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October 1, 2014updated 02 Oct 2014 1:18pm

Second police force admits using RIPA to spy on journalists and sources by seizing phone records

By Dominic Ponsford

A second police force has admitted secretly spying on journalists by using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Kent Police used RIPA to obtain the phone records of Mail on Sunday news editor David Dillon and freelance journalist Andrew Alderson, The Times reports today.

The information was apparently used to help convict judge Constance Briscoe who was investigated by the police over the false claim that she had not spoken to the press about former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne swapping speeding points with his wife Vicky Pryce.

The Mail on Sunday produced a series of stories in 2011 about Pryce’s claim that she was forced by Huhne to take speeding points on his behalf.

Briscoe had apparently contacted the paper via freelance Alderson.

The Mail on Sunday resisted efforts to hand over material relating to the Huhne case during his prosecution but eventually was forced to hand over documents which were redacted to protect the identity of intermediary Alderson, The Times reports.

The paper reports that a month later, in November 2012, Kent police obtained calling data going back a year for both Dillon and Alderson by making internally-approved RIPA requests to telecoms providers.

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The suspicion is that the redacted documents supplied by the Mail on Sunday were used with the phone records by police to help identify Alderson and Briscoe as sources and to help convict Briscoe of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by deliberately misleading the police.

Kent Police told The Times: “Kent police used its powers under the Regulation of Investigators Powers Act to further telephony applications during the OP Solar investigation.

“These applications were proportionate, lawful, necessary, recorded and were relevant lines of inquiry for the investigation and the facts were made available to the court and defence.”

The news that Kent Police has been spying on journalists who were not under suspicion of breaking the law follows the revelation that London's Met police secretly obtained the phone records of The Sun and of the paper’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn.

The Met obtained the Sun telecoms records in order to find and punish three police constables were accused of leaking information about the Plebgate affair. The Crown Prosecution Service found that the three had acted in the public interest therefore could not face trial.

The Met Police has declined to reveal how many times it has used RIPA against journalists.

When faced with a Freedom of Information Request from Press Gazette the force said it did not keep records of RIPA requests against journalists, even though such requests are a possible breach the European Convention on Human Rights which protects journalists’ sources.

Press Gazette has launched the Save Our Sources campaign to stop police and other public authorities using RIPA to spy on journalists.

So far more than 900 individuals, including many senior editors, have signed a petition aimed at the Interception of Communications Commissioner urging public authorities to ask a judge before obtaining journalists’ phone records.

Gavin Millar QC told a law conference last month that such police RIPA requests to find journalists' sources are "completely illegal under article 10 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]… a violation of the article 10 [freedom of expression] rights of the journalist and the news organisation.

“But the evidence suggests they have started to do this without compunction – they’ve done it in a couple of cases I’ve been involved in.

“And I think what’s happened over the last few years is we’ve been so effective in litigating production orders, closing off production orders by forcing judges through judicial court decisions to strictly apply the access conditions in article 10.”

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