- ENOUGH England captains to name a first eleven fell victim to organised newspaper spying operations
- SPORTS Desks on The Sun and rivals The Mirror titles were involved… among other Fleet Street newspapers who we will be identifying
- MEDICAL records, phone communications, and physical movements were all routinely tracked by journalists fishing for exclusives
- ONE sports reporter who refused to use sensitive information stolen by his superiors was made redundant, as:
- SCORES of Premier league household names line up to bring lawsuits against the newspapers’ publishers
A FULL starting eleven of England football captains can be identified today as victims of a national newspaper espionage ring.
The household names were targeted with long-term illegal surveillance in many cases including monitoring of their phone communications, medical records, and physical movements.
The highly invasive snooping involved – among others – sports journalists from Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun and newsstand rivals The Mirror, in the biggest SpyGate scandal to ever hit the English game.
“Disgracefully, some Sports Editors tried to legitimise the information they received, even when they knew full well it had been illegally obtained”Former England striker
Its aim was to provide stories for the front and back pages of tabloid newspapers by carrying out extended fishing expeditions into the lives of prominent sportspeople, which often extended to their clubs, families, and social circles.
We told in part one of this 18-month investigation how some tabloid sports editors were, for 15 years, using private investigators to secretly infiltrate the English game.
Here, in part two, we are naming the generations of leaders of the national team – just a tiny fraction of the premier league stars affected – who were subjected to extended and unlawful spying.
For the first time we can reveal the targeted Three Lions who wore the captain’s armband included:
- (Goal) David Seaman
(Def) Sol Campbell
(Def) Rio Ferdinand
(Def) John Terry
(Mid) David Beckham
(Mid) Frank Lampard
(Mid) Steven Gerrard
(Attack) Michael Owen
(Attack) Wayne Rooney
(Attack) Gary Lineker
(Attack) Alan Shearer
Many of the marquee players – some of whom are legends of the national game now occupying big Premier League managerial positions – were “rinsed” for details about hospital visits and injury treatments. Huge amounts of private information relating to family, friends, and colleagues were illegally collated.
One celebrated England international forward told Byline Investigates: “Disgracefully, some Sports Editors tried to legitimise the information they received, even when they knew full well it had been illegally obtained.
“In my case, it led to absolute paranoia and distrust of people close to me, thinking they had betrayed me and sold stories to the papers.
“The truth was something entirely different though. Relationships were torn apart.”
Pressure to utilise illegal information filtered down from newspaper editors to their sports editors and then on to their sports reporters.
In one example, a Sun sports reporter was told to approach two England players (not in the list above) being treated for mental health problems while also undergoing physical therapy for injuries at a clinic in France.
But when the reporter refused, his job was made redundant.
It was a signal that tabloid sports journalists risked their own careers if they did not go along with the widespread criminal newsgathering endemic to Fleet Street between 1995 and 2010.
And while it was usual for sports reporters, in their dealings with football stars, to distance themselves from their scandal-hungry News desk and Features desk colleagues – by blaming them for invasive stories appearing in the publications they worked for – we can reveal they were frequently complicit.
A newspaper insider said: “Sports departments thought nothing of publishing this information and reporters rarely questioned where the information came from.
“Sometimes sports editors put reporters’ names on illegal stories they’d had little or nothing to do with, and because of the pressure of working for these papers the journalists were just happy to see their names in print without really questioning the origins of the stories attributed to them.
“There were instances when some sports reporters, unhappy with it all, threatened to blow the lid the illegal operation, but they were silenced by pay-offs and forced to sign confidentiality agreements.”
Our revelations open a new front for The Sun and Mirror titles because until now their sports departments have been insulated from the hacking and blagging scandals that have dogged their papers since 2015, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in damages and legal fees, and an intangible amount more in public trust.
And we can now tell how scores of players are lining up to make fresh legal claims, and are appointing lawyers in Birmingham and London to launch lawsuits.
Mirror Group Newspapers is particularly vulnerable to the impact of the costs associated with the claims for ‘misuse of private information’, as the subsidiary of Reach plc is financially weaker than Mr Murdoch’s The Sun.
Reach plc, which took over the Express Group of newspapers in 2018, has already paid out at least £80 million in the hacking scandal, despite having the company having an over-all capitalised value of around £255m as this article was published.
Now its battered legal department is braced for a fresh wave of compensation cases from a growing number of players whose privacy was allegedly breached.
In the coming instalments, we will continue to reveal names and details of some of the players affected. We will also be revealing how their private data was stolen, who stole it, and some of the major ‘exclusive’ stories that came out as a result.