The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

  • MR ALEXANDER OWENS (sworn).

  • Mr Owens, I'm going to invite you to sit down and make yourself comfortable and also I'm going to hand three files which contain relevant material, including, I hope, your two witness statements.

    Your full name, please?

  • Mr Owens, thank you for coming forward. I think you came forward to us on the basis that you had some valuable information and I'm grateful to you.

  • First of all, Mr Owens, if I could identify your two witness statements. In the first of the three files under, I hope, tab 1, there's a statement which runs to 20 pages signed by you on 17 November; is that correct?

  • And you've signed the statement of truth?

  • This is your main evidence, but there's also a short supplementary statement where you expand upon and deal with certain recent events, signed and dated by you on 22 November?

  • You tell us between the years 1999 and 2005 you were the senior investigating officer with the Information Commissioner's office based in Winslow; is that right?

  • Can I ask you, please, about your previous career. It was in the police, wasn't it?

  • Yes. I basically left school and joined the police cadets when I was 17. As 19, I became a constable and basically stayed there until I'd finished my 30 years in and out of various police departments. So I actually retired in October 1995.

  • Thank you. And then you -- you haven't said your rank. You retired --

  • Sorry, I retired in the rank of detective inspector.

  • Thank you very much indeed. Following your retirement, the ICO, as we're calling it, didn't exist then. There was some other entity in being, I think, called the Data Protection Registrar's Office?

  • You joined them in 1997?

  • As an investigator on a two-year fixed contract.

  • The legislation was underfoot, it eventually became law in 2000 in the form of the Data Protection Act 1998?

  • There was legislation in place. The 1984 Act. And yes, I basically joined because the new Act was coming in.

  • Thank you. The time when you joined -- or you joined in September 1999. You became senior investigating officer in December 1999. The department consisted of seven or eight regional investigating officers around the whole of the United Kingdom?

  • Two full-time investigators based at Winslow. One of them was you, of course, the other was Ms Jean Lockett, who was head of --

  • No, there were two other investigators and myself as the ICO, so there were actually two investigators plus myself plus Jean Lockett.

  • Was your direct line manager Mr Francis Aldhouse?

  • Who was the deputy commissioner and above him of course the commissioner?

  • Can we launch then straight into the circumstances surrounding Operation Motorman?

  • This is paragraph 3.1 of your statement. You were contacted in September or October 2002 by Devon and Cornwall Police who were conducting an investigation which they had labelled Operation Re-proof; is that correct?

  • What in essence were they investigating, Mr Owens?

  • They were doing an Internet investigation into possible leaks from the police national computer to a private detective agency by both serving police officers and retired police officers.

  • Yes. Mr Owens, you're facing competition from a helicopter outside and also the microphone there doesn't really amplify your voice, so please keep it up.

  • Thank you very much. You mentioned a private detective agency. That is Data Research Limited, who were based in south London?

  • That's correct. I don't know the exact area, I can't remember it now, but it was down south London.

  • So the upshot was that the Devon and Cornwall Police wanted to execute a search warrant in pursuit of their investigation but it was agreed that your office would come and assist in case there were matters which fell outwith the remit of Operation Re-proof?

  • Can we cover with more precision, rather than me just lead this evidence, the events of 11 and 12 November 2002. Did you accompany officers of Devon and Cornwall Police to execute a warrant which they had obtained?

  • Yes, I did, together with the regional officer for that area, Steve Gazzard.

  • Thank you. The raid was an address in south London; is that correct?

  • I can't remember the exact address, but yes, I think it was down there somewhere.

  • All this is preliminary to the relevant search, isn't it?

  • So I think we can probably take it comparatively briefly.

  • Thank you.

    Did you find any documents during the course of the search?

  • Yes. I was obviously walking around and having a look while we weren't actually seizing documents and on one desk I saw a couple of bundles of documents which obviously related to vehicle registration marks, car numbers. And as I glanced down at them, I could see that there was an awful lot of vehicles with the personal owners' details on the same documents. And I asked one of the police officers if he'd seize it for me.

  • Yes. Those documents were given a particular exhibit number, but then did you telephone DVLA at Swansea to make further enquiries?

  • Yes, I was still in the premises when I rang DVLA Swansea and basically gave them the first 10 or 12 on the list and asked them if they could -- was there any common denominator, could they check them?

  • And the upshot was that there was a common denominator, one particular DVLA employee who had conducted the searches?

  • Well it all came down to one DVLA employee, but also the times and dates on the documents corresponded exactly with the times and dates on the DVLA records that they were checked.

  • So it was obviously that data research, either directly or indirectly, had a corrupt source within DVLA.

  • And that for you is critical because this is data protection. This is exactly what you're in the business to look for?

  • That person was immediately suspended by DVLA.

  • And in paragraph 3.5 of your statement, if we could take the story slightly further forward, the exhibit bundle you've mentioned, PS28, identified the fact that several hundred VRMs had been checked by Data Research Limited and the results subsequently sold on to about 10 companies and individuals?

  • Yes, that would be right. Yes.

  • So Operation Motorman started on the back of --

  • On the back of those documents and Operation Motorman essentially was to identify any corrupt sources in the DVLA and identify the customers that were on that -- the list and what they wanted the details for. That was the basis of Operation Motorman.

  • Thank you. If I can take this quite briefly, a second source was in fact identified but he was deceased by then?

  • Yes, it was when we went to DVLA, we found out there was a second source, but he'd died some nine months earlier.

  • Can you help us with the protected number you refer to in paragraph 3.8?

  • What's the significance of that?

  • I received a telephone call from a Mr Wilf Morgan, who was a very senior member of the DVLA, asking if we could liaise and sort of work between us, and I was down there, we were talking, and his phone rang and it turned out that there was a young lady from -- I can't remember which office, but it was the same office as the deceased, who said that she shared a desk diary with Mr Morgan and she'd noticed this long list of vehicle registration marks in that diary --

  • I think you don't mean Mr Morgan, you mean the deceased.

  • Yes, sorry, the deceased. There was a long list of numbers in there so we went over -- I think it was Wimbledon or that area -- we went over to their office in Wimbledon and took possession of the diary from the lady.

