PI Mail allegedly paid for illegal work: 'My income was directly related to someone else's tragedy'

One former private investigator who spoke to ITV News claims he was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to obtain information. Rebecca Barry reports

Newspapers are expected to expose wrongdoing, not commission it.

And yet, this week several high-profile people, including Prince Harry, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Elton John, came to the High Court, accusing the publisher of Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday of "criminality".

Associated Newspapers is accused of commissioning "burglary to order", "blagging" to get people's personal information, and "phone tapping" to eavesdrop on private phone calls.

The allegations alone are potentially damaging for the Mail newspapers, who've always unequivocally denied using the "dark arts" that tarnished their rivals.

But the claims in this case rely on evidence from a murky world, based in some cases on the words of those who've previously been convicted of crimes.

Former PI Danno Hanks said the searches he did into birth dates and social security numbers were 'the keys to the kingdom'. Credit: ITV News.

I interviewed Danno Hanks, a former private investigator based in California, who's provided a Witness Statement on behalf of the claimants.

"The searches I did gave me access to dates of birth, mother's maiden name, social security number - which are the keys to the kingdom"

Court papers claim Associated Newspapers paid him "several hundred thousand pounds" to illegally obtain people's private information.

"I worked for them on numerous stories over the years and was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whatever they assigned me to do, I did."

It's claimed the Mail on Sunday commissioned him to target 9/11 widows and Jeffrey Epstein's victims.

"They weren't always celebrities; they were just people who were thrust into the limelight because of something tragic that happened to them. I'm fully aware that my income was directly related to someone else's tragedy."

"I've already said, I'm deeply sorry and anything I can do to help them with their cases in the courts, I'm going to do."

A spokesman for Associated Newspapers told ITV News: "Like many media organisations on both sides of the Atlantic, the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail used the services of Danno Hanks’ British American News Agency.

"Hanks was also licensed by the US authorities as a private investigator, a role that in America has legally recognised investigative powers.

"Information such as date of birth and parents’ names is freely available under the law in California, where Hanks operated.

"There is no evidence Hanks was commissioned by Mail Newspapers to supply social security numbers. If he did so it was because, as he admitted in an interview last year with Emily Maitlis, he was ‘too lazy’ to remove them from the information he was asked to supply.  Indeed, he gave written guarantees that all the work he did for us was legal.

"Whatever sum of money he says he was paid, it should be borne in mind this covers a 20-year period from the early 1990s."

Lawyers for the newspapers say the claims have "no real prospects of succeeding", have been brought "far too late", and should be thrown out.

On that, the judge will soon decide.

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