Private Investigator Steve Whittamore speaks out about the mobile phone data that he illegally obtained for Rebekah Brooks
· Part 3 of Byline Investigates' series about Rebekah Brooks, the painter and decorator and the private investigators.
· Whittamore paid a former Hells Angel 'cash-in-hand' to carry-out unlawful phone checks, by blagging.
· Blagger used criminal deception – not internet searches, as claimed by Brooks
By Byline Investigates
A Private Investigator has revealed how he got confidential mobile phone data for Rupert Murdoch’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks using unlawful deception.
Steve Whittamore has contradicted what Ms. Brooks said in a legal document lodged at The High Court.
Ms. Brooks said that a ‘mobile conversion’ – finding out the name and address of the subscriber of a mobile network account - could be carried-out using an internet search.
But the ‘inquiry agent’, who she tasked to do the job, told Byline Investigates that he never used internet searches, and no journalist would pay him simply ‘to Google.’
He added that the process he used was illegal, and likely to have been carried-out by a sub-contractor who was a Hell’s Angel, who was part of network of ‘blaggers’ accessed by his company JJ Services.
Mr. Whittamore told Byline Investigates:
‘I employed several guys for this, depending on who was available.
‘Yes, one was an ex-squaddie who rode a motor cycle.
‘He would have had to pretend that he was someone from the mobile network provider, and call-in to the company to ask for the details on an account.
‘There is no other way that it could be done.
‘The company would not hand over the name and address of the owner of the mobile if you told them the truth (that you were a PI, working for a PI or for a newspaper) - they would put the phone down.
‘It had to be done by techniques that had been worked out.
‘I am certain that anyone giving this scenario a modicum of thought, would surmise that the only successful methods would have to be dodgy.’
In fact, the techniques were ‘dodgy’ - blagging was specifically made a criminal offence under the Data Protection Act 1998.
And before that, other laws covered obtaining computer data by deception, such as section 161 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Caption: The Target, Ross Kemp. The Tasker, Rebekah Brooks.
She suspected that the former EastEnders’ hardman was having an affair, after she found a mobile phone number, which she claims was written on a piece of paper that Kemp left lying around the house.
The number turned out to be that of Tony Harding, whose sister was seen chatting to Mr. Kemp during a night out in Doncaster.
Mr. Harding is suing Ms. Brooks for breach of privacy, and has outlined his claim in his Particulars of Claim.
Mr. Harding claims that Ms. Brooks and her newspapers had previously used Mr. Whittamore and therefore ‘knew the private investigator would obtain…the subscriber information by unlawful means.’
At least three former NGN employees have told Byline Investigates that they - and most journalists who used him - knew that instructing Steve Whittamore to ‘turn a number’ was unlawful, and would have been done by unlawful means.
In her defence document, Ms. Brooks denies this, stating: ‘Contrary to the Claimant's pleaded case, it is denied that the Defendant instructed Mr Whittamore to use unlawful means to identify the subscriber.
Mr. Whittamore confirmed to Byline Investigates that he never did mobile conversions on the internet.
He added that the journalists, who instructed him, would have reasonably assumed that conversions were done unlawfully, and that is why they paid him large amounts.
He said: ‘Brooks has suggested that mobile conversions could be carried out on the internet - I have never done one mobile conversion on the internet.
‘And if conversions could be done by internet searches - why pay me to do it?’
A mobile conversion is the trade name for when a PI finds the name and address of the subscriber of a mobile number.
Mr. Whittamore’s company JJ Services, based at the time in a home office in New Milton, Hampshire, invoiced News Group Newspapers, the News of the World’s parent company.
Although Ms. Brooks – who was editor of the News of The World at the time – suggests that the work she asked Mr. Whittamore to do was personal, the bill was signed-off by the then Managing Editor Stuart Kuttner, and paid for from company funds.
Most, if not all companies, might sanction an employee for putting personal expenditure (even on legal activities) through the company’s accounts.
However, there is no suggestion that Ms. Brooks did anything wrong when doing so, assuming that the payments were authorised and she declared them to the taxman as, or similar to, a ‘benefit in kind’.
Caption: The Royal Courts of Justice and the Rolls Building (inset.)
But in her defence case, a full copy of which can be found here [LINK] Brooks does not respond to the paragraph in Mr. Harding’s statement which refers to these issues, saying it ‘is liable to be struck out for want of relevance.’
Brooks states in her defence that, at the time, her relationship with Mr. Kemp was strained.
However, the couple weathered the storm, and less than a year later on 11 June 2002 Mr. Kemp married Ms. Brooks.
But in November 2005, Ms. Brooks was arrested following an alleged assault on her husband – and four years later they divorced.
Ms. Brooks has always maintained that she only ever tasked PIs to investigate or track down convicted paedophiles as part of her controversial Sarah’s Law anti-child sex offender campaign in 2000, or that it was otherwise in the public interest.
Mr. Harding is claiming aggravated damages because he says that Ms. Brooks, in denying she had carried out illegal inquiries on him, in the way that she did, implicated him as an actual or suspected paedophile.
Most recently, Mr. Harding was again named as an ‘alleged paedophile’ by a lawyer acting for NGN in the High Court in September 2017.
More follows on the Harding – Brooks legal in Part 4.