives investigating phone-hacking at the News of the World have requested evidence from an earlier inquiry into illegal newsgathering across Fleet Street to reinforce efforts to discover the extent of voicemail interception at the now defunct Sunday newspaper.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) confirmed it had handed Scotland Yard its files from Operation Motorman, an investigation into Steve Whittamore, a private detective found to have gathered confidential information for newspaper groups including News International.

It is understood officers from Operation Weeting, the ongoing inquiry into phone hacking, are using the Motorman evidence to establish how journalists at the NOTW allegedly obtained private information from Mr Whittamore before private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, was used to access the mobile phone records of public figures and victims of crime.

It emerged earlier this month that Mr Whittamore was approached after the disappearance in 2002 of Milly Dowler to obtain the address and ex-directory landline number for her family home. The private detective used "blaggers" adept at obtaining confidential information. The NOTW began to access the voicemails on Milly's mobile phone with the help of Mr Mulcaire.

An ICO spokesman said: "There is a link between blagging and then hacking into a phone. We looked at the actions of one private investigator and the information gathered from that investigation was requested by the Metropolitan Police three months ago."

The ICO investigation, which led to Mr Whittamore being convicted of data protection offences in 2005, found 23 NOTW journalists commissioned the private investigator on 228 occasions. Much of the information requested was from legitimate sources, but other items, such as DVLA data or ex-directory phone numbers, could only have been obtained illegally.

The Yard has also been asked to examine mobile phone location records to discover whether police pinpointed celebrities and other targets on behalf of the NOTW. The practice, known as "pinging", allows police to discover the location of an individual using mobile phone mast triangulation and can only be used in the detection of serious criminality.

But Sean Hoare, a former NOTW journalist who died earlier this week, claimed it was used by a NOTW executive at a cost of £300 per request.