· By day, he blagged private info by posing as telephone engineer, by night he was in a Hell’s Angel motorcycle gang.
· Rebekah Brooks admits tasking Whittamore – but denies knowing about any unlawful activity.
· News comes as Brooks orders mass redundancies at The Sun – after her company shells out nearly a billion pounds in response to unlawful information gathering.
By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
A HELL’S Angel was likely to have obtained information using criminal deception for newspaper editor Rebekah Brooks – as part of a spying operation on her then fiancé Ross Kemp.
In Part 1 of this story, Byline Investigates revealed how Ms. Brooks – media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s British Chief Executive – has denied knowing about any unlawful activity, in papers lodged with the High Court in London. She suggested that the information could have been got legally from an internet search.
But ex-private investigator Steve Whittamore rubbished Ms. Brooks’ assertion, after learning about what she wrote in her defence papers, which she has verified by a statement of truth.
Mr. Whittamore told Byline Investigates that the phone data was obtained unlawfully by deception via a ‘blagger’ that the job was sub-contracted to.
His most regular telephone specialist at the time was a Hells Angel who was paid cash-in-hand.
However, Mr. Whittamore did use other contacts for mobile conversions, including investigators based in Crawley and Salisbury.
The allegation of unlawful information gathering is the latest controversy to dog Ms. Brooks, and her company, in a scandal which has gone on for 15 years, dragging down profits, costing jobs and tarnishing her papers’ reputations with readers and advertisers.
Ms. Brooks has held key decision making roles in News International, and subsequently News UK, for nearly all of that time – however, the former secretary has always denied knowing that phone hacking was going on.
Questions have been raised more recently in court documents lodged by a private individual – a painter and decorator called Tony Harding – who is suing Ms. Brooks personally, for what he alleges were unlawful breaches of his privacy.
In May, Byline Investigates revealed how Doncaster tradesman Mr. Harding has accused one of Britain’s most powerful media executives of commissioning a private investigator to spy on him, after he spoke to Ross Kemp on a night out.
Both Harding and Brooks have lodged legal documents at the High Court in London, which tell two different sides of an extraordinary story.
In his statement of case, Harding alleges that the story began when Mr. Kemp chatted-up his step-sister at a pub re-opening bash in the South Yorks former mining town in 2001.
He claims that Mr. Kemp’s fiancé Ms. Brooks later got suspicious – and employed private investigator Steve Whittamore to check on whether the ex-EastEnders’ star was cheating.
Ms. Brooks has admitted tasking Steve Whittamore to find out the name and address of the subscriber attached to the mobile number.
She claims to have found the number on a note written by Mr. Kemp, that she found at the house they shared, shortly after Mr. Kemp’s visit to the Glasshouse Pub in Doncaster
The number turned out to be that of Mr. Harding, who was allegedly acting as the go-between Mr Kemp and a female pub drinker, with whom he had supposedly been talking at the launch.
Today, Byline Investigates can reveal further detail about this unusual case.
In late November 2001, according to documents found by the police when they raided Whittamore’s office in 2003, Brooks tasked the prolific PI to find out who owned the number.
Byline has seen a copy of some of these documents, known as the ‘Blue Book’, from a journalistic source, and which have been circulating in journalistic circles since 2009.
Byline Investigates believes that he sub-contracted the ‘blag’ to a former Army signals soldier turned Hells Angel, who specialised in conning data out phone companies.
Though Whittamore refused to name the blagger, Byline got his name from other sources – and understands that he was old hand on the PI scene in the late 90s and early 2000s, having worked at a private investigations company called Severnside.
His trick was to pretend that he was telecom’s engineer working in the field, so that he could ring-up the network and deceive call centre workers, into handing out confidential accounts’ data.
However, it is not known for definite whether the Hells Angel did the specific mobile conversion linked to Ms. Brooks.
But a source familiar with the story said that if the police or Information Commissioner’s Office opened an investigation, and re-examined the documents, they would be able to find out who carried out the blag.
Voicemail interception and illegal blagging has cost Rupert Murdoch’s British publishing arm nearly a billion pounds in various costs, including compensation to victims.
However, his protégé Ms. Brooks was cleared of phone hacking and perversion of the course of justice at the News of The World, after a seven month trial, at the Old Bailey in 2014.
But the financial burden has taken its toll – almost all of the loss-making Sun’s editorial staff have been offered redundancy.
In recent years, The Sun newspaper has been accused in the High Court of hacking and blagging, and tens of millions has been paid out by its parent company News Group Newspapers, without admitting liability.
Sources close to the company say that senior key personnel, who have remained loyal to Ms. Brooks, will keep their jobs including Sun on Sunday Editor Victoria Newton.
Ms. Newton is one of many Sun journalists who has been repeatedly accused in High Court proceedings of phone hacking and using illegally obtained information, allegations which she and her company denies, or does not admit.