Did corrupt private detectives infiltrate the Metropolitan Police witness protection programme? That was the claim made by Tom Harper of the Independent on 26 June, citing a 2008 report by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.1
The eight-page Soca memo referred to intelligence that PIs were employed by the “criminal fraternity” to “frustrate law enforcement”. The Independent understands that the same corrupt investigators have also worked for the News of the World. The Soca report includes intelligence that crime bosses were hiring PIs to access “internal police databases, including those containing serving officers’ private details” and “deleting intelligence records from law enforcement databases”.
The most shocking practice, however, involves attempts to trace protected witnesses. Soca noted that PIs often had an “abundance of law-enforcement expertise either through corrupt contacts or from a previous career in law enforcement”, and they were “attempting to discover location of witnesses under police protection to intimidate them”.
A redacted version of the full SOCA report is now available on the website of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which called in the agency's leadership last week.2
Remarkably, as Tom Harper reports in a follow-up story, SOCA Director-General Trevor Pearce contradicted the agency's report when he was asked about witness intimidation, stating "Other than seeing the media reporting, I have never heard anything formally; as a law enforcement officer who has had significant engagement with the undercover world, I have not heard of that before."3
The issue of witness intimidation is particularly troubling given that at least one corrupt detective linked to the News of the World was a former member of the Force Research Unit, the covert army unit implicated in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
Hurst, himself a dubious figure in many ways, was the target of an alleged witness intimidation campaign as far back as 2000, when the Sunday Herald's Neil Mackay reported:
A former FRU member who served under Kerr, Philip Campbell Smith, was arrested by detectives from the Stevens team early last week for threatening witnesses. Smith, a 41-year-old security consultant from Northamptonshire allegedly intimidated a former military intelligence agent [Ian Hurst], who uses the cover name Martin Ingram.
Ingram has voluntarily co-operated with the Stevens inquiry by giving a detailed statement about the covert activities of the FRU in Ulster. Smith allegedly threatened Ingram by sending e-mails revealing his address. This could have led to republicans trying to kill Ingram.
Smith is the author of a Ministry of Defence-approved book, The Fishers of Men. It was written under the pseudonym Rob Lewis and details the FRU role in Northern Ireland.4
The long-running inquiry into collusion in Northern Ireland, including the Pat Finucane case, was headed by John Stevens. According to another Tom Harper story, Stevens had himself been placed under surveillance in 1999 by a detective agency, Southern Investigations, hired by the News of the World in 1999.5 An undercover police officer inside the agency, Derek Haslam, claimed it also wanted dirt on Stevens to 'control' him.
During all this time, Haslam worked undercover at Southern Investigations until his cover was eventually blown in 2006 when his computer was allegedly hacked by his colleagues, who had become suspicious. Haslam said Scotland Yard offered him the chance to go into the witness protection programme – a system he claims he saw repeatedly compromised by the agency.
The 2006-7 period also saw a striking spate of stories in the News of the World about key witnesses and investigators linked to the Stevens Inquiry.
On 18 June 2006, the News of the World reported that it had tracked down one of Finucane's killers, Ken Barrett, to Bexhill-on-Sea, where he was living under police protection. The paper claimed that he could be arrested again over other murders by the Historical Inquiries Team.6
The following day, The Sun repeated Barrett's location and claimed that he could be ready to name the gunmen who killed Finucane to the public inquiry which was under serious political consideration at the time.7 It would later emerge that a former special forces soldier, the late Steve Ibinson, had been involved in tracking Barrett down.8
During the summer of 2006, Philip Campbell Smith is alleged to have hacked Ian Hurst's computer as part of a commission subcontracted to him through Southern Investigations from the then Irish editor of the News of the World, Alex Marunchak.
