Bellingcat

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hackgate - Ten To Watch For

The latest piece from My Regular Contributor, looking at ten things to watch for in the ongoing Hackgate saga

1  Hole-in-the-Wall:  Steve Coogan told the Leveson Inquiry how the minutiae of his life was intruded on by Glenn Mulcaire.  Coogan was shown Mulcaire's notes (p14):
I saw a redacted copy, which had information about money I'd withdrawn from a cash machine,...the precise amount of money I'd withdrawn from a cash machine, which would suggest someone was looking over my shoulder when I was doing it.
Shoulder-surfing is only one explanation. A case cited in the 2008 Serious Organised Crime Agency report ('The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry') is clearly Glenn Mulcaire. Following a description of his modus operandi, is this curiosity (p5, SOCA 2008):
The investigator also managed to intercept the landline of an Automated Telling Machine at a local shop to distance himself from his calls to the voicemail boxes.
Mulcaire is known as a former footballer, not telecomms technician.  Did he have that expertise himself?  Or was technical expertise recruited from amongst a wider private investigator network?  What kinds of ATM info interception were feasible?

2  Tracking: UK parent company of News International, News Group Newspapers (NGN), does not dispute that it commissioned Derek Webb to do surveillance on targets for stories.  Ex-policeman Webb was variously designated as private investigator / freelance journalist depending on when it was considered politic for him to hold an NUJ card.  But NGN has also admitted (p8 para 31, Admission of Facts) that information, unlawfully obtained by its own journalists from Mulcaire, was used to enable un-named "private investigators employed by News of the World to monitor, locate and track individuals to place them under surveillance."  It will be interesting to know what tracking and surveillance technology was deployed, and by whom.

3  Safety First: And on the subject of security technology, this small nugget from Mary-Ellen Field's evidence to Leveson is intriguing - the last time she ever spoke to celebrity client Elle McPherson after acrimoniously parting company:
I received a call out-of-the-blue from Elle asking me who the security people were who checked her house, office and car.  Elle did not explain why she wanted this information -- however I provided it to her.  It occurs to me now that it is likely that she needed that information following contact from the police in relation to phone hacking, having arrested Mulcaire.  I know now that Clive Goodman's column in the NOTW was cancelled the previous week.
If accurate, it is interesting to note police interest in how celebrities are willing to pay elite private security companies to safeguard their privacy.  For example, one such specialist company - Brookmans International - were very supportive in providing protection and security technology to Kerry Katona. Sadly, their best efforts did not prevent stories about Katona's private life appearing in newspapers.

4  Still on the topic of technology:  Operation Tuleta will soon be back in the news as awaited charging decisions are due.  The ongoing Operation Tuleta investigation includes Operation Kalmyk, focusing on alleged computer hacking related to Northern Ireland.  Outgoing MET DAC Sue Akers was asked about computer hacking at her final appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee in early September
Q You mentioned computer hacking in the course of your remarks. What can you tell us about the progress of investigations on that, please?
Akers: It is difficult for me to go into any detail, obviously, because it is an ongoing investigation, but there are seven people who are on bail in relation to computer hacking.
Q  I know it is difficult for you but are you able to tell us generally what the nature of the allegation is in those cases, the general character?
Akers: You will have seen, maybe, the Panorama programme. There are inquiries in connection with that. It is difficult for me to go into much more detail.
Q  Are you able to say anything about the characteristics of the seven people who are under investigation, what category they might fall into?
Akers: I suppose the general category you would say is private investigator, some of them ex-police.
Q  Are there files with the CPS in relation to those matters or not?
Akers: Yes.
5  Weeting: There are still charging decisions outstanding under Operation Weeting.  Eight have already been charged:  Rebekah Brooks, Andrew Coulson, Stuart Kuttner, Glenn Mulcaire, Greg Miskiw, Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup.  However the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Principal Legal Advisor announced at the same time that three others arrested would have no further action taken and
There are two suspects in relation to whom the police have asked me to defer making a decision whilst further enquiries are made. For this reason I do not intend to give their names or say anything further about them at this stage.
6  Andy Coulson - is still waiting for his Appeal over News Group Newspapers refusal to pay his legal fees.  In essence, Coulson argues NGN are contractually obliged tp pay his legal costs accrued as a result of his time in employment at NGN, whilst they argue their contractual obligation does not apply to illegal acts he may have undertaken. At the time of his unsuccessful hearing in December 2011, Coulson had been arrested by both Operation Weeting and Operation Elvedon.  Since then he has additionally been arrested once more (Operation Rubicon) and charged twice (Operation Rubicon and Operation Weeting).  Coulson is therefore clocking up massive legal fees for which he is, pending Appeal, personally liable.  The Appeal Hearing should be instructive.

