British newspapers paid a private investigator more than £1.2million for information about celebrities and other individuals over an eight year period, it was claimed last night.Almost £500,000 of the money was spent on obtaining potentially illegal information from Steve Whittamore, a private investigator who worked on behalf of Fleet Street titles, ITV News claimed.
The Daily Mail spent the highest amount on potentially illegal information, the broadcaster reported, paying Mr Whittamore £143,150. Among those the newspaper requested information on were the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa Middleton.
ITV News got the information following a detailed analysis of files seized from Whittamore during Operation Motorman, an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) report into the private eye and his customers.
The files show that newspapers across Fleet Street including the Mail, the Daily Mirror and the News of the World, were paying Mr Whittamore for potentially illegal information including ex-directory telephone numbers, criminal records checks, and vehicle registration checks.
Those requests could breach the Data Protection Act if the journalist did not have a public interest defence for requesting the information.
The Daily Telegraph was not included in the files, according to ITV.
The information shows that some newspapers requested potentially illegal information far more often than was revealed in the ICO’s official report What Price Privacy Now in 2006.
ITV has also revealed details of invoices sent to newspaper groups by Mr Whittamore. News International paid him £490,000 between 1995 and 2003. Trinity Mirror paid £376,000 while Associated Newspapers, which owns the Mail titles, paid £268,000. The Guardian Group, which owns the Observer, spent £28, 860.
However it is not clear whether these payments were for potentially illegal information or legitimate activity such as electoral roll searches.
Steve Whittamore was investigated by the Information Commissioner in 2003 and in 2005 pleaded guilty to breaking the Data Protection Act. He was given a two-year conditional discharge.
A spokesman for Associated Newspapers said: “The Information Commissioner’s report… expressed concerns about the widespread use of inquiry agents by banks, local authorities, insurance companies and virtually all newspapers and some magazines.
“It is condition of employment that our journalists comply with the PCC code of Practice and the Data Protection Act. Any breach of either the Code or the Act is a sackable offence.”
A spokesperson for The Observer said: “The Observer does not recognise the figures cited by ITV News. Certainly they do not conform to the data disclosed by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in its 2006 report, ‘What Price Privacy Now?’.
A Trinity Mirror spokesperson said the ICO report “was subject of a police investigation in 2003 when no action was taken against any journalist.”
Lord Justice Leveson has been urged to look into the Operation Motorman files as part of his inquiry.
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