The late and not at all lamented Murdoch Screws became infamous for its propensity to surveillance: vehicles were followed to shadow targets, tails put on those who chose to walk. Phones were routinely hacked, personal information was blagged, and in the case of then cabinet minister David “Shagger” Mellor, his sexual congress with mistress Antonia de Sancha was bugged. So we knew that after the encounter he was “absolutely knackered”.
But the Screws was closed down in the wake of the revelation that the paper’s operatives had hacked a dead schoolgirl’s phone, and so all of that stopped. Or maybe it didn’t: Sports Direct, which has attracted severely adverse comment for its occasionally Dickensian workplace practices, is now in hot water after a discussion between MPs visiting the firm’s Shirebrook warehouse was bugged. Well, almost.
As the BBC has reported, “The board of Sports Direct has denied knowledge of any attempt to bug MPs from the Business and Skills Committee who were on a surprise visit to the firm's Shirebrook warehouse … The six MPs claimed an attempt was made to smuggle in a recording device behind a plate of sandwiches to record their private discussions after the visit”. The Parliamentarians were not happy bunnies.
“Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, said the lady who had served the sandwiches also left a recording device in the room. ‘I went over to pick up the device and there it was: a camera and a recording device for the conversation that we were having privately. I'm very disappointed’ … Ms Turley told the BBC that … during the visit the group had been ‘man-marked’ with devices recording everything that was said”.
It could have been the Screws all over again. And maybe it was: as Sky News has shown, the Sports Direct spokesman trying his best to deploy a straight bat in the face of sustained criticism from Ms Turley, is one Gary Thompson. Who he? Well, as the Guardian confirmed two years ago, Thompson used to work … at the Screws. Indeed, he was questioned at the same time as the paper’s former features editor Jules Stenson.
Stenson was the Murdoch hack who worked himself up into a seriously righteous state during a Newsnight debate which also featured Nick Davies and Anne Diamond. He was later convicted of hacking related offences, but spared jail. He was also an enthusiastic user of private detectives, and his fingerprints were all over the records of Steve Whittamore, who had been busted for illegal information gathering.
And Gary Thompson, as Screws features editor, told the BBC all about the Sven and Ulrika-ka-ka-ka story, but declined to reveal his source. The Screws hacked both Eriksson and Ms Jonsson’s phones. Thompson also gets no fewer than nine mentions in the Whittamore “Motorman” files. And now he’s fetched up at Sports Direct at the same time as the kind of bugging operation beloved of his former home gets rumbled.
If Anna Turley and her colleagues want to know where to look for answers, they could do a lot worse than to keep on grilling Gary Thompson. He knows all about surveillance.