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  1. Media Law
September 4, 2013

‘Why is it ok to pursue journalists but not the City?’ ask MPs as Soca given deadline to reveal rogue investigator clients

By PA Mediapoint

A list of clients of rogue private detectives is to be published by Monday after a group of influential MPs handed the heads of a national police unit a shock ultimatum.

The names of 102 firms and individuals who allegedly used corrupt private investigators was handed from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) to the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this year on condition it was not published – sparking a row over transparency.

Following a heated evidence session, Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Committee, told Trevor Pearce, Soca director general and Stephen Rimmer, the Agency's interim chairman, they would publish the list on Monday if Soca did not do so first.

Vaz said: "The committee has taken the view that this list should be published. We would like you to publish the list. We see nothing wrong with you publishing the list.

"We know it has gone to the Met (Metropolitan Police) and we know they have removed the names that are subject to criminal investigation.

"We give you til Monday to publish this list, if you fail to publish it on Monday, we will publish it because we think it is in the public interest to do so."

He added: "We've taken legal advice and we believe it's important that this should be done."

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The so-called ''blue-chip hacking'' list was originally drawn up during Soca's Operation Millipede, which led to the conviction of four private detectives for fraud last year.

A total of 22 law firms feature on the list, alongside several insurance companies, financial services groups and two celebrities, among others.

Up to 100 individuals may have had their details accessed by the private investigators, Pearce previously revealed.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) yesterday announced its own investigation into nearly 100 of the private eyes' clients, while nine names have been withheld by Soca at the request of the Metropolitan Police.

In a fiery exchange, Conservative MP Michael Ellis quizzed Pearce over revealing the names on the list.

He said: "Let's talk for a moment about the political realities behind this because the impression is given in some quarters that it's alright to pursue journalists for offences or alleged offences but not so when it comes to large City institutions or any other entity that might be of a different nature.

"So isn't it in the public interest also to avoid those sort of impressions being created, of injustice?"

He continued: "There is also public interest in not giving the impression that there is an uneven scale of justice applying to different entities. We have to protect the wider interests of justice here and that includes that justice be seen to be done as well as actually being done."

The Northampton North MP added: "Why shouldn't the public know the names? There doesn't seem to me to be any issues of national security or other issues pertaining to the wider national interest.

"Were these names ever read out in court? For example if a person had been sitting in the public gallery during that court hearing – would they have been able to hear those names read out at that time?"

Pearce said: "The issue here is anything that has the potential to impact on an investigational inquiry meets for me the threshold for maintaining confidentiality and I think it's appropriate to stick by that precedent."

A Soca spokesman: "We have made our position clear, but in light of the request from the HAC we will seek advice and inform the committee of our decision by Friday."

The agency's Millipede probe resulted in the prosecution and jailing of rogue private detectives Daniel Summers, Philip Campbell Smith, Graham Freeman and Adam John Spears.

The four men used a range of deceptive techniques to obtain bank account and mortgage details, medical records and information from the Police National Computer.

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