* Innocent painter and decorator wrongly branded a paedophile after Brooks gave “false explanation” that she only used PIs to track child abusers, court documents claim.
* Brooks has now allegedly given inaccurate or false evidence to FOUR official bodies over ELEVEN years of testimony.
* Read the details in the first instalment of Byline Investigates’ three-part investigation.
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
RUPERT Murdoch’s top UK employee Rebekah Brooks used a shadowy private investigator to spy on her actor ex-husband Ross Kemp’s private life, extraordinary High Court documents have revealed.
It is the first time Brooks has admitted using a PI with no “public interest” defence to protect her from accusations of law breaking – although she insists she had no knowledge of any crimes being committed on her behalf.
Lawyers acting for a man now suing the 50-year-old personally over the 2001 incident, say she asked PI Steve Whittamore – who later admitted thousands of data fraud offences – to ‘convert’ a mobile number into a name and address.
Hundreds of journalists tasked me thousands of times during my decade of work on Fleet Street, and most times the result was achieved by subterfuge, which was illegal ~ Steve Whittamore
Whittamore has told Byline Investigates he illegally paid a professional data blagger to trick a mobile phone company into divulging the personal details, which then went to Brooks, known at the time by her maiden name of Wade.
In a defence document lodged at the High Court in London, however, Brooks insists she thought the Whittamore would only use lawful means to make the “mobile conversion” – such as an internet search.
But, speaking exclusively, Whittamore – whose activities sparked the 2003 Operation Motorman probe into widespread newspaper criminality – has now said Brooks’s defence “may be” less than the truth.
He said: “Hundreds of journalists tasked me thousands of times during my decade of work on Fleet Street, and most times the result was achieved by subterfuge, which was illegal.
“(Therefore) Rebekah Brooks’s defence, along with most people involved in the hacking scandal, may be disingenuous.”
Brooks’s position contradicts previous admissions at her own Old Bailey trial for phone hacking – of which she was acquitted in 2014 – that her use of PIs was strictly confined to tracing paedophiles; an activity that, crucially, affords a “public interest” journalistic defence to the Data Protection Act offences involved in that work.
Brooks, who is today Chief Executive of Murdoch’s News UK, also told Parliamentary Select Committees, the Press Complaints Commission, and the Leveson Inquiry, that during her time as News of the World editor, she believed she only used PIs to further her “Sarah’s Law” campaign to name and shame paedophiles.
In now admitting to using Whittamore to spy on her partner, Brooks is facing allegations that she wrongly branded the target of the Kemp inquiries, in various courtrooms and under oath, as a child sex offender.
Brooks denies her previous public statements amount to this suggestion.
Brooks’s version of the story, according to High Court documents, is she commissioned Whittamore because she suspected her then EastEnders actor fiancé Ross Kemp was cheating on her.
Coincidentally, at the time, and as revealed at her Old Bailey trial, Brooks was herself cheating on Kemp – with her deputy editor Andy Coulson, who went on to be editor himself, before becoming press secretary to former PM David Cameron, and was then later jailed for phone hacking when a jury found his own claims of innocence to be lies.
Brooks says she became suspicious of Kemp after finding a handwritten note with a phone number in his possession after a night out, although it is claimed (and denied by both Kemp and Brooks) the information may have in fact been gleaned unlawfully from his mobile phone call history.
In fact, the owner of the number Kemp had in his possession turned out to be an innocent painter and decorator called Tony Harding from Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
Harding is now suing Brooks herself for misuse of private information – a claim she denies – and has lodged a seven-page Statement of Claim at the High Court in London.
In response, Brooks through her solicitors Kingsley Napley – who represented her at the Old Bailey hacking trial – lodged a 13-page defence document at the end of last month.
The document states Harding’s “allegation that he suffered upset particularly on the basis that the Defendant misused his private information for the purposes of snooping on the activities of her then fiancé is misconceived and is otherwise denied.”
THIS most intriguing of High Court cases, involving the leading lady of British media and one of the nation’s favourite acting sons, began with a boozy night out in gritty Doncaster.
Ross Kemp – a household name as EastEnder’s bruiser Grant Mitchell – and his co-star Dean Gaffney, were guests of honour at the grand re-opening of The Glasshouse, a pub in the South Yorks former mining town.
It was a chilly November 21, 2001, and – according to two sources to whom Byline Investigates has spoken – Kemp was talking to a female pub goer who Tony Harding knew.
Kemp, engaged at the time to marry Wade, was chatting with the pub goer until past midnight, the sources claim.
And then he asked for a number he could contact her on – so Tony Harding gave Kemp his own, written on a piece of paper, as a go-between.
Harding claims Kemp called him so that he would have Kemp’s number – something Kemp says could not be true, as “he would never have given his mobile phone number out in the circumstances described in the Particulars of Claim”.
In 2001, Brooks was editing the News of the World – a notoriously invasive newspaper that routinely spent hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on illegal PIs who hacked and blagged their way into people’s private lives.
The incident led to Whittamore being asked to carry out some pre-nuptial due diligence.
For, during the week that followed after Kemp had returned to the London home he shared with Brooks, she claims she found the slip of paper and became suspicious.
Her defence added: “The number written on the said piece of paper was of interest to the Defendant because she was, at that time, having a difficult time in her relationship with Mr Kemp and was concerned that he may be having an affair.”
* Byline Investigates will be publishing Parts 2 and 3 of this story next week…