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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 524-ii
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Private Investigators: follow-up
Tuesday 3 September 2013
Stephen Rimmer and Trevor Pearce QPM
Evidence heard in Public Questions 71 - 149
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 3 September 2013
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Stephen Rimmer, Interim Chair, Serious Organised Crime Agency, and Trevor Pearce QPM, Director General, Serious Organised Crime Agency, gave evidence.
Q71 Chair: Could I remind the Committee that we are dealing with our on-going inquiry into private investigators? If there are any interests that Members of the Committee need to declare, they should do so now above what is in the register of Members’ interests. Mr Rimmer, Mr Pearce, thank you very much for coming here today. Can I start by thanking you, Mr Pearce, for your very full letters and correspondence that you have responded to me when I have written about these matters? The last time you were before us, Mr Pearce, was just before the recess and, Mr Rimmer, you have not been before us yet. I do not think in all the times I have been Chairman of this Committee in the last six years you have ever appeared before the Committee, but I may be wrong.
Stephen Rimmer: I think you may well be right, Chairman.
Chair: Right. So welcome to your first hearing and congratulations on your appointment as chair of SOCA. This must have come as something of a surprise to you.
Stephen Rimmer: Yes. It was clearly an unfortunate set of circumstances and not a process that anyone planned for. As you know, Chair, I am still continuing in my other role as Director General, Crime and Policing, in the Home Office.
Q72 Chair: So you are still a very senior civil servant in the Home Office?
Stephen Rimmer: Yes.
Q73 Chair: At the same time, you are chairing what is at the moment an independent law enforcement agency?
Stephen Rimmer: Yes.
Q74 Chair: Do you not feel that there is a conflict in this? Because obviously you are part of the Government, but at the same time you are overseeing Mr Pearce, who is dealing with operational issues that may be to do with the Government.
Stephen Rimmer: Yes. I do not see any conflict as long as I am clear about the role I am performing at any given moment. Ultimately, the accountability of SOCA, as you know, is to the Home Secretary and I am very clear about the distinction in the roles. In the context of this Committee, clearly my default position that I am responding on is SOCA chairman.
Chair: Of course.
Stephen Rimmer: If there are any issues you want to pursue from the Home Office point of view I would make very clear that I am responding on that front, not the SOCA front.
Q75 Chair: Yes, that is very helpful. How much time do you have available for this job, bearing in mind SOCA is the agency that deals with serious and organised crime and at least until 1 October has a budget of half a billion pounds?
Stephen Rimmer: Yes. It was always a non-executive role, as you know, a two-day-a-week role for the non-executive chairman, and I would estimate I am spending about two days a week on it.
Q76 Chair: Two days. You are in the same desk in the same room in the same building but you are the chair of SOCA?
Stephen Rimmer: Yes, and when I am focusing particularly on SOCA business I am in the SOCA buildings.
Q77 Chair: Sure. Now, prior to this job, of course, you were still doing the same job. Sir Ian Andrews in effect was answerable to you; eventually to the Home Secretary but you were the Director General in charge?
Stephen Rimmer: I had oversight responsibility for SOCA until Easter of this year and one of the reasons I think the Home Secretary, bearing in mind the interim nature of the role, thought it was appropriate for me to take it on was that I am no longer in the line, as it were, of holding SOCA to account and at the same time I have some degree of knowledge that hopefully is relevant to the role.
Q78 Chair: Sure, but when Sir Ian gave you his list of interests-and presumably as the senior civil servant responsible you would have known what those interests were. I do not know whether you have seen the SOCA board members’ interests, but we have circulated it to the Committee. Apart from Mr Pearce, Mr Liddell and Mr Jones, every single member of the board seems to have other interests of some kind or another. Clearly, Sir Ian’s resignation was because there was an interest that he did not declare and he wrote to the Committee. He wrote to me and explained why he was resigning. Have you now contacted other members of the board and asked each member of the board if any of their interests conflicts with the work that they are doing with SOCA?
Stephen Rimmer: Yes, we have undertaken another exercise-
Q79 Chair: No, you as chair because obviously Mr Pearce has been there for a while. As chairman, you have been appointed chairman. You know why the last chairman resigned. Have you contacted other members of the board and asked them to look at their interests to decide whether or not it conflicts with any of SOCA’s work?
