Bellingcat

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Hackgate - The John Boyall Files

The latest piece from my regular contributor.

You win some, you lose some.

Following a four-day hearing last week, the large group of phone-hacking civil claimants won the right to see 9 key Glenn Mulcaire emails. On the downside, Justice Vos said they have enough disclosure material for the current cases so they lost on one issue -
The phone-hacking claimants were seeking further disclosure in relation to Mulcaire's activities before 2001 in an effort to establish whether voicemail interception had taken place earlier than admitted by News International during the course of the civil litigation proceedings
So, restricting the disclosure window  to post-2001? Narrowing the parameters? Isn't that one of the strategies that drew criticism to Operation Caryatid - the original phone hacking 2006 investigation? Has nothing been learnt?

It is to be hoped that an arbitrary 2001 date in the civil cases is not taken as a precedent for ongoing and future police investigations or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charging decisions into journalist/private investigator 'dark arts'.  Clearly, the phone hacking victims are not the only ones needing to know the genesis and extent of the 'dark arts' - it is in the wider public interest.

Irrespective of Mulcaire having or not having a direct contract with News International pre-2001, it is in the public domain that he was undertaking investigative work for them.
All through the late 1990s, the paper had been hiring an investigator called John Boyall, who, among other services, specialised in acquiring information from confidential databases. He had a wiry young man working as his assistant, named Glenn Mulcaire. In the autumn of 2001, John Boyall fell out with the News of the World's assistant editor, Greg Miskiw, who had been responsible for handling him. Miskiw replaced him by poaching Glenn Mulcaire and giving him a full-time contract.
John Boyall - at the time that he was employing Mulcaire - came to police attention.  Devon and Cornwall Constabulary scoped intelligence that a nationwide network of private investigators was illegally obtaining information from the Police National Computer (PNC).  That scoping led to an investigation called Operation Reproof.  In turn, Operation Reproof led to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) investigation Operation Motorman into data offences, and a Metropolitan Police (MET) investigation - Operation Glade.  For more information, see 'Revisiting Operation Reproof and Other Police Operations'

Devon and Cornwall police organised a raid of business premises outside London associated with Boyall.  ICO investigators were invited to accompany, to deal with suspected Data Protection breaches. Material was seized which indicated corrupt DVLA sources, plus a wealth of other incriminating documentation including commissions from Steve Whittamore (see Alex Owens' evidence to Leveson).

What is less clear is what happened to the wealth of evidentiary material.seized in the Boyall raid.  This of course begs questions - what time period do the 'Boyall Files' cover? Do they include material that may shed light on Boyall and Mulcaire's pre-2001 'dark arts' activities for journalists? Were their specialist corruption and blagging skills commissioned and deployed for other private investigators? Is there material relevant to other contemporaneous police investigations, for example, Operation Nigeria?

Given the MET's past record of effective searches of 'unused material' and their vague, hazy explanation of how long they keep it safe after convictions (five, six, seven years..?) one could be pessimistic. If it weren't for Nick Davies' reports in the Guardian, the Mulcaire material in bin bags may well have found their way into a MET incinerator.  But the best place to start may be via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Information Commissioner's Office itself.  As the entity responsible for ensuring FOI compliance, doubtless they would welcome the opportunity to answer a few questions - in the public interest:

Where are the Boyall Files and unused material?

Were the Boyall Files passed on or copied to the MET for use in Operation Glade?

Did Devon and Cornwall Constabulary retain the Boyall Files and unused material for use in the abortive Operation Reproof prosecutions?

Were the Boyall Files incorporated into the spreadsheets of the more-famous Motorman Files?

Where is the unused material from Operation Motorman, given that the earliest data relate to 1996?

Were copies of the Boyall Files and unused material provided to the MET for use in Operation Caryatid?

Have the ICO been asked, or given, permission for the destruction of any or all of the Boyall Files and/or related material?

At least two allegations of pre-2001 phone hacking were given in evidence to Lord Justice Leveson:
  • James Hipwell's evidence asserted phone hacking at The Mirror 1998-2000
  • Dominic Mohan described how newspapers, in 1998, hacked into the mobile phones of members of the Irish Government to expose lax security.
Therefore there seems to be an argument for locating and preserving pre-2001 material - especially relating to Mulcaire - before it is lost, destroyed or compromised.  The clock is ticking to get it preserved fast.

Related Articles
One Rogue Email And The Indestructible Archive 

John Yates And Neil Wallis - A Mutual Understanding
Alex Marunchak - Presumed Innocent
News Corp - Diplomatic Immunity?
The Cook-Hames Surveillance : A Watched Kettle...
Alastair Morgan On The Latest Hackgate Revelations

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. It will be interesting to see if all the "principled" journalists calling, properly, for an investigation into the culture and ethics at the BBC (and possibly beyond) will now be calling for the Motorman (and associated)files to be revealed to all - in the interests of openness and transparency.

    Just to show they were all acting in the public interest of course. Has anyone apart from David Leigh, who I believe has accounted to the law for his actions, stood up for their principles and owned up to "listening in" yet?

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