A police report into the “plebgate” scandal released last night appears to claim that officers accessed a journalist’s phone records without a warrant.
The final report into “Operation Alice”, the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into the leak of allegations that government minister Andrew Mitchell called officers “plebs” during an altercation at the gates of Downing St, stated that PC James Glanville was arrested as a result of analysis of the telephone records of Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn.
The report made no mention of a warrant being applied, only that his “telecommunications data was applied for and evidenced”
As well as those records, police also accessed details of all incoming calls to The Sun news-desk between 7.30am-9am on 20 September 2012 despite Newton Dunn telling the force that he would not identify his source as it was his view that “this was an example of good faith whistle blowing about misconduct by a senior politician which was rightfully exposed publicly.”
The journalist was later told he was facing charges of “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office” however the case against him was subsequently dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to lack of evidence.
In a statement, Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said: “Instances like this amount to the outrageous criminalisation of sources who have taken the decision that information they are in receipt of deserves to come to the attention of the public. If whistle-blowers believe that material they pass to journalists can be accessed in this way – without even the journalists and newspaper knowing about it - they will understandably think twice about making that call.”
However speaking to The Drum, Steve Kuncewicz, head of IP & media at Berman’s Solicitors confirmed that police had the power to demand mobile phone records under the Data protection Act 2000 as long as their purpose was the prevention or detection of crime and the telecom provider not releasing the information could “prejudice a current investigation.”
The Drum did contact the Metropolitan police for comment but had not received a reply at the time of publication.