The Mail REFUSES to answer our specific questions about its use of rogue firm Express Locate International – but denies ever intercepting voicemails.

By Graham Johnson

Editor, Byline Investigates

Byline has revealed the Daily Mail spent more than £115,000 on PIs linked to ‘industrial-scale’ phone hacking.

Before publishing Part Six  of our investigation into the Mail, Byline put a series of questions to the newspaper about its reporters use of ELI, including

• What information Mail journalists had paid ELI for and what use it was put to?

• Whether the Mail had ever conducted an inquiry into its use of ELI before, during and after the Leveson Inquiry and in particular following Mr Justice Mann’s Mirror Group judgment.

Byline also asked

• Why the Mail had stopped using ELI so abruptly in October 2006?

• Who signed off the payments to ELI?

• Whether the Mail or Mail on Sunday ever published information which was ever likely to have come from voicemail interception.

This was the Mail’s full response: 

“As we have previously made clear, 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.

“We have also repeatedly made clear that there is no evidence whatsoever that any Associated Newspapers publication has ever engaged in phone hacking. Mr Justice Mann’s Mirror judgment gives no grounds to speculate that phone hacking took place in this group and there can be no justification for any such inference or allegation.””

Byline then went back to the Mail a second time and asked:

• Was all the data bought from ELI legally obtained?

• Was there a misuse of private information or a breach of confidence involved in a significant amount of the information provided by ELI to ANL?

The Mail referred us to its earlier statement, which does not address these fresh questions.

Meanwhile, the news that the Daily Mail extensively used private investigators Express Locate International has raised eyebrows across Fleet Street – and beyond.

Part Six of our investigation into the alleged criminal activities of the middle market newspaper revealed they spent more than £115,000 on unspecified requests from ELI – who were named in a phone hacking judgement as a supplier of unlawful data used by journalists for phone hacking.

As part of the same judgment against Mirror Group Newspapers, Mr Justice Mann awarded damages of nearly £1.25m to eight victims of Mirror phone hacking, including £260,250 to one claimant, actress Sadie Frost.

Furthermore, in a series of admissions to the court, prior to the judgement, Mirror Group Newspapers confirmed their journalists had used ELI and other firms to unlawfully “blag” private information (including call records and PIN numbers) which was then used to hack phones, and that the information obtained was obtained unlawfully and was such that the newspaper was unlikely to have obtained lawfully from another source.

The Mirror ruling has been extensively cited in recent High Court hearings alleging hacking by The Sun.

Claimants allege that Sun journalists hacked their phones, during the editorship of controversial News UK Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, after using PIs to get their private phone numbers, those of their friends and billing patterns.

Close analysis by Byline of the ELI ledger reveals that most of the tasks requested by Daily Mail journalists from ELI are identified by generic terms such as ‘R/Search’, ‘Research’ and ‘Trace.’

Not all of the available information is fully readable because in the documents provided to the Leveson Inquiry, which are print-outs of spreadsheets, the column containing information about the jobs carried out by ELI has been “squeezed”, which means that some details are not visible in the ledgers provided to the Inquiry.

It is likely that the Daily Mail still hold the full information on the original spreadsheets – and Byline believes that this full information was withheld from the Leveson Inquiry.

The cost of the inquiries commissioned by Mail journalists range from £47 to £311.38. Legal experts say that these figures are too much to pay for a job looking up phone numbers on a publicly available computer database.

The records seen by Byline reveal the Mail’s use of ELI stopped abruptly in October 2006 – two months after Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire, a reporter from the News of the World and a private investigator used by the same paper, had been arrested for phone hacking.

Interestingly, October 2006 is also the month when the police contacted Mail executives to inform them that four reporters from the Mail on Sunday had been among the victims of phone hacking.

The Mail’s response is the latest in a series of strenuous denials of phone hacking stretching back to the Leveson Inquiry in 2012.

In her witness statement [paragraphs 12 and 13] to the Inquiry, ANL legal chief Liz Hartley said: 

“I am unaware of any phone hacking activity having taken place within ANL and no such allegations have been made by any person. Heads of editorial departments and key journalists have denied any knowledge of phone hacking.”

Hartley added that ANL searched their

“financial records for any mention of names of companies and individuals ‘such as Glenn Mulcaire who have been linked with allegations of phone hacking.”’

She wrote: ‘Our accounts department has confirmed that no record exists of any payments having been made to such persons.’

It is not clear what “companies and individuals such as Glenn Mulcaire who have been linked with allegations of phone hacking” were considered in their searches.

Nor is it clear whether Associated checked their records to establish what data private investigators were providing in response to requests from their journalists.

We have asked Associated these questions but have not had any answers.

Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry is intended to inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International, other newspaper organisations and, as appropriate, other organisations within the media, and by those responsible for holding personal data” and “the extent of corporate governance and management failures at News International and other newspaper organisations.

The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday have been campaigning vigorously for it to be cancelled. 

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