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

  • MR RUSSELL CHARLES MIDDLETON (sworn).

  • Your full name, please?

  • Russell Charles Middleton.

  • Thank you. You've provided us with a witness statement dated 26 March of this year. You've signed and dated it under the standard statement of truth. This is the evidence you are content that this Inquiry accepts formally?

  • In terms of your current rank, you were temporary Assistant Chief Constable in the Devon and Cornwall Police at the time you gave your statement. I think you're now back to your substantive rank --

  • That's correct. Please don't read anything into that.

  • Detective Chief Superintendent.

  • That is what your rank always was?

  • Yes. I was in the temporary role for seven months, yes.

  • You've been in the Police Service for 24 years, but at the material time, this is 2002, you were a Detective Inspector?

  • I was, yes, with some 14 years' service at the time.

  • Thank you. What was your role in relation to Operation Reproof?

  • I was the deputy senior investigating officer. The actual senior investigating officer retired some years ago.

  • Can you in your own words -- you cover this in paragraph 2 of your statement, 18368 -- tell us the background to Operation Reproof and what it was about?

  • Yes. Reproof started, if I just briefly cover that because I'm sure you'll ask me some further questions, as a result of a blackmail investigation inquiry down in Plymouth in 2001 whereby a member of the public produced at a local action group meeting some previous convictions of a person who was bidding for the contract for a particular development in Plymouth. That obviously caused some concern and led to an initial investigation as to where had that individual got those previous convictions from, which led to some searches of various premises, which then gathered much information that led to the scoping of Operation Reproof as to how people had come to that information.

  • Just pause a moment. (Pause).

    All right, carry on.

  • In terms of Operation Reproof -- I will have to speak up a bit, we have competition, Mr Middleton.

  • Who were the ultimate consumers or customers?

  • There were many different consumers and customers, and that was why the investigation was very extensive and wide-ranging. Predominantly we were looking at members of past and present police officers in Devon and Cornwall accessing the initial information and that was going through private investigators, private detectives, and on to various customers, sometimes three or four links away in that chain, so customers would vary. Predominantly, at the end of the inquiry, the main customers were national/international sometimes insurance companies, debt recovery agents and the like, who had instructed private investigators, and then three or four links down the chain, some of that information was being obtained corruptly.

  • The direct perpetrators of the offences, or rather those suspected of committing the offence, you list in paragraph 5, page 18370. These were a range of serving and retired police officers and support staff; is that right?

  • And they were obtaining information -- well, from where?

  • As I said, the instructions were coming from various different customers. The predominant basis of my investigation was based on previous conviction information, and on occasion vehicle keeper information, addresses and that sort of thing, so the main areas of focus were from the Department of Work and Pensions, a retired police officer who worked there, and also the serving or currently serving, as was then, police officer in Devon and Cornwall accessing PNC information. That was being passed to a particular private detective, who was then channelling it upwards from there.

  • Channelling upwards to whom?

  • To various different people and that's why the scope and the range of the investigation was very wide. As I've said, on most occasions it went to ultimately three or four links up the chain, national companies, insurance companies, who were instructing their own investigations into civil claims, accidents, that sort of thing, through to on some occasion matrimonial issues with a private detective only one or two links up the chain from our main private investigation company locally in Devon.

  • There was a link -- and this brings in, I suppose, the nexus with other operations -- with a company called Data Research based in Surrey; is that right?

  • What was the nature of the link?

  • If I can start by saying once we'd commenced the investigation, because of the potential scale of it right from the outset we involved the as were then Police Complaints Authority, the PCA, pre-IPCC, and the Crown Prosecution Service were involved right at the early stages, so that we had advice and guidance support all the way through as a joint prosecution team, if you like.

    Once we'd done the initial searches, huge amounts of data was recovered that had to be painstakingly gone through to find the links back up through the chains.

    Data Research is a company in Horley, as you mentioned. They featured very heavily as the third link in the chain, who were instructing the Devon SAS investigations, who were therefore, from that point, asking the police officer or the DWP staff to do the checks for them. And then it would have been interpreted into reports, passed back through the various private investigators, predominantly, as we said, to Data Research in Horley.

  • Their premises were searched pursuant to a warrant?

  • Yes. Obviously I'm aware of previous evidence that's been given to this Inquiry in respect of that. Having done a lot of the investigative work, and clearly intending and needing to search and make arrests at Data Research based on what we knew at that point, we actually briefed the Information Commissioner's office as to what we were doing, we were aware of an interest they had in that company, we came to an agreement with the Information Commissioner that they would come along with us on the search so that we would deal with what we were looking for, and any subsequent information that would be relevant for this morning they would take away and deal with themselves.

  • The search, I think, was on 8 March 2003.

  • Mr Owens gave us the exact date. That's the date I recall. He was there on that occasion. Your officers were also there on that occasion?

  • And a substantial quantity of data was recovered pursuant to that search; is that right?

  • Yes. I actually went on that search myself.

