There has been a sudden realisation, in the wake of Phonehackgate and the Commons culture committee grilling of Rupe, Junior, and the twinkle toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, that before the apprehension of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman came something called Operation Motorman. So how can the average punter get clued up on this affair?
The answer is that there is no need to wait on John Whittingdale and his team to release information: anyone wanting to get the basics need only visit their local bookshop or have a shufty on Amazon. Zelo Street doesn’t normally plug books, but there is always an exception, and that exception is the excellent Flat Earth News, the go-to work on the machinations of the Fourth Estate.
Nick Davies – the same man whose tireless and tenacious application precipitated the fall of the house of Murdoch – covers Motorman and more in a chapter appropriately titled The Dark Arts. From Whittamore feeling “positively gutted” to find that the morning raid on Orchard Grove was targeting his house, via the BT blagger and the man scanning Scotland Yard’s databases, to the two men from the DVLA and three others getting their information from the DWP, all is present.
A taster of Whittamore’s target list is also given: this included Ricky Tomlinson, Ken Livingstone and Bob Crow, all hate figures for papers like the Sun and Daily Mail. And then the sorry story of the trial where Whittamore got away with a conditional discharge is told, along with the Information Commissioner’s office effectively giving up the ghost at the prospect of the papers “lawyering up” and costs escalating.
We are introduced to other Private Investigators, such as Jonathon Rees, of whom we know following a recent Panorama, and another simply known as “Z”, of whom Davies observes “He was bent in the Police and he went on to be bent in Fleet Street”. Rees, we learn, had a contact called Robert who got him details of bank accounts, and rather imaginatively went by the nickname of Rob The Bank.
Daily Mail hacks admitted that they had bribed both Police officers and civil servants, with one former reporter telling “We used to use the social security computer as if it was an extension of the Daily Mail library”. One hack told Davies “If the Mail go for you, they get every phone number you have dialled, every school-mate, everything on your credit card, every call from your phone and from your mobile. Everything”.
Other titles bribed, and enjoyed the products of blagging, bugging, and of course the trawl through dustbins by the legendary Benji Pell. Hacks routinely targeted other hacks, and, yes, editors. And even after Goodman and Mulcaire were convicted, Davies reveals that the Dark Arts continued to flourish.
Anyone concerned by the behaviour of the Fourth Estate should read this book.