Stephen Rimmer: I have been in discussions with each of the non-executive members of the board and I am happy that none of their interests conflict with their responsibilities as board members.
Q80 Chair: Particularly in respect of this inquiry that the Committee has undertaken, you are satisfied that none of these jobs that members of the board do in any way conflict with the latest inquiry concerning private investigators?
Stephen Rimmer: Yes.
Q81 Chair: And that none of them have used private investigators?
Stephen Rimmer: In the context of their non-executive roles, there is no indication to suggest a conflict of interest.
Q82 Chair: Well, no indication sounds very vague. Have you asked them whether any of their roles-for example, Peter Clarke has an organisation called Peter Clarke Associates; Francis Plowden is a director of Serco plc. This is the premier law enforcement agency as far as organised crime is concerned. Forget about indications; we want something precise. Did you say to them, "Have any of your interests got anything to do with private investigators?"
Stephen Rimmer: Not in those specific terms, but I am absolutely satisfied that there is no conflict of interest.
Q83 Chair: Yes, but if you do not know what they do how would you be absolutely satisfied? Would you not have thought in view of the fact that this is in the public domain, that a Committee of the House is extremely concerned about it, that the Metropolitan Police are investigating it or parts of it, that you should actually ask members of the board whether or not their outside interests have anything to do with private investigators given why the previous chairman has resigned?
Stephen Rimmer: Well, no. Let us be clear. The reason why the previous chairman resigned was a failure to disclose a business interest. It was not a particular connection to private investigators, and clearly what SOCA has continued to benefit from its non-executive members is a level of knowledge about the whole range of sectors within which there are organised crime threats. I do not regard the lesson of Sir Ian Andrews’ resignation as being about examining links to private investigators. I regard it very directly as a failure to disclose business interests.
Q84 Chair: Right. We understand that, but I think from the Committee’s point of view, given what is going on, it is probably wise of you to ask. If you ask the question you will get an answer and that would be best, we think.
Stephen Rimmer: Okay.
Q85 Chair: Mr Pearce, let me turn to you now. Thank you very much for, as I said, providing us with the correspondence that we asked for. I still am puzzled and the Committee is baffled how you could have been sitting on this information for four years without taking any action to ascertain whether any of the people, organisations and firms on the list that you passed this Committee and that you have now passed to the Information Commissioner had been involved in any inappropriate activity. Why have you sat on this information for four years?
Trevor Pearce: Firstly, I would say that we have not sat on the information. The information was part of an investigation, which is Operation Millipede. As part of that investigation, in January 2010 the senior investigating officer made a decision, which is that the-
Q86 Chair: Sorry, who was that?
Trevor Pearce: Well, there have been two or three senior investigating officers, but I think that was a Mr Craig at that time, having reviewed the policy file. The senior investigating officer made the decision that the clients would be referred to the Information Commissioner. The focus of this investigation was the nexus or the conspiracy between the information broker and the three private investigators. I want to make the point here that we uniquely used the Fraud Act powers, which focused on the parameters of the investigation from 2006 when the legislation came in, because we felt that that was a more appropriate set of offences to be looked at and subsequently agree with prosecution by the CPS than the Data Protection Act offences, which carried very light sentences.
Q87 Chair: This was four years ago?
Trevor Pearce: This was four years ago. If we narrow that point down, we were focusing on the parameters around the information broker and the three private investigators.
Q88 Chair: Why wasn’t it given? Because I spoke to the Information Commissioner yesterday and he said his office was involved in Millipede so he was aware and he was waiting for this information and, in a sense, has been waiting for four years. Why was it not then referred?
Trevor Pearce: Because the decision was to refer that at the conclusion of the Millipede trial and investigation.
Q89 Chair: Which was how many years ago?
Trevor Pearce: That was in 2012. The Information Commissioner’s officers had been involved with us in the planning of that investigation. They had attended some of the search warrants. There have-as we have identified in my letter of 16th August with the timeline-been a number of times when we have engaged with the ICO, and that was always the intention. There was an issue, which was a crossover to a Metropolitan Police investigation, which prevented that material being put forward at the end of the trial. None the less, that was always the expectation. When you look at the Information Commissioner’s press release of yesterday, it identifies a broader set of tools that he can use.
