Exclusive: The current editors of The Sun and The Daily Telegraph are among those who paid illegal blaggers.
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
SENIOR Daily Mail news executives and some of Fleet Street’s biggest names are among those who paid a firm of shadowy private detectives which sold unlawful data used by journalists at other newspapers to hack phones.
Byline can reveal that the names of Daily Mail’s current Executive News Editor Ben Taylor and Associate News Editor Stephen Wright appear in the newspaper’s payment records to Express Locate International (ELI).
We can also reveal that several payments were paid to ELI under the heading ‘News Desk.’ The Daily Mail’s news editor at the time was the current Sun editor Tony Gallagher, while his assistant was the current Daily Telegraph editor Chris Evans.
As we exclusively revealed in part 6 of our investigation into the alleged criminality at the Daily Mail, the middle-market tabloid spent more than £115,000 on Express Locate International in 21 months between January 2005 and October 2006.
The Mail responded to our story by repeating its stock answer of saying it stopped using all such firms in April 2007 – without explaining why it had abruptly stopped using ELI more than six months before that date – around the time of the first arrests of the phone hackers at the News of the World. They also repeated their denial that their journalists ever hacked phones.
But The Mail has FAILED to answer Byline’s questions about whether it had ever investigated the use of ELI by its executives and journalists before or after the judgement was issued in 2015 in the Mirror hacking civil trial, or if it ever questioned them about how the data supplied by ELI was used.
We can reveal that such an inquiry would have been straightforward because several journalists who appear in the ELI payment ledger are still working at the newspaper, two of them in senior positions.
During the 21-month period covered by the ledger, Ben Taylor was a news reporter but was appointed Executive Editor (News) in 2016.
His name appears next to a payment of £70.50 on October 24th, 2005.
Meanwhile, Stephen Wright, then crime correspondent but now Associate News Editor, is listed three times as ‘S Wright’, for separate requests totalling £434.76.
It’s not possible to date those tasks because there are several periods which were ‘hashed out’ by the Mail in the dossier of payments submitted to the Leveson Inquiry in 2012.
Under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 Paying for illegally obtained data is itself only lawful if it can be justified as being in the public interest.
We asked the Mail if they had asked Mr Taylor or Mr Wright about the type of information they had obtained from ELI, whether it was legally obtained and, if not, whether it was in the public interest but they did not answer the question.
Not all of the available information in the Mail dossier submitted to Leveson is fully readable because 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 we suggest that this full information was deliberately withheld from the Leveson Inquiry.
Elsewhere in the dossier, Byline estimates there are eight jobs between 21st January and 2nd February 2005 costing a total of £1239.65 with what appears to be the reference ‘News Desk.’
The head of the news desk at that time was Tony Gallagher, who is now the editor of The Sun. His deputy at the time was Chris Evans, the current editor of The Daily Telegraph.
Among the other ‘named’ payments, there are nine jobs labelled ‘Simpson’ on September 27th, 2006, adding up to £1797.78. These jobs are believed to refer to Richard Simpson, former showbusiness news editor at the Daily Mail and now a freelance reporter and photographer for the Mail on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the dossier are a number of initials embedded in the subject column, which appear to refer to the reporters who paid ELI for information. The initials of Taylor, Wright and Simpson are among them.
Byline believes that the ledger includes the initials of three other reporters who are currently employed at the Daily Mail, while others have left but still contribute to the newspaper.
In a written judgment handed down in May 2015, following a civil trial which found that reporters from the Mirror group had hacked phones on a ‘very large scale’, Mr Justice Mann said that ELI was paid to obtain a range of illegal information.
The judge stated at paragraph 51:
‘This company could apparently find out the telephone number and address of an individual (for £125) or a quarterly phone bill (£250). It could “spin” a number – find out the individual who owned a number – particularly useful for identifying someone who left message on a victim’s phone if it was not apparent from the message.
‘They were also employed to provide credit card details (potentially useful for identifying stays in hotels, the amount spent there, meals in restaurants, and the like). In one case they obtained details of gambling transactions between a celebrity and bookmakers.’
The vast majority of the 802 payments listed in the ledger are for generic terms such ‘search’, ‘research and ‘r/search’ without giving the name of a reporter or the subject of the inquiry.
Byline believes what it has revealed so far is merely the tip of a vast iceberg…
In response to a series of questions, the Daily Mail responded:
‘We repeat our statements as follows:
‘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.’
This is the third time the Mail has issued that in response to detailed questions by Byline.
The unanswered questions were:
• For what purpose or purposes did Daily Mail journalists use ELI (also known as TDI, Express Locate international or Trace Direct International)?
• What is the nature of the information that ELI provided to the Daily Mail?
• Before, during or after the Leveson Inquiry, did the Mail conduct any investigation into your use of ELI?
• In light of Mr Justice Mann’s Mirror hacking judgment in May 2015 identifying ELI as a key provider of unlawfully commissioned and unlawfully obtained information which was also used for phone hacking, does the Mail accept similar information was supplied by ELI to the Mail, and if not why not?
• In light of the above judgment mentioned above, did the Daily Mail review its previous use of ELI?
In addition to those questions, which had been sent before, we also asked for the first time:
• Have you asked Ben Taylor about the information he bought from ELI, whether that information was such that he was lawfully entitled to, whether it was legally obtained, and the purpose for which it was used?
• Have you asked Stephen Wright about information he bought from ELI, whether that information was such that he was lawfully entitled to, whether it was legally obtained, and the purpose for which it was used?
• Have you asked Richard Simpson, former showbusiness editor but who is still a freelance contributor to the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, about information he bought from ELI, whether that information was such that he was lawfully entitled to, whether it was legally obtained, and the purpose for which it was used?
• Did you ask Tony Gallagher prior to his initial departure from the Mail in 2006, or during his return to the Daily Mail as deputy editor in April 2014, before he left for The Sun in 2015, what information his news desk obtained from ELI when he was news editor, whether that information was such that he was lawfully entitled to, whether it was legally obtained, and the purpose for which it was used?
Byline also sent detailed questions to Tony Gallagher, Chris Evans, Ben Taylor, Stephen Wright and Richard Simpson.
As yet, none have responded.
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