Journalists caught on tape in police bugging | UK news | The Guardian
Tabloid journalists were caught on tape by a police surveillance operation obtaining information from a private detective agency which in turn paid corrupt officers for confidential police material.
Transcripts record reporters from the News of the World, Mirror and Sunday Mirror doing business with Jonathon Rees, whose company, Southern Investigations, was being secretly bugged.
The tapes provide a rare picture of the covert black market in data run by private detectives and corrupt police.
A separate Guardian investigation for today’s third and final issue of the Big Brother series has established the ease with which snoopers can obtain personal data for anyone willing to meet their price.
A private eye provided only with a reporter’s business card took less than 24 hours to obtain a month’s worth of his mobile phone records, and only a week to obtain a detailed record of his banking transactions, his home address, telephone number and national insurance number.
Operation Nigeria, the surveillance of Southern Investigations between May and September 1999, was run by the Metropolitan police’s anti-corruption squad CIB3. It ended when listening devices picked up evidence that Southern’s director was involved in a plot to plant drugs on a woman so that her husband would win a custody battle for their child. Rees was subsequently jailed for that, along with a serving detective, Austin Warnes.
Documents from Operation Nigeria reveal that senior officers were keen to bring charges against reporters if any evidence was found that they had committed crimes. However, no such evidence surfaced of criminal offences by any of the reporters or that they knew the origin of the material.
Alex Marunchak, of the News of the World, is identified by the transcripts as a lucrative customer of the agency. In a bugged telephone call in July 1999, Rees said Mr Marunchak owed the agency £7,555. The transcript says that the money would be paid in the name Media Investigations. Rees added that the account would be “back within the agreed limit” by the following week.