  • Yes. And that eventually led you, or maybe quite quickly, led you to a particular investigator, Steve Whittamore; is that right?

  • Well, it was noticing the protected number that actually led us there. I was -- we were obviously going through it, they were obviously relevant to our Operation Motorman, when we noticed one of the vehicles had -- or one of the vehicle marks written down in the diary had very clearly next to it, "Protected number". As an ex-Special Branch officer, I know exactly what that means, so it started -- gave me concerns.

  • And we subsequently identified that that was in fact an undercover car being used by the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police confirmed it. Once they told us that, we didn't ask any more details.

  • What you did do is look further into Mr Whittamore and ascertained that he ran a private detective business from an address, his home address in Hampshire?

  • And you went to him because he was the person who asked for the information about the protected number?

  • On the list going back to PS28, which is the 700 list, we were able to identify from that the name Whittamore and then it moved on.

  • There's another raid, this time Mr Whittamore's home address in Hampshire.

  • Takes place on 8 March 2003?

  • This time it's under the aegis of the ICO, not a police raid?

  • No, a search warrant issued under the Data Protection Act.

  • It may be there were some police officers there to help?

  • No. The only time we used police officers is basically as a matter of courtesy we let them know we're on their area and we might ask for a uniformed officer to be there when we enter, so to prevent a breach of the peace, but we don't actually use police officers on the actual searches and that.

  • Mr Thomas subsequently described the documentation you seized as a Pandora's box.

  • Which may well be an accurate description. But in terms of what it was, the underlying information which was being sought and obtained, as you say in paragraph 4.2, ranged from CRO checks, which of course are criminal record checks, vehicle registration mark checks, ex-directory telephone numbers, mobile phone numbers, telephone number conversions -- what do you mean by that, Mr Owens?

  • A number conversion is basically, "Here's the number, get me the name and address", or, "Here's the name and address, get me the number".

  • And family and friends' lists. Mr Whittamore made it clear to you, did he, that he would co-operate as regards his own wrongdoing, as it were, but wouldn't incriminate any member of the press?

  • Yes. He didn't say anything then formally, but he indicated that he wouldn't deny his wrongdoing, but please don't ask him about the press because he's not going to say anything about them.

  • Can I ask you, please, about the notebooks you seized. This is on the sixth page of your statement.

  • Yes. There were four I think it's A4 size hardback notebooks and they are quite distinctive because they are all different colours, they are blue, red, green and yellow, and they contained somewhere in the region of 17,500 entries, if you can imagine an entry each line, and along with that an awful lot of paperwork.

    But the actual notebooks represented all the work he had done identifying which reporter, from which newspaper. So -- and we'd have a reporter -- we'd have the newspaper, the name of the reporter, the request being made might be, "Can you check this car number out for me?" All the way down.

  • Thank you. In relation to a telephone number, what was the nature of the request? "Please find the telephone number for X?", was it?

  • It was just basically we'd have a name and address and he'd have ex-directory, so we'd be searching for an ex-directory number, or name and address and mobile, depending on what the enquiry was.

  • Was there also a column which described the amount that Mr Whittamore was going to receive for a particular job? Or was that in other documentation?

  • No, it was in the same -- no, it was in the same document. It was the very last entry where he'd have the amounts that he'd charged for each entry. I'm trying to think. Yes, I'm almost certain of that.

  • The next stage is that you returned to the office in Winslow a few days later, we're probably in about mid-March 2003, to update the head of investigations on progress, but you also, as you tell us, had a meeting with the Commissioner, who was Mr Richard Thomas, and his deputy, who you've already told us is Mr Francis Aldhouse.

  • Basically to update them and show them what we'd recovered.

  • Did you show anybody the documentation you just described?

  • I'd taken -- I'd spent a few days before we went up to the office looking -- giving a cursory look through the documentation and I'd managed to sort of match receipts from newspapers to invoices he'd sent to the people in the books. So what we had was a line of a paper chain from the newspaper sending the invoice out to the -- to Whittamore, in return we had him -- from his papers sending the "I need paying for this". So all of them relating to the one victim.

    And of course the books were in the middle of this because we could match them with the papers, and it went -- we could identify the newspaper, the journalist, Whittamore, who he used, the little tracers, as I'd call them, the blaggers, the corrupt people, and we had a paper chain right the way up and down on --

  • -- well, eventually quite a lot, but that was the sort of documentation I showed.

  • Can I just check two issues. The invoice of course is going from Mr Whittamore back to the newspaper.

  • Did you see an invoice which matched some of the entries in the notebooks?

  • The next question: Did you see any remittance advice or similar document --

  • -- back from the newspaper which is evidence of payment?

  • The last point. You mentioned the blaggers. These are the individuals working, as it were, beneath Mr Whittamore on his instructions. Did the notebook contain information as to who the blagger was in any particular case?

  • Thank you. You demonstrated all of this to Mr Thomas and Mr Aldhouse. Of course by then you hadn't conducted an exhaustive analysis, this was presumably just to illustrate --

  • -- the sort of audit trail that you could demonstrate subsequently, if so required. What was the reaction, if any, from Mr Aldhouse to Mr Thomas in response to these revelations?

  • Well, it was at the end, I basically said what we have here, if we haven't got any public defence we can go for everybody, from the blagger right up to the newspaper, at which point there was a look of horror on Mr Aldhouse's face and he said, "We can't take them on, they're too big for us", and Mr Thomas just sort of bemused, deep in thought, just said, "Fine, thanks very much, Alex, pass my compliments on and congratulations to the team for me, job well done."

    And that was basically it.

  • Mr Thomas, on my understanding of your evidence, he didn't say anything?

  • No, he just sort of -- well, as I said, just sat there. He was obviously thinking, I don't know whether he was thinking of something else or he was thinking of what Mr Aldhouse had said, and then he just said, "Thanks very much for updating us."

  • Can I just understand the next stage, the stage of having to sift through all this paperwork and analyse it. Did you participate in that or were others under you doing so?

