A list of clients of rogue private detectives is to be published by Monday after a group of influential MPs handed the heads of a national police unit a shock ultimatum.
The names of 102 firms and individuals who allegedly used corrupt private investigators was handed from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) to the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this year on condition it was not published – sparking a row over transparency.
Following a heated evidence session yesterday, Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the committee, told Trevor Pearce, Soca director general, and Stephen Rimmer, the agency’s interim chairman, they would publish the list on Monday if Soca did not do so first.
Mr Vaz said: “We know it has gone to the Met (Metropolitan Police) and we know they have removed the names that are subject to criminal investigation.
“We give you until Monday to publish this list. If you fail to publish it on Monday, we will publish it because we think it is in the public interest to do so.”
He added: “We’ve taken legal advice and we believe it’s important that this should be done.”
The so-called “blue-chip hacking” list was drawn up during Soca’s Operation Millipede, which led to the conviction and jailing of four private detectives for fraud last year after they tricked companies into revealing private information on clients.
A total of 22 law firms feature on it, alongside insurance companies, financial services groups and two celebrities, among others. Up to 100 individuals may have had had their details accessed by the private investigators, Soca’s director general Trevor Pearce previously revealed.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced on Monday its own investigation into nearly 100 of the private eyes’ clients, while nine names have been withheld by Soca at the request of the Metropolitan Police.
A Soca spokesman: “We have made our position clear, but in light of the request from the HAC we will seek advice and inform the committee of our decision by Friday.”
The agency’s Millipede probe resulted in the prosecution and jailing of rogue private detectives Daniel Summers, Philip Campbell Smith, Graham Freeman and Adam John Spears.
They used a range of deceptions to obtain bank account and mortgage details, medical records and information from the Police National Computer.
The investigation underway by the Information Commissioner’s Office will consider whether the investigators breached the Data Protection Act
It will assess more than 20 files of material passed to it by Soca, as well as writing to all the individuals and organisations listed, to establish what information the private investigators provided, and whether the clients were aware the law might have been broken in order to obtain it.
Anyone considered to have breached the law governing data protection may face criminal prosecution for unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data (known as a section 55 offence) or for failing to register as a data controller (known as notification).
They also face possible civil action for breaching the Data Protection Act, with penalties of up to £500,000, or could be subject to an enforcement notice requiring a change in policy or procedures.
The ICO team will also liaise with international partners where organisations or individuals are based overseas.