The Guardian reported:
The material accessed by the hacker included messages concerning at least two agents who had informed on the Provisional IRA: Freddie Scappaticci, codenamed Stakeknife, and a second informant known as Kevin Fulton. Both men were regarded as high-risk targets for assassination. Hurst was one of the few people who knew their whereabouts and the emails contained information capable of disclosing this.9
On 11 February 2007, the News of the World reported that PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde had been having an affair with a detective he met while heading the Stevens Inquiry.10 This story is particularly noteworthy in light of the paper's failed attempt to dig up similar personal information on Orde's predecessor as head of the inquiry, Stevens himself. There have also been suggestions that Metropolitan Police officers involved in the phone hacking inquiry may have been targeted in attempt to manipulate them through vulnerabilities in their personal lives.11
On 4 March 2007, a News of the World article revealed the result of a freedom of information request to the Stevens Inquiry showing that Scappaticci could be charged with up to 16 murders by the Historical Inquiries Team. An un-named former soldier of the Force Research Unit was quoted suggesting Scappaticci may have received up to £2 million as a payoff. The paper also stated that Scappattici "was arrested and detained by Stevens Inquiry officers in London" and that he "last year obtained an injunction preventing the media from revealing his whereabouts. The News of the World can reveal that he was not in Italy or Tenerife as speculated elsewhere."12
On 22 April 2007, the News of the World reported details of an afffidavit sworn by Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Graham Taylor of the Stevens Inquiry, naming the UDA's William 'Mo' Courtney as one of the killers of Pat Finucane on the basis of evidence from a UDA mole. The article stated: "The affidavit from DCI Taylor has never been read out in court and was part of other proceedings brought by the Stevens Inquiry to obtain documents for its investigation. We have obtained the document from a source not involved in the Stevens Inquiry or Crown Prosecution Service."13
It is possible that all of these stories were obtained by legitimate means, but seen in the light of the allegations against the News of the World and Philip Campbell Smith, they raise worrying questions. How did the News of the World obtain the locations of Ken Barrett, who was under police protection, and it is implied, of Freddie Scappaticci, a Stevens Inquiry witness? How did it obtain the Stevens Inquiry's affidavit regarding Mo Courtney?
Philip Campbell Smith's hard drive might be one logical place to look for answers to at least some of these questions, given his alleged pursuit of Scappaticci. It is disturbing that SOCA and the Metropolitan Police apparently disagree about who is in possession of it.
Some of those involved in pursuing witnesses to collusion were former soldiers linked to agent handling or surveillance units.The resulting stories often leaked details of their allegations, gave away their locations, and emphasised the potential for new charges against them. This can hardly have encouraged them to testify, particularly given that the former IRA informant, Denis Donaldson, had recently been murdered in April 2006, only a few weeks after being tracked down by the media.
To date, the implications of hacking investigations in Britain have received remarkably little attention in Ireland.14 The question nevertheless arises, did corrupt private investigators compromise investigations into collusion?
It is not at all clear that a mechanism currently exists for answering this question. Not least because, given recent criticisms of the Historical Inquiries Team by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, wider arrangements for dealing with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland are themselves in disarray.15
1. Tom Harper, Exclusive: Met Supergrass Scandal: corrupt private investigators infiltrate witness protection programme, Independent, 26 June 2013.
2. Correspondence between the Committee and SOCA re Private Investigators, Home Affairs Select Committee, 2 July 2013.
3. Tom Harper: The Aftermath of Leveson: SOCA Chief is accused of misleading MPs over hacking, The Independent, 7 July 2013.
4. Neil Mackay, The Scot behind Ulster's dirty war; Elite unit passed intelligence to UDA death squads, The Sunday Herald, 19 November 2000.
5. Tom Harper, Exclusive: News of the World hired detective firm linked with murder to spy on Met Chief, Independent Voices, 17 September 2012.
6. Martin Breen, Secret life of mobster who killed Kielty dad, News of the World, 18 June 2006.
7. Finucane: 'Barrett may talk', The Sun, 19 June 2006.
8. Martin Breen, Brave ibbo truly was one of a kind, Sunday Life, 19 April 2009.
9. Vikram Dodd and Nick Davies, News of the World hacking suspect pleads guilty to conspiracy, guardian.co.uk, 20 February 2012.
10. Martin Breen, Orde's secret love child, News of the World, 11 February 2007, archived at nuzhound.com.
11. Martin Hickman & Tom Watson, Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain, Penguin Books, 2012, p.127.
12. Martin Breen, Stakeknife quizzed on shootings, News of the World, 4 March 2007, archived at nuzhound.com.
13. Martin Breen, UDA mole nailed Mo, News of the World, 22 April 2007.
14. Paul Larkin, The Metropolitan Police must hand over its Irish hacking evidence to the Irish authorities, Cic Saor, 19 June 2013.
15. Historical Inquiries Team Criticised: Reactions to HMIC Report, BBC News, 3 July 2013.