PART 5: The Mail's Secret Million Pounds Dossier Exposed
• In the previous four parts of Byline’s probe into the Daily Mail, our reports have focused on payments made to ONE private investigator, namely Steve Whittamore, who was convicted for illegally accessing data for newspapers (including the Mail). We exposed the fact that the Mail paid him hundreds of thousands of pounds AFTER his conviction, as well as before.
• Now we shine a light on the fact that The Mail paid nearly a MILLION pounds to another NINE firms - something that has been kept from public scrutiny for over a decade.
• The Editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre has threatened to personally sue Byline for libel if we carry on publishing stories about the Mail’s use of private investigators. We don’t think he has any legitimate basis for doing so and that he is simply trying to use the chill of a libel threat to try to force us into silence.
• We have responded to his legal threats here.
• Our response to Mr Dacre’s libel bullying is now to expose more of the Mail’s dubious activities. Read on.
Exclusive by Byline Investigations
The Mail Group spent ONE MILLION POUNDS on private investigators – even after the authorities exposed the illegal trade in unlawful data.
The staggering figure has never been revealed before.
It is the first time the payments have been added-up because our reporters have been able to piece together information from different sources.
Our investigators have seen unpublished data submitted to Part 1 of the Leveson Inquiry.
In addition, we have analysed invoices connected to Steve Whittamore, Britain’s biggest media blagger, which have been supplied to us.
Payment ledgers submitted to the Leveson Inquiry reveal that the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday paid out £823,218.54. The money was paid to ten different private investigators between January 2005 and April 2007 – an average of more than £30,000 a month.
Notably, The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, and the industry bodies that their editors served on, were repeatedly warned by the authorities after 2003 that private investigators commissioned by newspapers were breaking the law.
Byline has also seen payment slips from the Mail to convicted PI Steve Whittamore which show he was paid £36,434.50 in 2004, the year after he was raided by police on suspicion of selling the press blagged personal data, and after a Mail journalist was interviewed by the police in relation to his activities commissioned by the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Evening Standard, then part of the Mail Group, Associated Newspapers (ANL), also paid Whittamore £21,807.88 for 48 tasks after 2003.
This means the minimum sum known to have been spent on private investigators by ANL after 2003 is £881,460.92.
That figure does not include any spend on the nine PIs in 2003 and 2004, so the overall amount is likely to exceed £1 million – and could be much higher.
As reported exclusively by Byline, within the £823,000, ANL paid more than £150,000 to Whittamore after he was raided by the authorities and continued to pay for his services following his conviction in April 2005.
Most of those payments were for information he had obtained unlawfully.
The ledgers offer a revealing insight into ANL's huge spend on private investigators.
They were included among documents required to be disclosed to the inquiry at the request of Lord Justice Leveson, but never made available to the public by Associated.
They show the Daily Mail spent £597,190.41 on these PIs in the 27-months between January 2005 and April 2007, while The Mail on Sunday paid out £226,028.13 during the same period.
The Mail used eight different investigators: Capitol, Express Locate International (ELI), JS3 Ltd, JJ Services (Whittamore's firm), Investigator Support Services, Newsreel, Searchline and System Searches.
The Mail on Sunday also used JJ Services, JS3 Ltd, Searchline and System Searches, along with two other firms, Linx International and Summit Credit and Legal Services.
In their evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, neither Mail editor Paul Dacre nor former Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright, now Editor Emeritus at ANL, specified the vast sums which their newspapers had paid to private investigators.
The reason that the Leveson Inquiry did not explore this data or press the editors on it, during their oral evidence, was that this matter was to be dealt with by Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry.
The terms of reference for the second part of Leveson's probe include an examination of unlawful and improper conduct by newspaper organisations and those responsible for holding personal data.
Both The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday have declared their vehement opposition to part two of the Inquiry going ahead, and have been campaigning against it taking place. The public have a right to know that the Mail don’t want the scale and nature of these payments to come to light.
Former Mail on Sunday editor Wright, who sits on the Complaints Committee of the press industry’s self-regulator, told Leveson that his newspaper banned the use of Whittamore in 2004 - apart from two jobs in 2005, which he told Leveson ”no one was able to explain”.
But the ledgers show that his newspaper continued to use several other private investigators until ANL brought in a ban on their use in April 2007. While it is not suggested that these private investigators broke the law to same extent as Whittamore, it has never been shown that all these private investigators acted legally at all times.
There is evidence that several of these firms broke the law. This is something that should have been investigated by a responsible newspaper at the time of the Motorman scandal, let alone at the Leveson Inquiry.
There is no evidence that the Mail has ever investigated the companies it was commissioning to obtain personal data.
Under the Data Protection Act, it is a criminal offence for companies to process personal data without being registered with the Information Commissioner. Only System Searches and Linx International were on the ICO's Data Protection Public Register in the period covered by the payment ledgers.
In a submission to the Leveson Inquiry, Mail Editor in Chief, Paul Dacre, said that after the Information Commissioner's Office’s report ‘What Price Privacy?’ was published in May 2006, 'on 11 July 2006 Alex Bannister, Group Managing Editor, sent a letter to all heads of department at the Daily Mail which impressed upon them that it is "absolutely essential that we abide by the DPA" and that it is the responsibility of the department heads that where information is sourced from third parties, such enquiries are made by reputable companies and individuals operating within the law.’
The ICO's report was based on their investigation into Steve Whittamore, named Operation Motorman, which identified the ANL journalists as his most prolific customers.
Byline’s exclusive investigation has already revealed that while he was writing these warning letters to staff, and for many months afterwards, Bannister’s office was busy authorising fees to Whittamore, whose company was far from reputable and who was operating outside the law, while also spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on other firms.
After Bannister sent his warning, The Daily Mail spent at least a further £132,504.61 on private investigators.
Byline reported that Bannister, the Mail's current Managing Editor, was also on Steve Whittamore's contact list and had signed off more than £50,000 in fees to the convicted private detective after his arrival in November 2005. We published that story following an initial statement from Bannister's office dismissing our investigation.
Byline sent ANL a series of questions about the secret dossier. Last night they responded: 'Our use of inquiry agents - and the decision in 2007 by the Editor-in-chief to ban all use of them - was covered in our evidence and submissions to the Leveson inquiry and we have nothing further to add.'
Previously, after we asked the Mail to comment on Bannister's appearance on Whittamore's list of contacts, the Mail's lawyers sent a libel threat from Paul Dacre, Peter Wright and legal chief Liz Hartley which demanded we take down our stories and apologise. Bannister himself has not responded.
You can read the response of Byline's lawyers here.
In response to ANL's threats, we have obtained free legal help (we are very grateful to Keystone Law for their assistance) and we launched a fund (on the right column of this page) to which readers can donate, to enable us to carry on our investigation into allegations of criminality at Britain’s favourite middle-market paper.
• You can also read and help fund Byline's investigation into The Sun here.