- The News of The World and The Sun instigated illegal probe into the world’s richest league.
- TWENTY Top-Flight clubs were under criminal surveillance, including Hillsborough-hit Liverpool FC.
- Premier League chief, Richard Scudamore, was a primary hacking target because his messages contained sensitive info from many VIPs.
- Other leading football executives were also on the newspaper hit list.
- Information obtained from the hacking scandal appeared on news, and significantly the supposedly “untainted” sports pages.
- Three Mirror Group titles – the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and the People – also joined in the hacking spree.
By Byline Investigates Sport
THE world’s richest football league was left ruthlessly exposed by an illegal newspaper campaign to gather sensitive inside information.
Around 20 marquee clubs were drawn into the multi tabloid hacking conspiracy.
Criminal elements in both news and sports departments had a free rein on the organisation, and the voicemail interception went undetected for years.
The sports departments at The Sun and the News of The World aggravated the damage, because some of their journalists and editors pretended they were innocent, whilst blaming rogue news departments when suspicions were aroused.
Consequently, the football world continued to trust sports desks, providing them with private phone numbers and confidential data, which sparked further hacking in a betrayal that has left league officials and club employees fuming.
Commercially sensitive information about takeovers, share dealings and broadcasting money was illegally rinsed from the Premier League, and those involved have never been brought to justice.
Byline Investigates can reveal that central to the hacking and illegal activity was Rupert Murdoch’s News International red-top stable, the News of the World and The Sun.
But the Mirror Group group – including the Daily and Sunday Mirror titles, and The People – was also culpable.
By the time, that the Premier League was informed by the Metropolitan Police about the criminal activity, it was too late.
Our investigation has established that the corruption began in the late 90s.
Several clubs and officials complained that private information was leaking into the press, particularly after discussions had taken place with the Premier League, even though the talks were supposed to be private.
There were deep suspicions that there was a mole inside the organisation, who was selling information to the papers, under-the-table.
It was only later on – after hacker Glenn Mulcaire was arrested in 2006 and the scandal gained momentum in 2011 – that it was established that criminal activity had been taking place, and was the real source of the “leaks.”
A former leading executive at the Premier League told us:
“I lost count of the times that Richard Scudamore (the Premier League Chief Executive) shook his head in dismay, and questioned where these papers were obtaining their information from at various points.
“This was extremely sensitive information in relation to clubs, and it could have only come from inside the organisation. Before the knowledge of widespread criminality by newspapers had come to light, there were deep suspicions that someone was being paid to leak information, which led to unfair blame, and in some quarters, silent accusations. Regardless, the papers were obtaining very sensitive information that could have only come from inside the organisation.”
Richard Scudamore is believed to have been targeted in what is known in legal circles as the ‘Alan Yentob model.’
Former BBC2 controller Yentob was one of the most hacked victims ever, and has won massive damages off both NGN and MGN.
However, the papers didn’t hack him because they were interested in writing stories about him personally, but because he was a very senior executive whose voicemails contained messages from a wide variety of important celebrities and TV bosses .
Scudamore held the same position in football as Yentob did in broadcasting.
The Premier League’s failure to carry out an internal investigation into the leaks allowed papers to carry on unopposed for years.
Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly denied being involved in criminal activity.
However, when the hacking was going on, billions of pounds were at stake in commercial and broadcasting deals that he was negotiating.
One Premier League source told Byline Investigates: “Once the hacking scandal happened and we were informed by the police that we were victims, there was a fear that any action sanctioned against Murdoch could have impacted those very same broadcasting and commercial deals, and that’s why there was a reluctance to pursue Murdoch, and other papers.”
Despite the option of civil compensation pay-outs, that could have easily exceeded millions of pounds, an executive decision at the Premier League was taken not to pursue the culprits, even though the hacking had left many clubs and senior club officials openly exposed.
The interception of Richard Scudamore’s voicemails alone provided newspapers with inside knowledge of clubs’ issues and private conversations that filled news and sport pages with exclusive material.
Indeed, at the height of the criminality, the Premier League embarked on an investigation of its own, but on this occasion it looked into corrupt transfers in its own league.
The probe, led by former police commissioner Lord Stevens and his investigative firm Quest, occurred whilst there was hacking into the organisation by newspapers, which rose to an unprecedented level.
It is not known whether outsiders covertly gained any insight into the progress or workings of the investigation – the findings of which were never made public – but Quest are known to have a very high-degree of security.
However, our investigation has uncovered worrying evidence of leading clubs and officials turning a blind eye to the criminality, for fear of reprisals.
Our reporters spoke to officials at five Premier League clubs, and at least ten leading figures working across the game, who confirmed that they or their organisations would not pursue justice because of Murdoch’s influence.
None would go on-the-record.
The Premier League is certainly not alone in failing to hold newspapers to account, and that trend has become more apparent as our investigation gathered pace.
We approached a number of top-flight clubs, with evidence that they were under illegal scrutiny from several papers.
But almost all of them have chosen not to take action, claiming it was historical and no amount of compensation could undo the damage.
Cash-rich clubs and their employees do not consider the pay-outs, which have ranged from £20,000 to £1 million, to be worth the hassle and “do not want to bite the hand that feeds them,” according to one football source.
Indeed Scudamore himself had attempted to play down the information the papers could have obtained even though we are aware it was damaging.
Scudamore left messages that were listened to between January and June 2005 when was communicating with Gordon Taylor.
Taylor received a record £700k settlement as a part of a landmark case, which eventually helped blow the lid on the phone hacking scandal.
One source told us:
“The CEO was quite dismissive of information any paper had obtained and said there was only so much information they could have gathered intercepting his voicemails. It wasn’t like Scudamore needed the money either as he had become extremely rich from a healthy salary at the Premier League and huge bonuses from broadcasting deals on behalf of the League’s member clubs. When he exited the Premier League he received a £5 million pay-off from member clubs who agreed to pay him £250,000 each.”
He remains a consultant to the Premier League, despite his departure and is a consultant to the Australia A League and the Ryder Cup.
Here’s a list containing a small fraction of the football people who were hacked and blagged:
Peter Kenyon (Manchester United / Chelsea CEO)
David Dein (Arsenal Vice Chairman)
Bill Kenwright (Everton Owner)
Ian Cotton (Liverpool Communications Director)
Simon Greenberg (Chelsea FC Communications Director)
Rafa Benitez (Liverpool FC and Newcastle Manager.)
Brian Barwick (FA Chairman)
Mark Palios (FA Chairman)
Frank Arnesen (Tottenham / Chelsea Director of Football)
Craig Allardyce (Retired Footballer and Football Agent.)
Stan Collymore (Nottingham Forest / Liverpool / Aston Villa Former Player)
Alan Curbishley (Charlton manager)
David Davis (FA CEO)
Iain Dowie (Crystal Palace / Queens Park Rangers Player, Manager)
Kieron Dyer (Newcastle / England Player)
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United / England Player)
Sir Alex Ferguson and his son (Manchester United Manager)
Robbie Fowler (Liverpool / England player)
Paul Gascoigne (Newcastle / England player)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool / England player)
David Gill (Manchester United CEO and FIFA)
Chris Kamara (Former player and Sky Sport pundit)
Rick Parry (Former Premier League CEO and Liverpool CEO)
Christian Glazier (Manchester United Owner / Director)
Graham Poll (Premier League Referee)
Terry Venables (Former Tottenham / England manager)
John Motson (BBC Football Commentator)
And many more.