  • Obviously being very early into the inquiry, I'd already made an appointment to see Wilf Morgan down at the DVLA with Steve Gazzard who lived in Frome at that time. Having had an opportunity to glance through the papers, I also noticed that there was a lot of detail about the Church family, Charlotte Church's family, and I managed to contact Maria Church, her mother. So I was basically killing two birds with one stone by DVLA Cardiff and we started off with our first victim, get a feel for it.

    While I was down there, Roy Pollit, he offered to do as much of the paperwork, photostatting that he could while I was away.

  • He was an investigator working for you?

  • He was an investigator, yes.

    When I came back, it was too far to keep going with Steve from Frome so basically Roy and I teamed up on the whole -- that was Operation Motorman, or the staff for Operation Motorman was myself and Roy Pollit.

  • It's clear from paragraph 4.8 that maybe two activities were going on. The first activity was to look at a sample of cases, you say 25 to 30 cases.

  • Which would be fully, as it were, prepped up for prosecution, so you had your --

  • That's what we wanted. That was our hope, yes.

  • So you had your full and complete and pristine audit trail there with all the relevant documents; have I correctly understood?

  • That was our objective. You don't just get that overnight.

  • Once we knew the victim was prepared to give us a complainant statement, then we'd set a pack up.

  • Then more widely, you've mentioned the figure of 17,000. There's a whole morass of all the material which goes far beyond the sample case --

  • Yes, as I said, we had 17,000 victims to choose from if we wanted to.

  • What if anything did you do with all the remainder of the material which you weren't going to use specifically for the criminal prosecution? What analysis if any did you conduct on it?

  • Well, once we'd photostatted everything, then we sent all the documentation to a computer forensic team because we wouldn't have been able to do the job unless it was on disk, basically.

  • You tell us this in paragraph 4.8. They conducted an analysis. Their analysis was then put onto an electronic document?

  • Which you made available to us, but we haven't analysed it ourselves, it's far too complex and there are a large number of individual journalists' names there which, because of their presence, we couldn't place the document in the public domain. But it's this material, is this right, which covers the you say 17,000 aggregate number of cases that Mr Whittamore undertook; is that right?

  • Well, 17,000 requests to him from journalists, so yes, that's what he agreed to do for the press.

  • Just before you go on, Mr Owens, I wonder if I could ask this: you've looked at these books and we, of course, haven't. You've identified some of the bits of information required, names associated with vehicle registration marks, telephone numbers for people, people for telephone numbers.

  • Is that information which can be obtained lawfully?

  • Car numbers, no. You can't get them. CRO records, no. Not lawfully. Ex-directory -- I would have said more probably no. You'd have to tell me how to get them, ex-directory numbers, without them being unlawful. There was area searches -- you know, Hugh Grant, find out which area he's got a flat in, or specific addresses, which were occupancy addresses. But amongst them as well were family and friends. There's no way you can get somebody's list of family and friends lawfully, unless you actually know them and know what's on the list. The only way you'll get them is from BT or whichever phone company.

  • I'm not sure you covered mobile phone numbers. Can you obtain those lawfully?

  • No. Well, I don't know of any register of -- no directory of mobile phones, so I can't imagine, unless you get it from a friend, but he must have had several thousand friends.

  • I understand there's a big issue in relation to ex-directory telephone numbers which I'm not asked to pursue with you, Mr Owens, but one of the core participants is particularly concerned about that so I just mention it at this stage.

    In terms of finished product, the data set produced by this independent computer forensic company, you tell us that the one disk was safely locked away and another disk was, as it were, your working copy?

  • Yes, I had a second disk made, so we always had a back-up basically, and that became my working copy.

  • Thank you. Can I deal now with paragraph 4.9. Within a few weeks you were informed that you were not to make contact with any of the newspapers identified and you were not to speak to, let alone interview, any journalists?

  • Who gave you that information?

  • Jean Lockett. She was my immediate line manager. She came in one day and said basically, "You're not to go near the press, you're not to make any approach to any reporters or the press". At first I looked at her and said, "Jean, you are joking?" and she said, "No", and I could see on her face she wasn't joking, and I said, "Why?" She said, "Oh, Richard's dealing with it now, he's doing it through the Press Complaints Council". I suppose I was out of order, I wanted to argue with her, and I could see on her face it was a case of "Please don't shoot the messenger".

  • So to be clear, because there may be some confusion about this relating to other evidence I've seen, the Information Commissioner's office at no stage interviewed a journalist; is that right?

  • No. Well, not the investigation unit. I don't know -- nobody from the investigation -- myself and Roy, basically, from Operation Motorman, ever spoke to a journalist about it.

  • As part of the police investigation, in particular I think Operation Glade, there is reference as to what happened before the judge at Blackfriars in April 2005 to the police having interviewed a handful of journalists. Are you aware of that?

  • Yes, I think I can confirm that, because obviously Glade came out of Motorman. We had a very close liaison, we used to keep in touch with each other, and I don't know for a fact, but the last time I spoke to one of them, which is a long time ago, they were talking about three being interviewed under caution.

  • So in terms of the continuing progress of Operation Motorman, the focus was on those as it were lower down the chain?

  • Well, yes. Basically they'd drawn a red line and with the press and the reporters above that line and we dealt with anything below that line.

  • Who were the private investigators and their blaggers?

  • The private investigators, the little blaggers and the corrupt people.

  • I've mentioned Operation Glade. Operation Glade, you touch on this in paragraph 4.10, Mr Owens.

  • This was focusing on misuse of the police national computer and possibly the licensing agency in Swansea; is that right?

  • No, not quite. Yes, anything -- criminal records, obviously, come off the police national computer. We don't have a PNC and we don't have access to inquire into those. So anything to do with criminal records we handed over to the police for them to investigate.

    What we noticed is, bearing in mind we'd conducted the raid in south London on 11 or 12 November, we hadn't raided Whittamore until the following March, and what we noticed was there were more vehicles being checked after we'd neutralised the DVLA source, so obviously he's gone, somebody else has stepped in.

    We checked with DVLA and they did a very, very thorough check and they said those vehicles are not being checked at DVLA, so there's only one other source, so we handed them over with the criminal records. Anything before 11 November was our area.

