Responses to our investigation into payments by newspapers for potentially illegal information

Reconstruction: The Motorman Files Credit: ITV News

We asked the Newspapers named in our Investigation for their response. They are printed in full below. Together with a response from the Information Commissioner's Office

A spokesman for Associated Newspapers said:

“The Information Commissioner’s report in 2006, “What Price Privacy Now ”, expressed concerns about the widespread use of inquiry agents by banks, local authorities, insurance companies and virtually all newspapers and some magazines.

Although the Commissioner did not disclose details of the information obtained it would seem, for the most part, it related to the tracing of individuals’ addresses and phone numbers.

The report recognised that many of these cases would have been covered by public interest defences. Indeed it is good practice and a requirement of the PCC Code that matters concerning individuals in the news should be put to them before publication to ensure accuracy and give the opportunity to offer comment. To do this it is vital to trace addresses and telephone numbers which in the main could be obtained through legal means.

As for the Middletons - this is an old story revealed by the Independent some months ago. Indeed, the request to an inquiry agent for Middleton family numbers happened nearly a decade ago when Kate was sharing a student house with the future King.

The journalist concerned could have obtained the Middleton family number herself but it would have been a time consuming process. She categorically denies asking anyone to break the law. But in the face of significant public interest, on a story that was being pursued by other newspapers and the broadcast media, she was simply making every effort to ensure that our reporting was as accurate as possible.

The Information Commissioner urged all industries and their regulators to review practices to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act. Following this, Associated Newspapers banned the use of inquiry agents five years ago.

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 News International spokesperson said:

“The information you refer to you was the subject of a report by the Information Commissioner's Office in 2006 and has been examined extensively by the Leveson Inquiry in recent months. News International has given detailed evidence on these matters.

“There is a public interest defence available for any potential breach of the Data Protection Act and you do not have the information necessary to make any judgement on specific cases.”

A spokesperson for The Observer said:

"The Observer does not recognise the figures cited by ITVNews.

"Certainly they do not conform to the data disclosed by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in its 2006 report, ‘What Price Privacy Now?’. In that report, based on Steve Whittamore's seized records, the ICO stated that there were 103 transactions requested by The Observer, compared to, for example, over 1,300 transactions requested by The Daily Mail and its sister titles.

"Whittamore's papers were described by the ICO as 'deeply obscure', but The Observer has always been clear that, as far as it can tell from the selected papers it has been shown, it used Whittamore to obtain information for stories it believed to be in the public interest.

"Journalists who infringe the Data Protection Act while researching stories have a recognised defence when the investigation is in the public interest.

"However, the obscurity of Whittamore's records makes it difficult to determine exactly what he was doing. As such, The Observer has always said that it is not possible to be absolutely certain that everything he did for the paper would have met a strict definition of 'the public interest'. Therefore, since the publication of the ICO’s report in 2006, we have strengthened the process by which the use of private investigators is approved. In fact, none have been approved since then."

Reconstruction: The Motorman files Credit: ITV News

Mark Harris, Managing Director, Sunday Sport(2011) limited, said:

"The former publishers of the Sunday Sport and Daily Sport titles went into administration on April 1, 2011. The currently published titles Sunday Sport, Midweek Sport and Weekend Sport are published by a new company, Sunday Sport (2011) Ltd which purchased certain intellectual property rights from the administrators last April.

"Under data protection legislation, all records attributed to Sport Newspapers Ltd, both hard copies and digitally-held, have apparently been destroyed.

"The only comment I could make would be to affirm that, as an organisation, Sunday Sport (2011) Ltd has never used private investigators to obtain information as part of our newsgathering activities."

A Trinity Mirror spokesperson said:

"The detail to which your programme refers was subject of a police investigation in 2003 when no action was taken against any journalist. Much of the information formed part of the Information Commissioner's Report 'What Price Privacy', published in 2006, which was forward-looking and sought to align business practice with data protection law and guidelines. We took our lead from the ICO and did what was asked of us by reaffirming to our national newspaper editors that the company's policy was to comply with the criminal law and the PCC code."

Reconstruction: The Motorman files Credit: ITV News

A Northern and Shell Spokesperson said:

The evidence we gave before Lord Leveson in his public inquiry clearly dealt with this issue from the perspective of Express Newspapers and we do not feel it appropriate to make further comment on what has already been said.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner's Office said:

“We have provided the Leveson Inquiry with extensive oral and written evidence relating to Operation Motorman. We now await the Inquiry’s outcome, and will respond appropriately to any relevant recommendations.

“While we had reason to believe that some of the material could only have been obtained via unlawful means, the press are able to claim a public interest defence. This could explain an apparent discrepancy in figures.

“People who are concerned that their personal data may have been included are able to contact the ICO via our website to make a ‘fast-tracked’ Subject Access Request (SAR) under the Data Protection Act (DPA).”