Lawyers were the biggest users of the shady private investigators behind the ‘secret’ phone-hacking scandal, the Mail can reveal.
As many as 20 law firms and individual lawyers are thought to appear on a confidential list of 102 clients using private detectives who hacked phones, blagged personal data and stole information.The scale of the criminal intrusion is such that MPs now believe the scandal is ‘worse than phone hacking’ by newspapers.They also fear that those on the list drawn up by Soca, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, represent just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and many more banks, drug firms and users of private agents are yet to be exposed.
Last night Soca bosses were under pressure to publish the dossier and faced new questions about what else they know.The list was drawn up from intelligence garnered from just one investigation, and MPs suspect Soca may hold further details of allegations against other blue-chip corporations.Soca insisted that the list was classified as ‘confidential’ before handing it over to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee this week.
Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, has asked Soca director general Trevor Pearce why the list is being censored and hinted strongly that the committee may publish it anyway in the public interest.In a letter to Mr Pearce, he wrote: ‘You must be aware that the companies and individuals detailed as part of your investigation impact on people’s everyday lives and, therefore, there is a legitimate public interest in who made, and on what grounds, the decision to withhold.’
Mr Vaz also asked ‘on whose authority, and with what reasoning, this information has been classified as confidential’ and whether those on the list knew they were on it.In a statement he said: ‘It is clear from Mr Pearce’s letter that the named individuals and companies are not subject to current investigations which may be undermined if the list was published.‘Without Soca providing a full explanation of the decision not to publish it is not surprising that people will be suspicious about motives.’
A senior member of the committee, Tory MP James Clappison, wrote to the agency asking what details it holds of other clients of private investigators, and for details of how many of the 102 have been arrested or charged. It is thought none has been subjected to formal proceedings.He also asked how many victims of hacking have been notified.Mr Clappison said: ‘It appears to be worse than phone hacking. This is a far greater level of intrusion into people’s lives.’Yesterday the Mail revealed that a number of banks and pharmaceutical companies feature heavily on the list, alongside private individuals and insurance firms.
The lawyers and law firms on the list are thought to include those involved in divorce actions where wealthy clients are seeking to discover the true extent of their husband or wife’s assets.The activities of the investigators included computer hacking and even intercepting live phone conversations.The list was drawn up by Soca in 2008 but not considered as evidence by the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking.
It was drawn from Operation Millipede, which saw four private investigators jailed last year. But unlike with the Press, the subject of a multi-million-pound police investigation and the Leveson Inquiry, no one has gone after those commissioning the four.Soca claims that publishing the list could cause the firms and individuals commercial damage and breach their human rights.
They say the clients would not necessarily have known what the private eyes were up to. But MPs say no recipient of a transcript of a telephone call could be in any doubt about what they were reading.Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell insisted that any MP who published the list in Parliament would be protected by Parliamentary privilege.‘If any company has knowingly connived in phone hacking, they should be held to account,’ he said. – DailyMail