Thursday. 24 April 2014

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Revealed: secrets from SOCA report on private investigators

Serious Organised Crime Agency censored blue-chip companies that were ‘blagged’

Be careful what you wish for

Tom Watson, MP, on media calls for release of SOCA intelligence

Full details can today be revealed of an intelligence report compiled by the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency into private investigators.

SOCA censored key passages when it released a copy of its confidential report on corrupt investigators, triggering intense speculation about what was removed.

Exaro today publishes a full copy of the 2008 report, entitled, ‘Private Investigators: The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry and Others Unlawfully Trading in Personal Data’. It was codenamed, ‘Project Riverside’, and based on intelligence from five police operations.

Exaro’s unredacted version identifies two blue-chip companies as victims of private detectives who ‘blagged’ sensitive personal data from them.

The unredacted report also identifies HM Revenue & Customs as having been tricked into releasing personal details of income and tax.

One censored passage suggests that private investigators even deleted intelligence records from law-enforcement databases.

Most of SOCA’s redactions are about an operation by the Metropolitan Police Service that provided much of the intelligence for the review of activities of “rogue” investigators. The operation was at the time subject to judicial review.

Exaro’s full version of the SOCA report shows that the redactions hid the name ‘Operation Abelard II’, which was the latest in a series of investigations into the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator and co-founder of a private-detective agency, Southern Investigations.

Morgan was axed to death in 1987 in the car park of a pub in south London. The Met’s investigation focused on Southern Investigations, and led to charges against four people. All four were later acquitted.

Theresa May, home secretary, announced in May that a retired judge will lead an “independent panel” to hold a review of the case.

Under the terms of reference, the inquiry “will address connections between police officers, private investigators and journalists at the News of the World and other media involved in the case.”

A senior serving police officer told Exaro that the SOCA assessment “was directly instigated by material gleaned from the investigation of Daniel Morgan’s murder.”

“It is no coincidence that this report was commissioned as yet another inquiry into Daniel Morgan’s murder was under way.”

The report released by SOCA identified four other operations from which it also drew intelligence.

These included Operation Carytid, which was the Met’s first investigation into phone hacking by the News of the World’s royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator contracted by the newspaper, Glenn Mulcaire.

The second was Operation Barbatus, which was directly linked to Abelard. Also carried out by the Met, it investigated the obtaining of information from the police national computer.

The other two operations that fed into the SOCA report were Flandria and Gloxinia, which also investigated private investigators. SOCA carried out Flandria, while the National Crime Squad conducted Gloxinia.

The final two pages of the report, not included in Exaro’s unredacted version, contain an annex that outlines the five operations and a list of eight people at SOCA and the Home Office who received the review.

The suppressed details of the SOCA report have sparked fevered speculation about the “other hacking scandal”.

However, the SOCA report mainly arose out of investigations into corrupt links between private detectives, police and the Press.

Tom Watson, the campaigning Labour MP, warned newspapers that are pressing for the release of SOCA intelligence on private investigators in the hope of focussing attention on criminality elsewhere: “Be careful what you wish for.”

“The PR around this is developing into a crude game of relativism,” Watson told Exaro, “with industry leaders in major media organisations trying to say, ‘Everyone is as bad as us.’”

But he is calling for a wider investigation into privacy breaches by private investigators.

The SOCA report led to ‘Operation Millipede’ and the jailing last year of four private detectives for blagging personal information.

Sources close to the investigation say that Millipede turned into ‘Operation Tuleta’, which is looking into computer hacking and other privacy invasions.

The developments come as Exaro’s exposure of Rupert Murdoch’s private comments about police investigations into his newspapers prompted Ofcom, the UK’s television regulator, to review Sky TV’s licence to broadcast.

If you have information – including any recordings – that might help our investigation, please contact us.

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