  • You say in paragraph 4.12 there was a consultation with counsel. I think we know from other documents we've seen that took place in Birmingham and you attended it?

  • You then prepared the documentation for what was a conspiracy charge, statutory conspiracy, I believe, to breach the Data Protection Act, and how many people were the subject matter of that conspiracy or the perpetrators of it? Was it four or five people, maybe?

  • On our side, yes, but obviously they were connected with people on the Operation Glade side. It was like a spider web. You know, everybody knew each other, but some didn't do criminal -- the CRO checks, and some did.

  • Certainly. We know in relation to Operation Glade that there were four members of the conspiracy. In relation to Operation Motorman, was it the same four?

  • No, only one, Whittamore.

  • Whittamore was the common entity, was he?

  • The upshot was that you assembled the paperwork as you would do for any criminal prosecution?

  • This one may have been on the more complex end of the scale. You submitted the papers to the legal department in February 2004 and as far as you were concerned, the matter was going to proceed on this conspiracy charge; is that right?

  • That was it. We were off onto other things by then.

  • Paragraph 4.16 you say that in April 2005 you became aware that Whittamore had appeared before Blackfriars Court and been given a conditional discharge?

  • We only knew after that he'd appeared. Nobody told us he was even coming up to court.

  • Is it your understanding that this related to Operation Glade rather than Operation Motorman?

  • At that stage we didn't know what was going on. We didn't even know Whittamore was appearing in court. We know there had been -- or heard there had been a bit of bad blood between the Metropolitan Police and our office, so I didn't know what was -- we as investigators didn't have a clue what was happening.

  • Right. That's fair enough, Mr Owens. There's no criticism here, although we know from documents we've seen, in particular from an exhibit called RJT49, that what happened at Blackfriars before His Honour Judge Samuels QC in April 2005 (a) related to Operation Glade and not to Operation Motorman and (b) there were four co-conspirators including Mr Whittamore and they each received a conditional discharge. Do you follow me?

  • I am aware of the result eventually, but not at that time.

  • This did not relate to Operation Motorman, which was still outstanding because it was a separate matter. Do you follow that as well?

  • Yes, yes. You're talking about the little fish.

  • Were you involved in any of the decisions which were subsequently made in relation to Operation Motorman?

  • There was a decision, for example, to discontinue the prosecutions.

  • No, we were just told -- oh, discontinue the prosecutions? I'd left by then. Around this time I'd basically had enough. I wasn't taking any more and I walked out. Went on long-term sick. There was already one grievance in which wasn't being attended to, more grievances went in and the first grievance was -- the first, how can I say, person that contacted me from ICO about the first grievance was 12 months after I'd put it in, and eventually, to cut a long story short, I eventually resigned, I think in September 2006, and went by a tribunal hearing, employment tribunal.

  • Did any of your grievances -- I don't want to go into them, but did any of them relate to the conduct of Operation Motorman or were they all separate from it?

  • Yes and no. It was -- how can I put it? When -- it's difficult to explain. Motorman didn't prompt it. It was just another example of what followed, if that makes sense. Because I had two very good investigations on the go and basically they were taken off me and closed down by the new head of investigations because Jean Lockett had left by that time. It was like they were closing every operation we had on the go down. And we were basically becoming office detectives. You could ring them but you couldn't go see them. I'm sure you know yourself, unless you actually meet and speak to a victim, you don't get the whole story.

    So essentially, whatever decision was made after Blackfriars, I had no input into it whatsoever.

  • Okay, fair enough, Mr Owens. But two of your concerns you express in paragraph 4.18 of your statement. You've already raised the first one. You say:

    "Allowing for the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence we had gathered and made available, what action, if any, did Richard Thomas ... or Francis Aldhouse ... take in respect of the involvement and conduct of the press and their part in this criminal conspiracy."

  • It's clear that the answer to your question is that no action in the criminal courts was taken?

  • Whether other action was taken we'll hear about when Mr Thomas gives his evidence.

    Then your second point:

    "Why, after agreeing a course of action, endorsed by counsel, that all other persons identified as being involved in unlawful activity be jointly prosecuted for conspiracy, was Whittamore the only one concerned in the Motorman investigation to be prosecuted and then only for a simple breach of the ... act."

    Can I just be clear about your evidence in relation to that. First of all, the documents show that in relation to Motorman, it wasn't just Mr Whittamore, there were three other individuals who were either private detectives or blaggers --

  • Yes, that's -- yes they were all part of the conspiracy.

  • But secondly, you're right to point out that journalists were never made part of this conspiracy, do you follow me, but in relation to what counsel was advising when you saw him, he wasn't saying, was he, that journalists were going to be part of the conspiracy? Did he not make it clear that we're going to keep this to the investigators and to the blaggers?

  • I've seen documents that I'd forgotten about, that I've been provided with, that make it absolutely clear why no journalist was prosecuted.

  • You're certainly entitled to say that, but whatever the reason was, the conspiracy was never expanded to include the journalists, was it?

  • No. The journalists never came into the investigation.

  • What the documents show, privilege has been waived for it, is something I'm going to explore with Mr Thomas.

  • Thank you. Can I deal with matters following your departure, which you've frankly told us about. This is now paragraph 5 of your statement, Mr Owens.

  • After you'd left. The first report from the Information Commissioner, "What price privacy?" you received a copy through the post from an anonymous source; is that right?

  • It just arrived with a little note on it saying, "Have a look at page 27, item 6.8". It would be very interesting to me.

  • What that says is, and I'll read is it out, because you know what it says but some people listening to me might not, and I quote verbatim from the report:

    "This was a great disappointment to the ICO" -- the "this" was the discontinuance of the criminal proceedings for conspiracy -- "especially as it seemed to underplay the seriousness of Section 55 offences. It also meant that it was not in the public interest to proceed with the ICO's own prosecutions, nor could the Information Commissioner contemplate putting prosecutions against the journalists or others to whom confidential information had been supplied."

    Someone had tipped you off to look at that, perhaps for a reason, but what was your reaction when you saw it?