Q90 Chair: Yes, I know that but that is existing law. I know all about that press release. The Committee knows because he spoke to us. What I cannot understand is that you have given us reasons why things have not happened, not reasons why things should have happened. If you look at what you said to us previously, you were very clear that you had gone to Tuleta and asked them to look carefully at the list that you were proposing to give to this Committee. They had extracted the names of individuals and companies who are subject to criminal investigation and they had given it to you and you had then given it to this Committee. But when you wrote to this Committee on 12 July you said: "SOCA undertook in April 2012 to pass its Operation Millipede material once the current Operation Tuleta investigations are finalised." Now, that is April 2015 but there was a great flurry of activity last Friday and you rushed over and handed over the files, Mr Pearce.
Trevor Pearce: Not at all, actually.
Chair: Did you get into a taxi and rush over with them?
Trevor Pearce: No, and if you recall we had the opportunity, you and I, to meet in your offices on 30 July and we discussed the importance of our providing a timeline and a position for the Committee when I came before you today. As part of that, we have had further engagement, a meeting with the Information Commissioner and the Metropolitan Police, where we were able between the Information Commissioner and the Metropolitan Police to work out a way by which those names, subject to a small number that have been further redacted, being passed for information so the Information Commissioner can start inquiries at this stage. So it has been brought forward. It is always right in these sorts of investigations that you continue to review the procedures. I think the fact that we are able to bring this forward from perhaps the conclusion of the Tuleta investigation is good. Would I like to have done this quicker? Yes.
Trevor Pearce: We have had the interplay of investigations, a concluding trial or a hearing and confiscation proceedings, which have meant that has not necessarily been possible. But are we on the track of doing it? Yes. Have we also stimulated a meeting to take place later this month with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Information Commissioner-
Q91 Chair: A flurry of activity, but had it not been for the revelations in the Independent newspaper and the fact that you appeared before this Committee in July, the public would never have known about this list because the list, as you told the Committee in the letter to us, had never been formatted in this way.
Trevor Pearce: No, because-
Chair: The information was there, but it had never been acted upon.
Trevor Pearce: That is absolutely right and the intention was, as you have seen, to pass over the case material to the Information Commissioner because clearly there will be material in there that will aid its inquiry at this stage. I absolutely take your point that since our meeting on 3rd July we have-
Q92 Chair: You now accept that you were too tardy in dealing with this? You should have acted much quicker?
Trevor Pearce: I would not say that we were tardy. I think that there was due process that we had to go through. I think we have been able to accelerate that. I am grateful for the opportunity that our discussion on 30 July provided because, as I said, we would review that, we would take this further action, and we would be in a position, as you asked, to give a more detailed timeline when I came before you at this hearing.
Q93 Chair: Well, the Committee is not very happy with the length of time it has taken for this information to be passed on because we have been involved in looking at hacking issues for the last six years and we are very disappointed that it has taken so long.
Trevor Pearce: Can I just say this is not a hacking issue? This is about blagging.
Chair: No, we understand that.
Trevor Pearce: Because this does fundamentally go to some of the position, which is, of course, a different set of powers and a different set of sanctions that are available between offences against the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Data Protection Act.
Q94 Chair: We understand that. We understand it is not about hacking. The point I was making is that for six years this Committee has been looking at these kinds of issues and we have had explanations given to us by senior members of the Metropolitan Police and others about why it has taken so long and statements that evidence has been looked at and, in fact, it has not been looked at. Let me deal with this issue. You have uncovered evidence of serving police officers who have accessed databases-
Trevor Pearce: No, we have not.
Q95 Chair: You have no evidence at all of any serving officers?
Trevor Pearce: We have no names nor have been brought to our attention any names of serving police officers who have accessed the Police National Computer. In one of the Millipede subjects there was a list of subject names against which were the words "club check", which might imply that a PNC or CRO check had been carried out against them.
Q96 Chair: Sorry, club check meaning?
Trevor Pearce: In police parlance it means a CRO, criminal records, a PNC check.
Q97 Chair: It is internal police jargon?