7  DCI April Casburn - suspended from her MET job in Counter Terrorism Command (Specialist Operations), is due back in court, at the Old Bailey on November 2nd.  She is charged with offences which include an alleged offer to supply News International with insider information on Operation Varec - a sub-investigation of Operation Weeting.  Arguably the most significant aspect of Casburn's Old Bailey appearance is that she "must enter a plea to the charge"  - the first defendant to do so since the News of the World scandal erupted.

8 ICO:  There may be more charges to come, but this time by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).  Asked about the future sequence of events which might, in time, signal the closing stages of Hackgate, DAC Akers told the Home Affairs Select Committee that it would be necessary to involve the ICO in charges to be laid.  The ICO has its own powers to take action in relation to the Data Protection Act, in addition to any police/CPS prosecutions -
the Information Commissioner must get involved where there is not quite such serious criminality but, nonetheless, there are breaches of privacy.
Given the criticism of the ICO's failure to achieve convictions under Operation Motorman, they would doubtless be glad of the opportunity to take action on data protection offences.  And who is to say that potential prosecutions might not result, belatedly, from Operation Motorman itself?

9  Will Hackgate spread further?  Possibly
Home Affairs Select Committee  Q49 Mr Winnick: In your evidence to the Leveson inquiry, you said that Trinity Mirror, News International and Express Newspapers were being investigated for corrupt payments to officials. That is what you said?
Sue Akers: Yes.
Q50 Mr Winnick: Are there other organisations now involved in the investigation, apart from those?
Sue Akers: Those are the organisations that I have said publicly, and I think I should not go any further than what is in the public domain.
Q51 Mr Winnick: When you say you do not want to go any further, I do not want to press you when you consider that it would be inappropriate, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, but you have mentioned companies already to the Leveson inquiry. You are saying, in effect, if I understand you, that there are other companies but for some reason you do not want to mention them today.
Sue Akers: I am certainly not ready to say anything in the way that I did about the Mirror Group and the Express Group because our investigation is still continuing.
Mr Winnick: If that is the position, I will not press you further. Thank you.

10  Sue Akers' replacement - is MET Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh, so his name will become familiar to Hackgate watchers.  His face may already be familiar from his press conferences during the London riots in 2011.  There is already one Hackgate gig awaiting him at the Leveson Inquiry. In addressing Future Directions, Leveson said
As I have just made clear to DAC Akers, it is important that my report is based on what is then the most up to date information about the progress of the criminal investigation.... I make clear that I will issue another request under s. 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005... Notice of a hearing will be provided in good time to all core participants to Modules 1 and 2 
Unless Lord Justice Leveson decides to accept a substitute written statement, Steve Kavanagh could be back in front of the cameras soon in Court 73.

So, plenty still to watch out for....

Related Articles
Hackgate - Dear Surrey Police
Hackgate - The John Boyall Files
One Rogue Email And The Indestructible Archive 
John Yates And Neil Wallis - A Mutual Understanding
Alex Marunchak - Presumed Innocent

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

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