  • It may be correct in relation to the others, you know, the blaggers and the thing, but you could never go back after three years and contemplate prosecuting journalists. They'd never even been investigated. And I -- there's enough legal people here to know if I -- I kept evidence -- you can't put -- if you have a conspiracy, you can't put five people on the back-burner and wait and see how you got on with the same five people in the front that's getting prosecuted, because you got a good result, right, we'll go and prosecute them as well. Well, they're all part of one conspiracy. You either investigate them all, or those five you have to say we're not going to investigate them which means we're not going to prosecute them.

    I don't know whether that would be -- is the correct word abuse of the justice system?

  • It would be virtually impossible to do?

  • I think you've just made a very fair point, Mr Owens, but I wanted to hear you say it in your own words.

  • In the police force, that would never ever happen. You either decide they all get investigated or -- I mean, it's fine to investigate them and find those five there's insufficient evidence and then throw them out, but you can't just -- well, I said it, you can't do it, it's impossible.

  • It depends. Circumstances change case, don't they, because you may very well decide there's a team here that I would have to investigate. That's 50 people. I don't have the manpower to do 50, so we'll concentrate on the core offenders, on those at the very centre.

  • And that's exactly what we wanted to do. Roy and I had already started, shall we say, a small hit list of which are the most likely journalists we would have seen.

  • But what you're saying is more difficult is to say, "Well, we won't go down that category of people".

  • "We won't file them under too hard just to get the low-lying fruit"?

  • Thank you. You tell us in 5.2 you read about Glenn Mulcaire's arrest which we know took place on 8 August 2006. You say you certainly never associated it with Operation Motorman. Do you now associate it in some way with Operation Motorman, Mr Owens?

  • Basically, at the time one of the burning questions was, especially for the ex-directory mobile phone numbers, what could all these journalists want it for? You're talking about thousands and thousands of telephone ex-directory numbers. And essentially I -- well, I can say, an awful lot of the names of the victims that are coming up in hacking are in Operation Motorman, Steve Whittamore's books. An awful lot. And my personal feeling was Steve Whittamore was gathering the numbers -- he wasn't hacking, he was definitely not into hacking, we found no evidence of that. But he was then passing them to the papers and possibly those numbers were being passed to people who hacked. I mean the names of people like Milly Dowler, the numbers, ex-directory numbers, that sort of thing, and it wasn't just an occasional one. There were dozens of them, of the names that have now come out in the hacking Inquiry.

  • I should ask this question: did you see reference to the Dowlers' ex-directory numbers in the Operation Motorman material?

  • Thank you. You then a little bit later, indeed a considerable time later, in August 2009 made contact with Nick Davies of the Guardian?

  • Are you able to share with us what you told him in general terms?

  • Basically, it was when he revealed -- or when the -- it was right after the Gordon Taylor story broke, that there were more, it wasn't just Clive Goodman and his lone rogue reporter. It was then it dawned on me this is what they wanted the numbers for: to hack. And at the time I think Nick was -- Nick Davies was trying to get some support, somebody to believe him, some sort of concrete evidence to continue his campaign, and I thought if he saw this, it would highlight how many victims there were in Operation Motorman, and one detective -- or hacker wouldn't do five or six numbers, and the purpose was to give him some strength behind his own campaign and at the same time let the people out there who'd been victims in Operation Motorman know they'd been victims, because we'd only seen 60 or 70 and been able to tell them. There were still 4, 5, 6,000. I've obviously never counted them. So it was a twofold.

  • Just to explore that a little bit with you, Mr Owens, and put forward two other possible hypotheses which may or may not be right.

    First of all, in relation to all the titles who were not associated with the News of the World, and of course you have in mind the list of titles which were tabulated in --

  • -- the second report. They might say, "The reason why we wanted these phone numbers was nothing to do with hacking, but we wanted a ready means of contact details for people in case we were going to write a story about them and we wanted to check the accuracy of our story before we published it." Would you agree that that at least is a possible reason why these titles needed these numbers?

  • Why do you think not?

  • There's too many. There are just too many numbers to ring up. And you've got an example of they've got the number, they've got the list of family and friends and then they've had family and friends --

  • You have to be a bit careful about that, haven't you, Mr Owens, because you're not saying that for every single number they were all family and friends.

  • So unless you correlate what information was going to what newspaper, it's actually quite difficult to decide what that newspaper might have wanted the information for?

  • Your criticism is that you weren't ever allowed to look at it?

  • Basically -- well, we weren't allowed to ask the question. We were not allowed to ask the press what did you want it for?

  • Your point is it might not have required a huge amount of delving and interrogation by you of the relevant journalists to get the answers you needed to these questions, some of which might have incriminated the journalist, but others of which might have exonerated them --

  • Oh yes, I'm not saying they were all dishonestly obtained -- not for a dishonest purpose, or -- you know, the gutter press, so to speak, to chase people, find out where they're going to meet and that sort of thing.

  • The second hypothesis I put to you is specifically in relation to News International and it's this: they had their own expert hacker in Mr Glenn Mulcaire, who might have been the best in the business. Why did they need Mr Whittamore as well? Do you follow that?

  • It was listening to Mr -- yesterday.

  • Mr McMullan, it was listening to him that, how can I put it? It rang a bell. Because they appear to have used the sames Hell's Angel, as he put it, if it is the same Hell's Angel, so there was actually an indirect link between Whittamore, McMullan, with this Hell's Angel, and he was the man who could get the phone numbers. It was only when he said it yesterday that I -- I put this connection together.

  • The answer is, all these are things that you would have looked at?

  • Yes, sir. I wish we could have.

  • Then you refer to a Panorama programme, which indeed is the same one I saw over the weekend, 5.6 of your statement, and Mr David Smith.

  • That's what prompted me to -- that was going over the line.

  • What did he -- well, you set out what he said which you were concerned about. He did make a statement in the programme that no journalists was ever prosecuted:

    "... because we didn't have the evidence that those journalists knew beyond all reasonable doubt that the information had been obtained illegally."