Trevor Pearce: It is a bit of idiom. I think that is the best way of describing it. As a result of that, the investigating officers fulfilled all lines of inquiry that they could to establish whether anyone had actually carried out those checks. No names were identified. The Millipede subject who was at trial denied making use of or acquiring data through those checks. So there are no names and the investigations have been carried through. On the basis of just the documentation that was seized, we put a case to the CPS that there was the potential to consider-
Q98 Chair: When did you do this, Mr Pearce?
Trevor Pearce: That would have been during the timeline of Operation Millipede, so some time between 2009 and 2012. I haven’t got the exact date.
Q99 Chair: So between those three years?
Trevor Pearce: During that period, yes, the CPS were presented with I think an advice file and asked to make a decision as to whether there was sufficient material to merit a charge of conspiring with persons unknown. The CPS view was that there was not, so because we had denials-
Q100 Chair: You were happy with that?
Trevor Pearce: I think that is a perfectly reasonable decision by the CPS. No names, denials, and no other evidence, which was directed from just names that had these two words aside them, "club check".
Q101 Chair: Mr Daniel Summers, who has been convicted as part of Millipede said-I do not know what his voice is like-he would sing like a canary with all the information that he has on serving police officers. Nobody has bothered to ask him or do you think he is just making it all up?
Trevor Pearce: He would have been interviewed.
Q102 Chair: By the police?
Trevor Pearce: Well, by SOCA officers-
Chair: Oh, by SOCA.
Trevor Pearce: -and those interview notes would have gone as part of the case file. We would have also-
Chair: To the CPS?
Trevor Pearce: To the CPS and I hope that we would have also considered any debrief opportunities under the various Acts.
Q103 Chair: Excellent. Well, that is extremely helpful, Mr Pearce. I am going to go to Mr Clappison now. Would you please look at your files? I know you must have extensive files. We are worried that because you are moving jobs on 1 October and SOCA is being closed down, some of these files may not be kept together.
Trevor Pearce: I will give you an absolute assurance that we have considered all of the information about the retention of our material and that falls in with all the transition arrangements in place.
Q104 Chair: Excellent. What I am asking is that you look at your files to find out the precise date when this information was given to the DPP’s office or the CPS so that you can let us have the letter back from the CPS putting you all in the clear and basically saying, "We have looked at this and there is no one to prosecute." It cannot be right that this should be hanging over serving police officers; that they are being accused of accessing national databases for payment, because that is what is being alleged.
Trevor Pearce: Yes.
Chair: If you could find us that date and that correspondence, it would be extremely helpful.
Trevor Pearce: Thank you.
Q105 Mr Clappison: Can I say first of all thank you for the replies that you have given to my letters and for your care and attention to them? Can I ask one question arising out of what the Chairman was asking you about the register of interests of SOCA members? The Chairman quite rightly asked you about employment of private detectives by members of the board. You have given us a list of 102 clients of private investigators involved in blagging, which came to light in Operation Millipede. Have you satisfied yourself that no members of the board have any relationship with any of those clients?
Trevor Pearce: I personally have not, no.
Q106 Mr Clappison: Wouldn’t that be a step to take?
Trevor Pearce: It is a step that I had not considered. At the relevant SOCA board meeting the previous chairman made the point to the non-executive members that they should declare any interests that they have. The answers that came back were that they had none.
Q107 Mr Clappison: You would agree that if they had any relationship with any of the bodies that are named in that list that would be a conflict of interest?
Trevor Pearce: On the basis that they are non-executive and they are not involved in the operational direction of the organisation, I think the conflict of interest is less. If they sought in some way to, how shall we say, influence my operational decisions, then I think I would be acute to that, but I think there is a separation.
Q108 Mr Clappison: It is a conflict of interest?
Trevor Pearce: There are conflicts of interest when it directly relates to the operational decision or direction, and I think that is the first point. I think that it is always one of the challenges with non-executives where you have a variety of interests to say exactly where those may or may not I would not say conflict with but touch upon the role.
Q109 Mr Clappison: I appreciate they are non-executives, but they are supervising SOCA and SOCA has been taking decisions relating to those client names, hasn’t it?
Trevor Pearce: It has.
Q110 Mr Clappison: So a conflict of interest arises, doesn’t it?
