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'Mail' scoops rival hacks in trade of information

A DAMNING report from Britain's Information Commissioner told how the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were guilty of more than 1,200 instances of illegal trade in information by journalists or agents, including private detectives, working at their behest.

The shabby trade was uncovered in the report "What Price Privacy Now?" which forensically detailed the first six months' progress in halting the unlawful trade in confidential personal information.

The Mail in Ireland was directly responsible for three dubious transactions, the report found.

Irish readers of the daily and Sunday publications of Associated Newspapers were fed a diet of stories which included illegally or improperly sourced information because of the Irish editions' heavy reliance on stories emanating from the UK.

The 2006 report identified 305 journalists at 31 different publications involved in the illegal trade of personal information. It detailed how driving licence details were illegally obtained as were details about criminal records, vehicle registration searches, reverse telephone traces and mobile-phone conversations.

Of the 1,218 instances of illegal trade of personal information identified within the Mail stable, 952 were in the Daily Mail; 266 in the Mail on Sunday; 30 in the Daily Mail Weekend magazine; nine in the Night and Day supplement in the Mail on Sunday and three in the Mail in Ireland.

"Newspapers were continuing to subscribe to an undercover economy devoted to obtaining a wealth of personal information forbidden to them by law," the report warned.

This week, the issue will be discussed in the Dail. Fine Gael TD Derek Keating will be asking Taoiseach Enda Kenny to release any information in the possession of gardai about instances of phone hacking by journalists or their agents in the Republic and details of any other illegally obtained information which has become known to the gardai.

The UK report, focusing on the broader trade in illegally obtained information stated: "Much more illegal activity lies hidden under the surface. Investigations by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the police have uncovered evidence of a widespread and organised undercover market in confidential personal information . . . among the ultimate 'buyers' are many journalists looking for a story.

In one major case investigated by the ICO, the evidence included records of information supplied to 305 named journalists working for a range of newspapers. The report was written after Operation Motorman -- an investigation into the British private investigator Steve Whittamore which found that 305 journalists at 31 different newspapers and magazines used his services.

Referring to the report, Labour MP Chris Bryant said in the House of Commons: "He [the Information Commissioner] listed 1,218 instances at the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday alone, 802 at The People and--I say sadly as a Labour Member--681 at the Daily Mirror."

Paul McMullan, a former News of the World journalist who worked for the news-paper's Irish edition in the 1990s has alleged the phone hacking practices used in the paper's UK operations were also used while researching some of the stories for its Irish edition.

Mr McMullan, who was based in Dublin, said the tactics used in Ireland on some stories were the same as those that were used to research stories in the UK.

"We did a series of articles in the 1990s in southern Ireland and, yeah to be honest, the kind of tactics we used, we didn't just stop at national borders, you'd have carried them on," he said.

The ICO report names one other Irish publication -- The Sunday World -- which is understood to refer to the paper's northern edition.

Sunday Independent