    In one sense that was entirely true, because they didn't have the evidence, and in the other sense it was -- you would use your own word in relation to it. They didn't allow you to take the reasonable steps to obtain the evidence?

  • We were stopped from getting the evidence. Well, additional evidence, and I'll still contend to this day that the evidence we had was strong enough to stand on its own. In certain cases. You have 30 years of experience in the police and some considerable experience in this office, so you obviously had a good instinct for strong evidence and weak evidence.

  • You've used the term "in certain cases". Could you help us a little bit more with that? Why do you feel the evidence was --

  • It's by the extent of it, the number of times they'd used Whittamore -- we had some journalists in there, one or two occasions they've used him. We have some who have used him 200, 300, 400 times, that are going for criminal records, ex-directories. So you'd have to look at how many entries and exactly what they were asking, and some of them were persistently obviously asking for --

  • Can I just ask you one further question about this? We see various data set out in Mr Davies' book which had been obtained pursuant to a request under the Freedom of Information --

  • Oh, his book had been published before I contacted him.

  • Yes. What he said, he said, I think there were 13,343 individual taskings. I know your figure is higher, I'm going to come to that. He said, I think, 1,900-odd you couldn't classify one way or the other --

  • It's set out in Mr Davies' book.

  • No, the book had already been printed and published --

  • I'm just referring to it as a convenient means of identifying the different categories of data.

  • I think you're at cross purposes. What Mr Jay is saying to you is that Mr Davies asked through the Freedom of Information Act for certain figures --

  • And was provided with those figures. They're not your figures.

  • They were in his book before you were in touch with him.

  • Yes, yes, I understand. I thought you said they were my figures.

  • No, your figures I appreciate are slightly bigger figures and I'm going to come to the bigger figures, but at the moment I'm preaching this sort of as uncontroversially as I can because the purpose of the question is rather different. You have 13,343, you have 1,900 they say we don't know, but we have about 6,000 where they say a very strong case, I think it was, and about 5,000 probable case of breach of the Act. Are you able to assist at all about this 6,000 and 5,000 figure and whether you would agree with that sort of assessment and, if so, what are the considerations which would lead you as an experienced police officer to classify a case as a very good case or a probable case?

  • On an individual basis or overall?

  • I think overall and then on an individual basis.

  • Basically, obviously -- on an overall case, you'd look for how many enquiries each journalist has done and then look at the type of enquiry they've done. Even one journalist obtaining one criminal record, that's a whole -- there's no disputing he's guilty. When I say guilty, he's committed an offence.

  • Because nobody can lawfully obtain that sort of information?

  • You can lawfully obtain it, but only under certain circumstances. DVLA will release the name and address of an owner of a vehicle provided --

  • No, you were talking about criminal records there.

  • Oh, sorry, criminal records, yeah. No, he can't lawfully obtain criminal records.

  • And you're right, because I think I've done it myself. In relation to DVLA, if you say you've been involved in an accident and you give the registration mark to DVLA pursuant to a lawful request --

  • -- then they have to answer it?

  • Yes, they can then release it. But if you haven't been in an accident and you say you have, you're back to breach of section 55 of the --

  • -- Data Protection Act.

  • This is helpful because it's enabling us to classify, do you see?

  • Is there any further assistance you can give us on the other types of information?

  • Well, ex-directory is -- there's only one way that I've ever known you can lawfully get an ex-directory number and that was taught to me by -- when I say taught, it was told to me by an old private detective and he said what he used to do, if it was an ex-directory number, he couldn't get them illegally -- well, he wouldn't get them illegally -- he'd go back years and years into the old directories.

  • It may well be at some time it wasn't ex-directory and it was made ex-directory, but he said invariably that was the -- you know, that was very few and far between.

  • That's one of the examples, if one looks at the report, where Mr Thomas is saying it would be so expensive to do that that --

  • -- you could reasonably infer that that's not the way the information was obtained?

  • I think we're beginning to get the hang of this now, Mr Owens, thank you very much. But after the Panorama programme, you tell us at 5.8 that you decided to re-examine the evidence?

  • Yes. After what Mr Smith had to say I thought let's have a look back at that.

  • You'd obtained your own personal working copy of the Operation Motorman database, is that right]?

  • And you explain why in paragraph 5.9.

  • Can I ask you what analysis if any that you carried out, and this was an analysis you undertook, it must have started in April of this year?

  • Yes. Bearing in mind I'm not an expert in drawing up tables and analysis, I did it in the simplistic way. Obviously the overall figure published in "What price privacy now?" was something like, off the top of my head, 3,500 or 3,700. In my total, there was 17,000, 17,500. And then when you look at the individual papers on the league table, obviously the easiest one is to start at the bottom, the Sunday World. One reporter and one request to Whittamore.

    You only have to type in Sunday World and up comes the name of that reporter. And you tap in his name and I found 24 requests that that one reporter had made of Whittamore. And they were criminal records and vehicle numbers. They weren't just all connected to one person. Not like sort of 24 requests in relation to one individual. There may have been a couple of requests related to one individual, but I didn't count how many individuals, but there's got to be four or five.

  • Two questions flowing from that. The first relates to the figure of 3,757, which you give at the bottom of page 15.

  • I think it's fair to say, and this is certainly my understanding, that the table which we see in the second report, "What price privacy now?" it's true, if you add up all the numbers, it does add up to 3,757, does not claim to be the total of all Whittamore's taskings. They were just looking at a narrow cohort of --

  • I didn't know what the criteria was for this table.

  • The second point is the issue of how you look at the number of requests. You do indeed make this clear in your statement. But the difference between, if I can put it in this way, your approach and the ICO's approach is whether certain requests should be grouped together and treated as one, which may have been the ICO's position, or whether they should each be treated individually, which from my understanding of your evidence is your position?

  • Do I have that right?

  • Yes, that's correct. And mine, there are 17,500 entries in the four books.

  • But again, I think this is probably obvious by now, that what it means in quantitative terms is that the minimum number is the ICO's official 13,343 figure, but the maximum number is your approximately 17,500 figure?

  • So that's the difference between you?