Trevor Pearce: On the basis that they are operational decisions rather than decisions as to the governance and delivery of the strategy of the organisation, I think there is a separation. I take your point that non-executives in that role have to be very careful about what they say or what they do not say.
Q111 Mr Clappison: It would be appropriate for them to declare such an interest, wouldn’t it?
Trevor Pearce: In terms of private investigators?
Mr Clappison: No, if they were doing work for any of the bodies that were named as clients in the list that we have just described, it would be appropriate and proper for them to declare that as an interest, wouldn’t it?
Trevor Pearce: I would need to consider, but I can see that there is a point there, yes, and we would need to think of that.
Q112 Chair: Sorry, are you saying to this Committee that the people sitting on your board, who are not there as window dressing-they are members of the board of SOCA; this is a law enforcement agency-if they are doing business with one of those individuals or groups on the list that you have given us and the Information Commissioner, that has been cleared by the Metropolitan Police, that they do not have an obligation to declare it?
Trevor Pearce: Well, I think they have-
Chair: Because Mr Rimmer says he is very satisfied. You do not seem very satisfied. He is happy.
Trevor Pearce: Well, I am trying to put this in context. If you applied this to each of 1,000 investigations or operations that we do at any one time, can you apply that test to each of those in relation to each-
Chair: No, we are asking about this list. We do not want to know about the others.
Trevor Pearce: Well, in which case, if this is a specific matter of interest then I think we can-it is an issue for the chairman of the board-go away and ask the non-executives to be absolutely clear about any engagement, any companies, that they have dealings with.
Q113 Mr Clappison: Will you let us know the outcome?
Stephen Rimmer: Yes, I will. Can I just be clear? I note the Committee’s concern on this. I was making the point that I did not regard the consequence of the former chair’s resignation as directly bearing on the issue of the relationship between non-execs and any interests they might have. I recognise the particular concerns this Committee has about the names coming out of this particular operation, and given its high profile and sensitivity we will undertake that check with those board members.
Q114 Chair: Mr Rimmer, it is more than that. Why we are labouring this and why Mr Clappison is labouring this is because this is SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency. You come in as the new chairman. You are already sitting in the Home Office so there is a potential conflict because you are in charge of operational matters now as well as being a senior civil servant. You are going in there because you are Mr Clean to sort out this mess for six weeks until it goes into the hands of Keith Bristow.
Stephen Rimmer: Yes.
Chair: So isn’t the first thing that you do is you ask whether any of the members of the board have any relationships with any of the companies that have formed part of this list? Isn’t it common sense? That is what Mr Clappison is saying.
Stephen Rimmer: I accept the exceptional interest in this case. Of course, any of those names on that list do not of themselves mean a judgment about those companies.
Chair: No, we know all that. We have the caveat. We understand that.
Stephen Rimmer: Yes. I do not presume an automatic conflict of interest as a result. Given that the SOCA board has not met yet, I have not had a collective discussion with them about it, but I accept the Committee’s strong encouragement to do some further due diligence on that ahead of the next SOCA board meeting.
Q115 Mr Clappison: I have one other question to ask, one other line of questioning on this while I have the opportunity. On this list of 102 names, are you aware of the existence of any other clients of the private investigators arising out of Operation Millipede, which, as we know, involved private investigators blagging in order to obtain people’s intimate personal financial information?
Trevor Pearce: In relation to Operation-
Mr Clappison: I am not asking for the names themselves. I am asking if you are aware of the existence of other names besides the 102 that you have given us.
Trevor Pearce: In relation to Operation Millipede and the parameters around that, no.
Q116 Mr Clappison: No, you are not aware of any other clients?
Trevor Pearce: On Operation Millipede, no.
Q117 Chair: No, but other operations?
Trevor Pearce: Other operations-
Mr Clappison: On other operations-
Trevor Pearce: Well, this is the only SOCA-led investigation where we have focused upon this notion of blagging by private investigators. Clearly, there are occasions when we support other organisations, but this is the only SOCA-led one and, therefore, I referred very specifically to Millipede.
Q118 Mr Clappison: But you have been involved in other SOCA operations and you have produced a report about private investigators which refers to various things that private investigators have been getting up to-very serious things involving intrusion into people’s personal lives, in addition to blagging, listening to private telephone conversations and the like, getting access to people’s computers without their knowledge or wish. Are you aware of the names of any clients arising out of those operations?
