Virgin Atlantic launches probe into claims employee tipped off pap agency over celebs

Virgin Atlantic has launched an internal investigation after being handed evidence which appears to show that an insider at the airline has handed over private information about celebrities' flights to photo agency Big Pictures.

Press Gazette has been sent a copy of an email exchange between someone who apparently has inside information about the Virgin Atlantic booking system and a senior executive at Big Pictures, which includes the flight details of footballers Ashley Cole and Jermain Defoe and the actresses Sienna Miller, Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The insider also appeared to pass on the flight details of pop stars Nicole Scherzinger, Robbie Williams and Cheryl Cole.

In the first email between the pair dated 29 July 2010 the Big Pictures executive said they were 'just trying to sort you out some money with accounts", then asks for advice on where to holiday in the Caribbean.

In the next email the Virgin insider, using a private Yahoo! account, said: 'Got a few more for you!'They then list eight celebrities' flight numbers, dates, times and destinations during the month of July 2010.

They include:

  • "Ashley Cole – VS7 3Jul Leaves Heathrow T3 at 11.50 and arrives LA at 15.10 local; VS8 15Jul Leaves LA at 17.35 and arrives Heathrow at 12.05 next day
  • "Sienna Miller – VS7 4Jul Leaves Heathrow T3 at 11.50 and arrives LA at 15.10 local; VS8 8Jul Leaves LA at 17.35 and arrives Heathrow at 12.05 next day. She's also holding seats to go out with BA and Air New Zealand for th [sic] 4th".

Cheryl Cole's entry makes also reference to her ex-husband Ashley: 'VS7 12Jul Leaves Heathrow T3 at 11.50 and arrives LA at 15.10 local; VS24 17Jul Leaves LA at 21.10 and arrives Heathrow at 15.50 next day. That'll be funny if she bumps into him!!"

After viewing the emails a spokesperson at Virgin Atlantic told Press Gazette: 'We take all customer service issues extremely seriously and have launched an internal investigation."


A spokesperson for Defoe said: 'This is a serious breach of privacy, we will be consulting with our lawyers and investigating the matter further."

Big Pictures, which describes itself as the 'the world's biggest and best celebrity picture agency", was launched in 1992 by Darryn Lyons, also known as 'Mr Paparazzi".

Its website says it has a worldwide staff of 75 representing over 1,000 photographers, supplying pictures to 40 countries.

Press Gazette contacted Big Pictures for a comment but no-one wished to speak about the matter. A lawyer acting for the agency asked us to delay publication of this story for 72 hours, but when we asked for more information as to why we should do so they did not respond.

It emerged on Thursday evening that a member of staff at Virgin Atlantic had resigned in the wake of these allegations.

Virgin Atlantic said in a statement: "The allegations that have been raised are extremely serious and we have launched an immediate investigation.

"The security of customer information is our highest priority and we have robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected. The incident that has been alleged concerns eight customers' flights booked in 2010 and we are in contact with all of those people. It is too early to draw conclusions on this matter but of course we would deeply regret any concern that these allegations may cause the individuals involved."

Additional reporting by Emma Powell

To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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