  • And without, I'm afraid, looking individually at the data, it's not going to be possible to resolve which of you is right? Do you understand that?

  • And it probably doesn't matter, Mr Jay.

  • I was about to say it doesn't matter anyway, because we have frankly a hell of a lot of requests. The difference between nearly 13,500 and 17,500 is not so big that we need lose huge sleep over it. But I see where you're coming from, Mr Owens, don't get me wrong.

    Then you look at a further analysis. I am asked to draw to your attention, because I know News International are concerned about it, paragraph 5.13, please. You say there that the figures published for the Sunday Times show one reporter making four requests when the evidence shows six reporters making over 100 requests. Can I just take you through the sequence of events and see how far we get with that, that it is right that the original table published by the ICO in December 2006 shows the Sunday Times with in fact seven reporters and 52 requests, which of course isn't the same as the figures you've given in your witness statement, but is closer to your figures than to the final figures given by the ICO's office. Do you follow that?

  • How can I put it? This the figures I worked out from the books, but I'm thinking their figures are putting -- instead of individual -- if there's two entries from one individual, that's one inquiry as far as they're concerned. That's the way I'm -- I think it's coming across.

  • This was a matter which was specifically corrected, though, by the ICO. If I can read out what -- this is exhibit RJT29. I've seen a better document but I've lost the reference. I was looking at it this morning. There is a letter from Mr Thomas where he apologised to the Sunday Times, I'm sure it's this letter but I've seen a shorter one and a clearer one, and he accepted that the correct figures for the Sunday Times, and I'm afraid you're going to have to take it from me for the time being but we will produce the document, were one reporter and four requests, and then the amended table reflected that correction.

  • I've never seen an amended table.

  • I'm sure you haven't, Mr Owens. The only point in me putting that to you was to make the Sunday Times' position absolutely clear.

  • As I said, I'm just going --

  • Yes.

    The basic points you make are clearly set out in paragraph 5.18, aren't they, Mr Owens?

  • Yes, the letter you wanted to refer to is attached to tab 34. And the observation is at 00487:

    "We took issues we raised very seriously and your letter prompted us to revisit the composition of the table of publications. A detailed investigation has now revealed that we recorded the figures to the Sunday and the News of the World incorrectly. The true figures is that there are only four cases at the Sunday Times, all of which involve one journalist."

  • "The figures for the News of the World increase."

    Was that the letter to which you were referring?

  • There was a yet further one that I was looking at where Mr Thomas gave a fulsome apology, but I can't find it. I thought I'd noted it down. But it's certainly the data as set out in that letter.

    Yes, he does make an unqualified apology. Maybe I'm thinking of the same letter all along.

  • Yes. Although he does say:

    "I do not think that it makes a material difference to the overall thrust of the two reports."

  • The bullet points you make, Mr Owens, in 5.18, you feel it a wrong decision in the first place not to investigate a journalist. That decision was not based on any advice by counsel or any lack of evidence. You say the decision was based on considerations of fear and the report was too little too late.

  • In your supplementary statement, you make it clear -- this is your response to what Mr David Smith said -- that you are well aware that by disclosing the information you had, you would be in breach of section 59 of the Act?

  • And then you say:

    "In the first instance, I tried to make contact again with Mr Davies."

    But you were unable to do so. But you did -- and you tried to make contact with four other people. Am I to deduce that you failed to make contact with those people?

  • I answer it in my next paragraph.

  • Can we be clear --

  • Who did you make contact with?

  • I made contact with one of them. I'm quite happy to name them, but I think, sir, you should know the names I'm going to give before --

  • I don't really think it matters. The point is that in the end you decided that the public interest required you to disclose what you disclosed and so that's what you were going to do.

  • And the consequences will be the consequences?

  • You feel so strongly about this that it's clear, according to your conscience, I suppose, where the public interest takes you? Have I --

  • I have no concerns, sir.

  • Just a few questions from others, if you understand. There are other people in this room who want me to ask questions.

  • I have asked some of the questions. This issue of ex-directory phone numbers. Would you agree, at least to this extent, that we're talking about ex-directory phone numbers in relation to landlines?

  • And it's much -- I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's much harder to hack into a landline, isn't it, compared with a mobile phone?

  • True. Well, I've never done any hacking and I'm not a telephone engineer, but let's put it this way. If I want to speak to someone in confidence, I insist that they ring me on a landline, if that answers your question.

  • I think it does. There are some questions from someone else. Can I deal with it in this way, and I hope fairly? Were there concerns within the office about your reliability as a potential witness, that is concerns which were expressed to you?

  • You may certainly answer this question no, and if you do, you're entitled to, but I'll put the question: are you willing to tell the Inquiry why you took an extended period of, I'll put it in these terms first, leave from 2005?

  • Yes. Everything. Yes, I'll quite happily tell the Inquiry. Do you want me to tell the Inquiry?

  • First of all, was it sick leave?

  • It was -- I was off sick, yes, with stress for the very simple reason if I hadn't have gone off, I was getting victimised and they were trying to sack me, and I'll explain it in full quite happily.

  • Maybe it's possible to short circuit it in these terms and then we'll see whether we need to go into it.

  • Were there proceedings -- I think you've made it clear that there were, but just to have it confirmed -- were there proceedings before an employment tribunal in relation to these matters?

  • There were no disciplinary proceedings --

  • No, proceedings from an employment tribunal which you brought?

  • No. Well, I couldn't until I resigned, and with grievance -- the very simple fact is I put a grievance in that -- I'll tell you the details if you want, but I put a grievance in for the simple fact I put a grievance in, four months later nobody had spoken to me about that grievance. Instead, I had now been getting -- and the grievance was against -- one of the people was Mr Aldhouse, the deputy himself. Nobody had spoken to me about my grievance, not a word. But in the meantime, I was suddenly getting -- you know, I couldn't cough in the office without getting a disciplinary notice that they've done me.

  • That was within -- I'd never had a disciplinary notice on me in the seven years I'd been there. After I put the grievance in, I had three disciplinary notices served on me within the next six weeks. So -- and nobody had spoken to me about my first grievance, and I went off sick basically to protect myself because I knew it would just be grievance after grievance.

