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Ian Burrell: We shouldn't keep victims of dark arts in the dark


I have seen the Operation Motorman files and the thousands of names of targeted individuals. Some of them are instantly recognisable as high-profile figures from the worlds of entertainment, politics and sport. Others are members of the public who are not household names, but came on to the radar of the media, which paid a private detective to check them out.

That gumshoe, Steve Whittamore, was as meticulous in his record keeping as Glenn Mulcaire, the private eye at the centre of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World. Whittamore logged more than 17,000 transactions in A4 notebooks colour-coded to identify the company that had commissioned him.

Alongside the names of the targets were those of the journalist buying the information and the nature of the work requested, be it a criminal record check, a vehicle registration search, an ex-directory telephone number or some form of "blag" where he would affect a disguise to obtain personal details.

Yesterday, the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, said it would not be "practicable" to notify such people. His office, he said, was working "flat out" on other matters.

But, as a public body, the ICO is under an obligation to help citizens protect their right to privacy under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act and currently they are being kept in ignorance of the facts – as they have been for eight years since Whittamore's files were seized. Would notification be so impractical, given the ICO spent around £10,000 transferring the Whittamore notebooks to easily searchable computer files? Yes, a "John Smith" might appear difficult to trace – but in many cases the target is listed with an address and mobile number.

Let's remember notifying all phone-hacking victims was once dismissed as too labour-intensive. The Motorman victims, some of whom have suffered much greater intrusion, should not be kept in the dark as to how they were exposed to the dark arts.