Friday, November 18, 2011

#Leveson #Pressreform #Now: #Hacking Suspect Worked As Police Informer !

Neville Thurlbeck

A key phone-hacking suspect worked for senior detectives while he was chief crime reporter of the News of the World, the Standard reveals today.

The activities of Neville Thurlbeck, which date back to 1995, trigger new fears of collusion between the Met and the press.

Thurlbeck, who was arrested on suspicion of illegally accessing voicemail messages in April, has admitted working as an official police source under the codename "George".

He gave a "substantial volume of information that was extremely useful" to Scotland Yard and the security services. In return, Thurlbeck received confidential information from the Police National Computer that helped him write a story on a Labour MP with a conviction for committing an obscene act, and another article about an alleged threat to the Queen from stalkers. Thurlbeck, who became the paper's chief reporter, worked closely with Scotland Yard as official police source No 281. He was an unpaid employee of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, a liaison body between Scotland Yard's Special Branch and MI5.

Sources close to Thurlbeck said that "people right at the top of News International were aware of his role".

The disclosure is yet another blow to Scotland Yard which has been criticised for failing to investigate alleged criminality at the News of the World.

Assistant commissioner John Yates resigned yesterday amid allegations that he helped the daughter of another phone-hacking suspect, former NoW deputy editor Neil Wallis, land a job at Scotland Yard.

Asked by the home affairs select committee today about the Standard's disclosure that Thurlbeck worked for detectives, Sir Paul Stephenson said he was "not aware" of such collusion. Sir Paul told MPs: "I certainly would not be aware of it and I certainly don't think Mr Yates would be aware of it."

MP Chris Bryant said: "The more we peer into the dark corners of this scandal the more hideous the interaction between the Met and the News of the World seems to be."

The Standard uncovered Thurlbeck's links to Scotland Yard from court reports dating back to 2000. Thurlbeck and Detective Constable Richard Farmer, who worked at NCIS HQ in Vauxhall, were charged with corruption over their relationship. Both were acquitted in July 2000 as it was not then illegal for police to pass sensitive information from the Police National Computer to members of the public if they did so without payment.

Following his release, Thurlbeck told Press Gazette: "The police were very impressed about the type of intelligence I was coming up with and that was revealed in court. The judge said it was a substantial volume of information that was extremely useful to police."

When summing up the case at Luton crown court, Mr Justice McKinnon said the relationship between Thurlbeck and Farmer was a "symbiotic one information passed both ways".

Thurlbeck added: "When you deal with police officers in 2000, the currency is information not money ... The News of the World crime desk receives a huge amount of information about criminal activity - and the police have always been eager to tap into that resource. In return policemen give information to us. That is our most valuable currency."

A source close to Thurlbeck said: "Neville's position as a registered confidential source has absolutely no relevance to current events." Scotland Yard said it could not discuss confidential sources. A News International spokesman refused to comment. It also emerged that Alex Marunchak, a former executive editor on the Sunday tabloid, worked for the Met for 20 years as a Ukrainian translator.

In March, the BBC accused Mr Marunchak of paying a private detective to hack into the email account of a former Army intelligence operative working in Northern Ireland. As an interpreter he had access to highly sensitive police information. Scotland Yard confirmed Mr Marunchak had been on the Met's list of interpreters between 1980 and 2000. It said the Met's language services were looking into the matter, and added: "Interpreters are vetted and all sign the Official Secrets Act."