  • Can I deal with this critical issue, really, in relation to the scope of Operation Reproof?

  • Why were journalists not within scope, as it were?

  • I think I need to make clear they weren't out of scope. The whole inquiry right from the outset was extremely open, an open-minded approach as to what we would discover. The initial information, as we said, linked pretty much specifically to a local investigation, detective private investigation agency in Devon and the flow of information was from the police officer and the other staff I've mentioned through to that private investigator, up one or two more chains, and we were tracking the customers each and every occasion, open-minded as to who those customers would be, and we never found any direct evidence or indirect evidence linking that information being requested by or for any part of the media or journalists.

  • Were you in liaison, though, with the ICO, who of course were undertaking their own Operation Motorman, which operation did reveal copious links with journalists?

  • In liaison, yes, in the true spirit of that word. Actually what did happen is we went to them to brief them on our operation and investigation, invited them along on the search so that they could seize any information that was relevant to what they were doing, that they would then take on, and there was effectively a contract drawn up as to who would deal with what if anything particular was found.

    A particular document was found, I think it was PS28 from recollection, that was of extreme interest to the Information Commissioner's team, that they took that away on the absolute understanding they were then going to deal with that to allow us to deal with the other wide-ranging matters that we had. They took that away. We were aware of the culmination of that inquiry but they effectively went their way and did their investigation. We carried on with ours. There was contact between disclosure packages shared et cetera but they did their investigation distinctly separate to ours. I'm also aware that their investigation, Operation Motorman, then led to Operation Glade, so you could track it back and say that the seizure of that document at Data Research subsequently led to those two investigations, but we weren't involved --

  • PS28 was what generated Motorman; is that right?

  • We recall Mr Owens' evidence about that. It was a list of vehicle registration numbers --

  • That's correct, yes. We then carried on with our investigations to what we were dealing with, leaving the Information Commissioner's investigators to deal with their own matters.

  • So we've heard this evidence in absolute reverse order?

  • Yes, that would appear to be the case.

  • In paragraph 8 of your statement, 18375, you say:

    "There was no direct evidence found during the course of the investigation that any media organisation was involved in any way."

    What about indirect or inferential evidence?

  • As I've said right from the outset, the mindset of myself as the senior investigating officer and my team, who were thoroughly professional throughout, was we were open-minded as to what we would find and we would have dealt with that and pursued that based on information or evidence that we had. We deal with information, intelligence and evidence. The CPS were working alongside us, as were the Police Complaints Authority. We did not have anything that directly or indirectly linked to journalists. Had we done so, we'd have thoroughly investigated that.

  • Can I ask you this general question, taking care not to name anybody: did part of your investigation include two senior politicians?

  • The fact that senior politicians were involved, or at least two of them, was that at least not an indicator that the press might be of interest?

  • There could be and was some speculation at the time. As I've said, I was dealing with at the time, and still do now, information, intelligence and evidence. There was legislation that was investigated, and when I say investigated, when we're dealing with those particular issues, every single case was dealt with properly, from my perspective, which resulted -- in those cases there was a particular private investigation company up in Newcastle that was investigated thoroughly. That individual was arrested, his premises were searched, all information seized from that premises was thoroughly researched with a view to trying to find who he was getting that information for. We did not find that, which was disappointing, but it just wasn't there. We arrested that person, interviewed them thoroughly and his answer to every question was "No comment", so we weren't able to take that particular line any further.

  • At the hearing in the Crown Court on 17 October 2005, this is the Exeter Crown Court, His Honour Judge Darlow, counsel for one of the accused, Mr Stidwill -- as your statement makes clear there were six accused in all?

  • He speculated -- there's only one copy of the transcript available:

    "Because what the inquiry has apparently shown up is something which cannot be laid at the door of Mr Stidwill nor indeed if there are cases, as it appears there are, where somebody has been enquiring, perhaps on behalf of a newspaper or elsewhere, into MPs ..."

    So he was onto the point that newspapers might be involved, particularly in the context of people of political interests.

  • I think the key point there, sir, is you've used the words "may be" and "might". That was the point. We were looking for the information, we were searching for the evidence, so it was part of the inquiry. We did not find that as to who those customers were. The person you've mentioned who was a barrister for the defence raised that as a may be and a might, but there was no evidence to support that. I don't know who that customer was. I wish I did.

  • Page 18376 of your statement, on the internal original numbering it's page 9, level with the upper hole punch, you're talking here about the customers you had identified rather than customers one might speculate about.

  • You say clearly:

    "There was no evidence that these companies were aware that the people they were hiring to get the information were obtaining some of the data illegally."

    You may have been following the evidence given by the previous witness?

  • It's perhaps a similar point?

  • Would you like to develop that for us?

  • The evidence is the point as to my statement indicates at the end of the inquiry we didn't have the evidence. That's not to say we weren't searching for that information at the time, and every single customer -- and as I said, sometimes two or three links up that chain, sometimes four or five, and the further away you get, the harder it is to establish what they're actually requesting at the time -- every customer, through to some companies that were represented by senior solicitors in London, were interviewed and gave statements as to what they were asking for, what they expected, did they know, should they have known what they were getting.

