Allegations: Ian Hurst, right, with lawyer Mark Lewis at the Leveson Inquiry
Fresh evidence has emerged that rogue private eyes hired on behalf of blue-chip clients used corrupt police officers to obtain private information.
Ian Hurst, a former Army intelligence officer and key witness to the Leveson Inquiry, warned Britain’s equivalent of the FBI two years ago that a private detective convicted of hacking into bank accounts and telephone records had ‘cultivated’ contacts with Special Branch.
But he says his warnings were ignored while the Metropolitan Police has confirmed that no officer has ever been questioned over these allegations.
In a letter headed ‘MPS/SOCA Corruption’, seen by The Mail on Sunday, the head of Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), wrote to Mr Hurst acknowledging his concerns.
Tomorrow a powerful committee of MPs will publish a list of 98 clients linked to the four private detectives who have been convicted for ‘blagging’, or fraudulently obtaining personal information.
Heading the list is X Factor mogul Simon Cowell as well as accountancy firm Deloitte, banks Credit Suisse and Chase Manhattan, and law firms Richards Butler (now Reed Smith), Herbert Smith and Clyde and Co. There is no evidence that any of the clients were involved in wrongdoing.
The new corruption claims emerged days after Soca chief Trevor Pearce was challenged by MPs over previous revelations by this newspaper of evidence of corruption linking private detectives and police officers.
In those claims, we uncovered documents that showed at least one of the corrupt private detectives may have worked with serving officers to carry out more than 40 illegal criminal records checks.
Now Mr Hurst says he alerted Soca to corruption allegations involving private detectives and police officers when he met officers from the agency investigating the four PIs in May 2011.
List: Simon Cowell is one of 98 clients of four private detectives convicted of ‘blagging’, although there is no evidence that he was involved in wrongdoing
He claims he told the officers that he was concerned that one of them, Philip Campbell Smith, had ‘cultivated’ contacts with Special Branch. He also warned them he knew there was police corruption issues with Operation Millipede, the Soca investigation into the rogue PIs.
After the meeting, the head of Soca wrote back to Mr Hurst acknowledging his concerns. In a letter headed ‘MPS/SOCA Corruption’, Mr Pearce said: ‘I understand that my officers met with you on May 5 to discuss in detail the concerns you have raised in connection with the alleged unlawful accessing of private data and the resultant consequences . . . I want to reassure you that the issues you have raised are being taken seriously and are being addressed.’
Mr Hurst was put in touch with Soca after he contacted the Information Commissioner, the data protection watchdog, over concerns about Soca’s investigation into corrupt private detectives who have been linked to clients kept secret by the police.
Soca officials interviewed Mr Hurst as part Operation Millipede.
Last year, Daniel Summers, 34, Graham Freeman, 53, former Met inspector John Spears, 74, and Campbell Smith, 53, a former soldier, admitted ‘blagging’ personal information from banks, telephone companies and Government agencies.
Mr Hurst told The Mail on Sunday he approached Soca because he was concerned that the agency had decided not to investigate the clients on behalf of whom the private detectives had been instructed to act. He said: ‘What we were discussing was that in my view the clients were equally guilty as those [private detectives] who conspired [to obtain information fraudulently].’
The Soca officers believed he could assist them with their inquiry. But, according to Mr Hurst, a Soca report of the interview stated: ‘During conversation he also made several references to police corruption where he claimed he knew and used corrupt officers to obtain information and influence events.’
Mr Hurst told this newspaper that he did not say he used corrupt officers and has never been questioned over this alleged statement. He said: ‘We were talking about corrupting police officers . . . if the officers believed that [that Hurst had corrupted police officers] they could have arrested me.’
Watchdog: Information Commissioner Sir Christopher Graham is in charge of investigating clients who hired PIs
The decision by MPs to publish the names of the 98 clients has been attacked by Sir Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, who is now in charge of investigating the clients who hired the PIs.
MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee have accused police of ‘sitting on’ the list and expressed concern that clients of corrupt investigators have not been pursued with the same vigour as journalists who used private eyes.
Sir Christopher said: ‘It’s not clever to start a criminal investigation by publishing the names of everyone and everything you’re investigating. That’s why we’ve stated we’re not publishing the list at this stage, and why I’ve written to Keith Vaz to urge similar patience on the part of his Select Committee.
‘Nor is it fair that the first individuals named on the list learn of their inclusion is when their identities are revealed by a committee of MPs.’ He added: ‘We have to start from the central principle of British justice that some of the 98 may not have broken any law.’
Last week, when Soca was quizzed by MPs over corruption allegations arising out of Operation Millipede, its director-general made no reference to the 2011 concerns raised by Mr Hurst.
Mr Pearce told the MPs: ‘I think we have to say that there has always been a suspicion and there has been evidence that law enforcement officers and others have done [criminal records] checks.’ But he added: ‘We put together a case file which went before the CPS who felt on the basis of what we were able to put before them, they were not able to press charges. So no officers were ever named.’
The committee chairman told Mr Pearce to provide them with the CPS advice given to Soca.
The CPS said its lawyers were busy reviewing the papers from the Millipede case.
Last night a Soca spokesman added: ‘Soca is satisfied that appropriate consideration was given to a number of claims that were made during the investigation.’
Is this the clue that links high-profile firms to the phone-hacking scandal for the first time?
Evidence: Judge Andrew Campbell
Corrupt private detectives hired by blue-chip clients may have been involved in phone-hacking, a court document seen by The Mail on Sunday suggests.
Evidence of hacking emerged when it was raised by a judge who sentenced four private detectives for stealing confidential and personal information in 2012.
At the centre of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) case, codenamed Operation Millipede, are four investigators hired by wealthy individuals and big firms. Until now there has been no suggestion that any of the four hacked phones, a crime for which many journalists have been arrested.
Last year, Daniel Summers, 34, Graham Freeman, 53, former Met inspector John Spears, 73, and Philip Campbell Smith, 53, admitted ‘blagging’ personal information from banks and government agencies.
A transcript of the sentencing hearing at Kingston Crown Court reveals that Judge Andrew Campbell said: ‘I make it quite clear that although there may be some evidence within the exhibits of this case of phone-hacking and of using corrupt police officers to obtain details of criminal records, that is not what any of you have pleaded guilty to and it is not what I have to sentence you for.’
When The Mail on Sunday asked Soca about evidence of phone-hacking, a spokesman said: ‘It would not be appropriate to comment on individual assertions offered during an investigation.
‘However, Soca is satisfied that appropriate consideration was given to a number of claims that were made during the course of the investigation.’
The CPS declined to comment.