The controversy surrounding David Cameron's communications director, Andy Coulson, is deepening, with the Independent obtaining proof that the News of the World paid a private detective to provide hundreds of pieces of confidential information, often using illegal means.
The more widespread these practices are proven to be, the harder Coulson will find it to credibly retain his defence of essential ignorance.
The "Blue Book", a ledger of work carried out by Steve Whittamore for News International titles, including the NoW and The Sunday Times, details a series of transactions including obtaining ex-directory phone numbers, telephone accounts, criminal records checks and withheld mobile numbers. It reveals the itemised details of checks on public figures, including Peter Mandelson, ordered and paid for – at up to £750 a time – by reporters working for the redtop. Staff from a number of other national newspapers made similar requests, and their details are contained in further dossiers held by the Information Commissioner, the privacy watchdog.
Among the journalists requesting information from Mr Whittamore, who was later convicted of offences committed under the Data Protection Act, was the former NoW editor Rebekah Wade, now Rebekah Brooks.
The contents of the dossier were collated by the Information Commissioner following a raid on Mr Whittamore's Hampshire office in 2003, but the watchdog has previously refused to disclose its contents, to protect the identities of the people named within it.
The disclosure of the extent to which the NoW and its sister titles used the services of private investigators to obtain personal information by questionable means will add to the controversy threatening to engulf News International (NI), whose bosses have consistently denied any wrongdoing over the affair.
Coulson argued that a couple of bad apples were behaving in a way which he could never have foreseen. The narrative contained in the "Blue Book" is an entirely different one. In that book these practices come across as almost routine.
So, at least 250 of the transactions were "definitely illegal". That's an awful lot of bad apples.
Now, the IoS can reveal that the Blue Book details a list of 1,027 transactions between Mr Whittamore and a client referred to as "Times Sun News of the World". The itemised spreadsheet lists highly confidential details, including the name of the journalist making the order, the service requested and the "target" of their investigation. Subjects include the former boxer Chris Eubank, former Labour minister David Lammy, and a target described simply as "Rooney".
Many of the tasks were carried out for reporters working for other titles in the group, and some would have been for legitimate journalistic investigations. Just 5 per cent – covering credit checks and searches on company directors – were definitely legal, almost 25 per cent were definitely illegal, with the remainder relating mostly to obtaining private addresses, which is a grey area.
Murdoch's share price could ultimately suffer as a consequence of this, but Cameron will also suffer. He has publicly tied his judgement to Coulson's survival.
And, the more information comes to light, the less one is able to attach any credibility to Coulson's defence.
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