In his book Hack Attack, which documents his considerable involvement exposing the phone hacking scandal, former Guardian man Nick Davies describes what are known in the press as “The Dark Arts”, along with some of the characters and organisations dealing in what is all too often illegal information gathering. Phone hacking was only one tool of these practitioners: others included blagging information, email hacking, and burglary.
Who might that have been?
Some of those Davies describes are named - Steve Whittamore, busted in Operation Motorman, is one, and John Ford, who blagged for the Murdoch Sunday Times another - but many are referred to only by nicknames or aliases. One is left with the impression that blagging did not cease with Part 1 of the Leveson Inquiry. And events today at the High Court only serve to reinforce that impression, as one blagger has been unmasked.
It could have been Jonathan Stafford (thanks to Byline Investigates)
Again, it is the people at Byline Investigates that have done the unmasking, one of those jobs that our free and fearless press are unable, or more likely unwilling, to do themselves. The unmasking has come as part of the action against Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), which has now been joined by more than 130 people - including Prince Harry.
It was just after noon today when the unmasking took place: “Daily Mirror's ex-Chief Reporter Nic North named in High Court for allegedly tasking illegal private investigator Jonathan Stafford to unlawfully obtain phone billing data”. Jonathan Stafford is the name, and it is alleged that blagging was the game. There was more.
“NOTE: Jonathan Stafford has been described in previous court hearings as a private investigator, who allegedly ‘blagged’ phone bills, Friends and Family lists, recent call history from British Telecom and mobile phone companies”. We knew that confidential BT information was blagged - for example, call data for David Kelly, who took his own life after he was unmasked as Andrew Gilligan’s source on the latter’s Iraq dossier claims.
That data found its way to the Sunday Telegraph, where hacks would have lots of leads - people to call up and pump for information about Kelly. So who was Stafford blagging for? “NOTE: Byline Investigates understands Jonathan Stafford is a former actor who turned his skills to obtaining private information by deception on an industrial scale for the Sunday Mirror and other Fleet Street papers including Sun and News of the World”.
A former actor - as was John Ford. Byline Investigates also has a photo of Stafford to go with their exclusive. “Byline Investigates is unmasking arch Fleet Street blagger, who targeted the private information of thousands of people for Mirror Group Newspapers and News Group Newspapers as this man: Jonathan Stafford”. Wallop!
And they weren’t finished yet. “Jonathan Stafford could mimic the language of BT engineers and other officials to obtain call data by deception and used a range of voices to impersonate people in all walks of life. He was known as one of the most effective data thieves in Fleet Street history”. And now we all know about him.
The good thing is that another illegal blagger has been unmasked. The bad thing is that there are scores of others out there. The Dark Arts never really went away.
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