By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
REBEKAH Brooks personally instructed a private detective to unlawfully obtain people’s mobile phone data on at least five occasions while deputy editor at The Sun and as editor of the News of the World, the High Court in London has heard.
The serving Chief Executive of News UK allegedly made the requests for “mobile conversions” – obtaining names and addresses registered to cell phone numbers – from Steve Whittamore, a former investigator turned key witness for alleged victims of criminality at Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloids.
Mr Whittamore’s new evidence is based on a review of a “large volume” of previously undisclosed invoices and documents seized from him in 2003 under the Operation Motorman probe into illegal news-gathering on Fleet Street.
“Ms Wade made five further requests for mobile conversions… in 1999 to 2001, spanning her time as deputy editor of The Sun and… (editor) of the News of the World,” ~ Steve Whittamore
The cache – which includes hand-written records and colour-coded workbooks stretching back to 1995 – only emerged earlier this year after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) handed them over to claimants’ solicitors under a court order.
Mr Whittamore’s testimony contradicts evidence Ms Brooks gave to Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select committee in 2011 and repeated later under oath to the Leveson Inquiry and again at her Old Bailey phone hacking trial in 2014.
Ms Brooks said that, once she stopped being the News of the World features editor in 1996, she used private investigators only to find addresses of convicted paedophiles for the paper’s highly controversial ‘For Sarah’ campaign in 2000.
Ms Brooks, who was acquitted in 2014 of conspiring to hack phones and bribe public officials – pleading ignorance to wrongdoing by her staff – also told MPs in July 2011 she had never commissioned a private eye while working at The Sun.
But on Thursday, ahead of a trial of the facts set to begin on October 15, barrister for the claimants, David Sherborne, read extracts from Mr Whittamore’s own sworn statements – in which the former detective describes his work for Ms Brooks and openly admits his services were “unlawful”.
Mr Whittamore said: “I have now seen further requests from Ms Wade (Brooks’s unmarried name) in the fourth earlier ‘blue book’ from an earlier time period, long before the ”For Sarah” campaign started and when she was with a different newspaper, i.e. when she was the (Deputy) Editor of The Sun.
“On the page shown… (of) the fourth earlier blue book, Rebekah Wade requested a mobile conversion.”
Mr Whittamore went on: “Below her name in the left-hand margin I have written a phone number, which I presume to have been her work number, which suggests she called me directly to make this request.
“From the entries in the book surrounding this request, the date of this request appears to be January 1999, when I understand Ms Wade was Deputy Editor of The Sun.”
Mr Whittamore added: “The Sun was not a regular customer at the time. However, Ms Wade had earlier been in the features department of the News of the World and had been its deputy editor and so… she knew who I was and what I did from her time there.
“Then the fourth earlier blue book shows that Ms Wade made five further requests for mobile conversions… which I judge from surrounding entries to be from a time period in 1999 to 2001, spanning her time as deputy editor of The Sun and… (editor) of the News of the World.”
Lead solicitor for the claimants, Chris Hutchings, argued the new ICO evidence showed it was necessary for NGN to disclose more invoices, which potentially prove criminal news-gathering at The Sun and parts of the now-closed News of the World.
NGN denies any wrongdoing occurred at The Sun, its flagship daily tabloid.
In a witness statement, Mr Hutchings said: “Last year the Court made a third-party disclosure order against the ICO, which was not opposed, and which led to the disclosure of a large volume of Mr Whittamore’s record notebooks, work notebooks and invoices.”
He added: “Mr Whittamore has started to work through the documents to identify and comment on work he did for the Defendant’s journalists between 1995 and 2003, which is the period covered by the records. This supplemental witness statement is the product of that initial analysis.”
He went on: “Steve Whittamore’s recent evidence… and the ICO disclosure of materials in relation to NGN from before April 2001 (from when the original Blue Book is dated forwards) show extremely high use of his unlawful services between 1995 and 1999, including by Rebekah Wade.”
News Group Newspapers, on behalf of 50-year-old Ms Brooks, is making a “non-admission” in respect of these allegations, which means it neither confirms nor denies their truthfulness, instead placing onus on the claimants to prove their case.
The case continues…