Today, the Independent has rather grandly splashed on a “Special Investigation”, delving into Operation Motorman, which resulted in officers of the Information Commissioner descending on number 3 Orchard Grove, New Milton on March 8, 2003. This was the home of one Steve Whittamore, private investigator of choice for much of the Fourth Estate.
But the Indy’s assertion that this has been “Exposed after eight years” is a sham. True, they have interviewed a former Police inspector who was the original lead investigator on Motorman, and gleaned from him that there was a fear of taking on the press, that they could not interview the journalists named in the mass of documents seized from Orchard Grove.
But the case of Steve Whittamore has been public knowledge for the past three years, ever since the first publication of Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. It was Davies who told of how Whittamore, realising that his was the house being turned over, claimed to be “positively gutted”. It was Davies who first reported the figures: 305 different journalists requesting 13,343 different items of information.
And it was Davies who told of three years’ worth of mainly illegal information gathering by Whittamore, that had raked in well over half a million pounds (the ten most active journalists alone had contributed almost £165,000 of that). Also reported in Flat Earth News – and in rather more detail than the Indy has managed – was the court case where Whittamore escaped with a conditional discharge.
At least the Indy has brought a few new details – the targeting of Sarah Payne, and survivors of the Ladbroke Grove train crash and the Dunblane shooting – and yet more information about Milly Dowler and Holly Wells. And other publications are named, such as the Sunday Express, Sunday People and the Associated titles, mainly meaning the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.
And that, along with revealing the colour of the books in which Whittamore entered details of work – blue for News International, red for Trinity Mirror – is that. Nowhere is there any acknowledgement of Nick Davies’ work, and that it has been available for all to read since 2008. And nowhere is there any reference telling that some of Davies’ material has also been previously published by the Guardian.
Typical of the Guardian stories was “Operation Motorman: the full story revealed” over two years ago. And the detail Davies provides is far superior to the Indy “exclusive”. The Independent ought to come clean and admit that their story is not new news, it’s not an exclusive, and it’s been done better elsewhere.