The News of the World is seeking to prevent the disclosure of documents that it is claimed show that many of its reporters “endemically” used illegal methods to obtain personal information, a court was told today.
The evidence is being sought by celebrity publicist Max Clifford, who has started legal action seeking to prove that News of the World investigators unlawfully intercepted messages left on his mobile phone.
Jeremy Reed, Clifford’s barrister, told Mr Justice Norris in the high court that, according to a witness statement from an information commissioner investigator, unlawful requests from newspaper reporters to obtain information about “high-profile” individuals and their associates was “endemic”.
The case follows the Guardian’s revelation that Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire secretly paid £1m in damages to Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, and two other figures from the PFA to settle legal actions that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using a private detective to illegally hack into their mobile phone records.
Clifford, like Taylor, was one of five individuals named in the charges against Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective in London used by the tabloid who was jailed with the paper’s royal reporter, Clive Goodman, in 2007.
Clifford has made an application to see documents concerning News of the World reporters from the information commissioner, the watchdog responsible for protecting the public’s privacy.
The commissoner seized paperwork from Steve Whittamore, a private investigator who has been convicted of illegally accessing official and commercial databases. Whittamore had cultivated sources who extracted information from police computers, British Telecom, the DVLA, the Inland Revenue and others.
The paperwork shows that there were a total of 13,343 requests from 305 journalists including 27 journalists from the News of the World who paid Whittamore to obtain personal data. One NoW reporter made 130 requests, and another 118.
The information commissioner is prepared to release this paperwork to Clifford as he believes that the employment of illegal methods by the News of the World and other newspapers was widespread.
Today, the News of the World said: “This legal issue is coming up for hearing shortly. We are therefore unwilling to comment in any detail, other than to say that the relevant report from the information commissioner was published in 2006 and it referred to matters arising in 2002–2003.”
“For the record, the information commissioner’s report has nothing to do with voicemail accessing.”
It is understood that the News of the World will argue that the records obtained by the information commissioner are irrelevant and therefore should be kept under wraps.
A court ordered the release of documents from the information commissioner when Taylor sued. The Murdoch papers later paid him £700,000 in a confidential out-of-court settlement.
Last year, Clifford said he had been told by the police more than two years ago that his phone had been hacked. He told the Guardian: “I believed that this was a one-off, just two lads overstepping the mark. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Now it is increasingly worrying that there could be an awful lot more.