    And a key point in the whole of the inquiry which was relevant to Data Research particularly is I would use the phrase "laundered", that actually the information they were getting right down at the front end, CRO details, conviction details, address details and the like, was then turned into a report that didn't indicate where it had come from. Indeed I think it was mentioned by the previous witness, if you know what date and what court to go to, one can get conviction details. So what certain companies were then doing, once getting the PNC information, they then went to the various courts and on payment of a fee were given the certified copies of convictions. They then featured as part of the reports that were passed on to the customers.

  • But you have to identify precisely what you're looking for.

  • You can't say, "Well, I'd like to see every single Crown Court conviction for 30 March or for the month of March.

  • Absolutely. You have to go with the name, the date and the court.

  • Absolutely. Name, date and court, you can then go and for a fee collect that, which is what those companies were doing, and turning them into certified copies of convictions which they then passed on to their customers.

  • So a certified copy of conviction is potentially obtainable, but you only get that if you know precisely what you need to know, or you only get what you need to know if you do something which actually you contend, and contended in that prosecution was criminal.

  • Absolutely. It that was entirely our case and our view, that's why the individuals who were systematic in that abuse were charged with the offences that they were charged with.

  • I've been asked to request you, Mr Middleton, if you don't mind slowing down a bit. You're a very articulate witness, but everything you say has to be noted down.

  • What happened was that there was a hearing in Exeter on 19 October 2005.

  • The transcript of the ruling is available under tab 2 of the bundle we have. It starts at page 20013. I've read the ruling twice. It's not altogether easy to follow some of the reasoning, or indeed the conclusion, but the conclusion appears to be that the judge was sceptical that even if the facts were proven, they could as a matter of law amount to the common law offence of conspiracy --

  • I think you ought to expand that a bit, Mr Jay. I think what he was faced with was an application to stay proceedings as an abuse of process, which application he roundly rejected. But in the course of rejecting it, he offered his views first of all as to whether the facts made out the offence, which actually he was basing purely upon his study of the papers, and secondly, on what he would do even if they were.

  • And he caused the Crown Prosecution Service to ask themselves: do you want to spend all this time on this trial if I am of the view either (a) that the facts may not make out an offence, or (b) that if they do, this isn't terribly serious? And then not perhaps surprisingly the CPS went away to think about that.

    Is that a fair summary of what the judge did?

  • That's a very fair summary. Thank you, sir.

  • Yes. It's not really necessary to look at that any more.

  • Sometimes my experience comes in valuable, Mr Jay. Not often, but sometimes.

  • And that's where it ends, probably, Mr Middleton; is that right? In terms of your -- you may have been disappointed by the outcome, but there we were.

  • That's the case, sir, yes.

  • And whereas now this might be considered a terminating ruling, in fact it might even have been capable of being fashioned as a terminating ruling, there was no basis upon which that ruling could be challenged in a higher court.

  • Therefore, the CPS accepted the consequences of the judge's expression of view.

  • Absolutely. I met a number of times afterwards with CPS and counsel, and that was the decision that was made by them ultimately.

  • Yes. Those are all the questions I have, Mr Middleton.

  • Yes. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Middleton. I'm very grateful to you for providing the summary of what was the origin of a lot of the evidence that we've heard. Thank you very much indeed.

  • The next witness is due at 2 o'clock; is that right?

  • Yes. I think Mr Sherborne has a short application he would like to --

  • Yes. One moment, Mr Middleton. This might involve you. Does it?

  • It doesn't? Thank you very much.

  • Sir, given the evidence of Mr Gilmour this morning and what it reveals, there are a number of matters that I wanted to raise with the Inquiry. Mr Crossley has already sent an email to the Inquiry solicitors about this. I was going to raise these matters, if I may, at 2 pm, given that there are some additional points that I wanted to discuss with Mr Crossley and with some of my clients in the light of the oral evidence that Mr Gilmour gave earlier this morning.

    I don't think it's going to take particularly long, although, as I understand it, we are somewhat short of evidence this afternoon.

  • We're never short of evidence, and I can always find something to occupy our time, Mr Sherborne.

  • And I'm happy to assist in that.

  • Yes, it's clear you are. Is it sensible then to put off that which you want to make submissions about until after we've heard the sole witness that's available for this afternoon?

  • I'm happy to do that, if that assists the witness.

  • Yes. Is Mr Jay aware of the general nature of the applications that you wish to make?

  • I hope that he is. I can't see from behind whether he is. His face betrays the answer to that question.

  • I think there are sufficient nods.

  • I'm very grateful for nods.

  • Doubtless somebody at some stage will tell me. Thank you very much. 2 o'clock.

  • Yes, Mr Barr.

  • Sir, good afternoon. The witness we're hearing from now is Mr Martin Clarke.