Thursday 30 August 2012

SOCA, The Met, And The ICO - Joined Up Thinking?

Another post from a regular contributor

So, there's plenty happening with Hackgate.  Lord Justice Leveson has started to send out Section 13 letters, a couple of ex-Times employees have been arrested regarding Nightjack, Tom Crone has been arrested, and the Wapping Weeting defendants are due to plead at Southwark on September 26th.  In Scotland, Operation Rubicon's investigations have now led to the Sheridan Trial Trio being detained, arrested and charged. 

But meanwhile, there are low profile developments gathering pace (or should that be PACE...) involving the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). 

As the Leveson Inquiry starts to wind down for now, the focus for inquisitorial scrutiny will start to shift back where it was before - the Select Committees of Parliament.  The work of Tom Watson et al of the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee was crucial to unpicking allegations of News International's phone-hacking.  It was ably augmented by the Home Affairs Select Committee looking at Metropoltan Police Service (MET) handling of Hackgate and communications data interception. The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) issued its rigorous Report in July 2011, 'Unauthorised Tapping Into or Hacking of Mobile Communications'. 

HASC scrutiny of related issues has though continued - it launched an inquiry into 'private investigators' and held evidence hearings in the spring of 2012.  Aside from issues of regulation, licensing and so on, HASC heard three pieces of evidence of real interest to Hackgate watchers.
  • An unrepentant Julian Pike of Farrer & Co was asked again about News International's use of a private investigator in surveillance of Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris, lawyers acting for phone-hacking victims.
  • an unexpected bombshell when (under parliamentary privilege) a witness alleged collusion and corruption of MET officers by a leading private investigator and security industry firm.
  • an opportunity to re-visit OPERATION MOTORMAN with the Information Commissioner (ICO).
The HASC Report 2012, 'Private Investigators' is published here.  Deep in the written evidence is a brief supplementary submission (April 2012, p123) from the ICO which repays reading. It seems - perhaps belatedly - there might actually be some cooperation and coordination in investigatory strategy going on.  Whilst the ICO have not prosecuted any private investigators or 'enquiry agents' for the past two years, it says
We have however been engaged in one long-running and complex investigation which we expect to be able to bring to court imminently.
There is little nugget too:
The ICO is also working with other regulators and law enforcement bodies... the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) have agreed to share some of the evidence obtained in Operation Millipede with the ICO.
 It continues,
Similarly the Metropolitan Police have agreed to share some of the evidence relating to private investigators that they uncover during aspects of the Operation Wheeting investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World. This information will be collated and used within the (ICO) investigations department to inform and support proactive investigations into rogue elements within the private investigator community.
Joined-up thinking at last by key investigation agencies and (maybe) some signs of a common determination to pursue evidence that has been gathering cobwebs too long.

And that's an intriguing turn of phrase from the ICO - "rogue elements".  One might wonder if it has anything to do with the confidential 2008 SOCA Intelligence Report called 'Private Investigators: The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry and Others Unlawfully Trading in Personal Data'.

Completed by SOCA in Jan 2008, the eight page report was designated 'Restricted' until it was slipped into the public domain in early 2012.  (Hat-tip to Keith Vaz MP for noticing it on SOCA's web site.) It summarises findings about "harms inflicted to the UK by private investigators" from five un-named police investigations, up to and including 2007 when Clive GOODMAN and Glenn MULCAIRE were convicted.  Criminal activities include "unlawfully acquiring data, interception of communications, corruption, and perverting the course of justice."  It is also pointed out that many private investigators have been previously employed in law enforcement or the armed forces: "Such individuals bring with them the skills and specialist knowledge accrued during their previous careers."  Corrupt practices identified also include "accessing their own or associates' recorded convictions; attempting to discover the location of witnesses".

You can read it here.

The five anonymised investigations up to the Intelligence Report cut-off date of September 2007 could conceivably include Operation REPROOF, Operation MOTORMAN and Operation GLADE - these all relate to Hackgate.  Spoilt for choice, perhaps SOCA also included the (as-yet unconnected to Hackgate)  Operation BARBATUS.

Should SOCA consider writing a Volume 2 beyond that cut-off date, the familiar modus operandi might point to several current police Hackgate operations, and perhaps Operation ABELARD II.

Not forgetting there's that rather interesting OPERATION MILLIPEDE - the prime example of a 'Jack-in-Box' investigation.  The one that it is just so difficult to keep the lid on.

Related articles
Unlucky For Some - Section 13
A Battle Royal - Murdoch vs Monarchy
Operation Tuleta - A Second Look
Some Intriguing Hackgate "Known Unknowns"

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1 comment:

  1. Guardian Lord Justice Leveson Independently "loading his gun" to aim Expressly at those coming out of the Last Chance Saloon into the midday Sun? The Times they are a changing, thank our lucky Star(s)from Blue Jay Way.

    Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the dirtiest digger of tham all?