    I remained off sick and I still haven't got the emails, but I'm sure the solicitors have dealt with it. Trying to get them -- because I wasn't giving in, I wanted that grievance outed because part of it was false pretences, and I stayed off sick and eventually I said I'm going to put me resignation in, they said oh no, no, they brought in independent -- not with themselves. That first grievance was first looked at one year later and my grievance of false pretences was upheld.

  • Did you resign claiming constructive dismissal?

  • Yes, yes, sorry, yes, I did.

  • Were there proceedings or was your employment --

  • Was there a settlement?

  • I think what might be said, so I'll make it explicit, is that you have some grievance, continuing grievance against the Information Commissioner's office and therefore your evidence should be treated as unreliable in some way. I'm inviting you to comment on that.

  • Okay. The copy of the disk which you took, were you intending to use that in any way in employment proceedings if necessary?

  • One of the trumped-up disciplinary related to my -- how shall I say? The quality of my work.

  • So let's put it this way. I was going to say, well, you know, look at the work alone that's in this one. Because I was supposed to supervise the other investigators, and to be honest, the majority apart from one were all 25, 30 years served officers. They were all dotted around the country. I think one of them was a lack of supervision.

  • The last point is, and I think you've already confirmed this, that in your second statement you say you made telephone contact with somebody, because you identified four people you were trying to contact. Did you --

  • No, I didn't make contact with any of those. Well, I made telephone contact with one, who never -- was going to come back to me, never did.

  • It was an initial contact and nothing came of it?

  • It was just trying to find -- I needed some advice on which way to go, because as I said, section 59 is a criminal offence and in my 60s, after 30 years' service, I don't want a criminal offence, and in the end I said what I said to (inaudible), I said I'm going to get it out there into the public, I went to the Independent.

  • In relation to the Independent newspaper, what in a nutshell happened, if anything?

  • They -- well, I said I'm -- you know, don't put me name in, but whoever reads it will know who I am. I said I don't like my name being publicised, as such, but anyone at ICO that had anything to do with the investigation should have known who I was within ten seconds. I think the Independent publishing on the front page that an ex-inspector who was the lead investigator in Operation Motorman -- I mean, the Operation Motorman team was myself and Roy Pollit. I was the SIO, he was the investigating officer. So I think there were one or two clues put there for them.

  • Thank you very much indeed, Mr Owens, for coming to give your very clear evidence.

  • Can I just add something onto that?

  • You're talking about the Independent. That article came out on 14 September. And I basically knew I'd be getting a knock on the door tomorrow, so put the disk on top of my computer and when they come, they can have it. Nobody came, nobody came, nobody came. And the first people that came to my house was on 18 November. That's six, eight weeks. Nobody from ICO rang me up or came and said, "Can we have the disk?"

    And when the knock on the door -- it was two police officers who have nothing to do with data protection, and they were very polite, very courteous, they had a search warrant and they didn't have a clue about data protection. They'd come -- as I said in the paper, they'd come on a fishing trip because ICO didn't -- the words I used to them is, "You've come to do ICO's dirty work", and they were very embarrassed.

    So that's the sort of people that the -- I know senior management's changed, but they have to go to the police to get them to do their job, the ICO job, and I don't know, perhaps they were frightened I was going to fight them off. My 4-year-old grandson can beat me in a fight now. But that is typical of ICO as it was and obviously as it still is: heads buried in the sand. Their policy was basically: if you ignore a problem long enough, it will go away. Motorman didn't go away because of the hacking and then they knew that this was -- in fact, I'd already emailed the Leveson Inquiry, said, "You've got the copy, I'll be handing over the original to make sure there's been no tampering with it when I am here today", and that's why unfortunately circumstances beyond my control prevent me from handing my original, as I had, to you.

  • All right. Thank you very much.

  • We'll just have five minutes.

  • (A short break)

  • Sir, good afternoon. The last witness today is Mr Mark Lewis, who is being recalled.

  • Before I recall Mr Lewis, Mr Rhodri Davies would like to say a word about the exhibits to Mr Lewis's second statement.

  • Sir, I just wanted to deal with this because these documents come from us so I wanted to explain what they are. They are all documents which were given by us to the police. One of them, although it was given by us to the police, does not originate from us. It is a document headed "Report 3", which is I think the first document in the exhibit. That was given to us by Charlotte Harris, who is going to give evidence next week, and it was then given by us to the police.

  • We do not know its origins.

  • Nor, I think, does she. It was given to her, but she doesn't know --

  • No. It was given to her by an anonymous source.

  • By her to us and by us to the police but we do not know its origin.

  • Does it assist if I say that the origins of it are explained in Ms Harris's witness statement?

  • That's true, but what she said is it was given to her by someone she doesn't name and she doesn't know who prepared it.

  • I just want to make it quite clear that although it reached Mr Lewis from us, via the police, it's not our document and we don't know where it comes from.

  • I think that is important to make clear. Thank you.

  • The other documents, I think all of them, pass between News International and Farrers, and normally they would be privileged. They were provided by us to the police in order to enable the police to carry out their investigation and with a limited waiver of privilege for that purpose. They were given, it seems, by the police to Mr Lewis in circumstances which are not quite clear to us.

  • And that's how they come to me?

  • That's how they come to you.

  • But the question is -- well, I rather gather, given what I've just been told, that whatever privilege there may be in the document is not a point you're seeking to take now?

  • Exactly. The question is are we going to object? The answer is, in the circumstances, the answer is no.

  • Because you're entitled to and then I would have to rule upon it.

  • Yes. That said, I want to make it clear that that applies to these documents and I'm not making any general waiver for any other documents for any other purposes.

  • So it's an argument that may yet still happen?

  • Against that background, I recall Mr Lewis.

  • Yes. I don't have the correct bundle of Mr Lewis. I have Mr Lewis's bundle but I think it's his original bundle.

  • I don't know whether my instructing solicitor has a spare copy. (Handed)

  • Thank you very much. Mr Lewis, you've taken the oath in the Inquiry so that's perfectly in order. You're still bound by it.