A former leading Special Branch police officer has claimed that a journalist on a Scottish newspaper was one of the “top ten” targets for prosecution by the Operation Motorman inquiry team.
The claim was made by Alec Owens yesterday in the Sunday Herald which said that Rangers FC‘s manager, Ally McCoist, was one of the key targets in Scotland of newspapers illegally trading in personal data including phone numbers, health details, bank information, police records and private addresses.
The Sunday Herald, which named neither the journalist nor the Scottish newspaper in its report, explained that Operation Motorman was a 2003 investigation set up by the Information
Commissioner's Office (ICO) to probe offences under the Data Protection Act by the press including "blagging".
“Blagging “ is the term used for obtaining information by subterfuge and also paying for information from corrupt officials. It is not against the law if it is in the public interest.
In the report, by Bob Smyth, he writes: “It is not known if the embattled football manager ... was targeted by a particular newspaper or several of the many titles listed by Motorman, which included around 20 national newspapers and several magazines.
“The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times were not named in the investigation.”
Owens was the lead officer for the ICO probing data breaches that had been carried out by private eye Steve Whittamore on behalf of journalists.
They allegedly included accessing police records, DVLA details, bank and health records, and phone numbers.
Owens said one of the main victims of repeated blagging attempts in the Motorman record of 4000 names was McCoist.
Owens is quoted as saying of the Motorman investigation: ‘Ally McCoist came up. He appears very strongly in the documentation’.
Alluding to his claims that senior figures at the ICO were unwilling to take on the press by prosecuting journalists, Owens added: "We didn't get round to informing [McCoist] because by that time we'd been told to back off.
"Amongst the files there were a lot of Scottish telephone numbers for reporters, a lot of Scottish numbers like 0141, 0131. A lot of numbers I recognised as Scottish. There were a lot of victims in Motorman that could be related as Scottish.
"There was a lot of information about ... Scottish reporters. One in particular, who I can't name, came out very strongly and, had we been allowed to do the job we wanted to do, he would have been in the top 10."
Strathclyde Police are said to have declined to comment to the Sunday Herald, while a spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office also said there would be no comment on specific names in the Motorman paperwork.
"Anyone wishing to see what, if anything is recorded about them in the Motorman files has always been able to exercise their right to make a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act to our office," the ICO spokesman added.