Trevor Pearce: We touched on this last time. Those were investigations that formed the assessment base for Project Riverside, which we produced in 2008 to inform policy principally around the licensing of private investigators. I think we said at the time that they related to three Metropolitan Police investigations that were then closed. They related to an intelligence development within SOCA, which I can say did not identify any clients, and they related to an old NCS investigation, which related to a private investigator seeking to identify a potential individual who was going to provide Queen’s evidence.
Q119 Mr Clappison: Can I just be clear about this? I only want to know if you are aware of the existence of clients and how many there were. Are you aware of the existence of other clients in these other operations; other clients of private investigators?
Trevor Pearce: In relation to the two where we have ownership, which is the SOCA one and the NCS one, there were no other clients. There would have been clients, and as I say I think we would need to check that with the Metropolitan Police, but I do not have those details.
Q120 Nicola Blackwood: Could you just clarify that answer slightly because I am confused? You have stated that for Millipede you only undertook to identify clients from private investigators who had been undertaking blagging operations. Is that correct?
Trevor Pearce: Millipede was an investigation that focused on an information broker and three private investigators and was in relation to, colloquially, blagging.
Q121 Nicola Blackwood: Yes, but I think what we are trying to understand is whether you have other lists that you are not releasing that relate to illegal activities conducted by private investigators and their clients?
Trevor Pearce: I do not know. We have not led any other investigations. Have we carried out investigations against other private investigators? Yes, where they have touched upon organised crime. For instance, where they have sought to identify informants, where they have sought to potentially compromise witnesses, where they have indeed sought to-so trying to separate this out about-
Q122 Nicola Blackwood: Yes, I understand that but, Mr Pearce, I know that as recently as 2010 you did conduct a threat assessment and that included identifying private investigators as a key corruptor involving public officials in a number of different departments. Surely when you conducted that threat assessment you would have gone through your records and looked at all of the moments when you had engaged with private investigators in your different operations so you would know where your lists were.
Trevor Pearce: Can I just make a point on this? Threat assessments look across a range of activity that are known to a range of law enforcement agencies. Principally, when you do it you ask a set of questions. You set an intelligence requirement and you send that to different agencies and bodies. It is not looking at specific investigations; it is drawing in information from potentially 52 police forces, HMRC, UK Border Force and others to provide a narrative. The purpose of assessments is to inform policy and activity, not to investigate, and they are not investigations into individual acts.
Q123 Nicola Blackwood: So you did not check when you did that, but despite the fact that this issue has been on the front page of newspapers for quite some time now and we have had lots of sessions here and you have had lots and lots of letters from Mr Clappison and from the Chairman, you have not looked further than Operation Millipede?
Trevor Pearce: Operation Millipede is ours and that is what we have gone through.
Nicola Blackwood: Yes, but I am asking you about other investigations but also yours.
Trevor Pearce: Have we looked into other people’s investigations? It is our investigation-
Nicola Blackwood: No, but your investigations as well that might have touched on private investigators.
Trevor Pearce: My point being-sorry. In relation to our investigations, we have not led on any other investigations similar to Millipede. We have carried out other investigations that may touch upon private investigators but not in the blagging sense. The assessments that you talk about are a function of what we do-
Nicola Blackwood: Yes, I understand that.
Trevor Pearce: -supporting the broader knowledge and understanding about organised criminality on behalf of the Home Office and, indeed, other Departments.
Q124 Nicola Blackwood: I just wanted to ask you one question about the publication issue because you have commented a number of times on this. In the number of times that you have commented on it, you have stated that you would not like to publish the list because you would not like to compromise Operation Tuleta or the possible regulatory action that the Information Commissioner would undertake.
Trevor Pearce: Yes.
Nicola Blackwood: Have you spoken to Commander Basu on Operation Tuleta about this-
Trevor Pearce: Yes.
Nicola Blackwood: -or to the Information Commissioner and have they requested that you make that statement?
Trevor Pearce: No, they have recognised the judgment that we have made and that is based upon Cabinet Office guidelines and the Government protective marking scheme. One of the key-
Q125 Nicola Blackwood: I recognise your judgment, but have they specifically said, "We would rather that this information was not published"?
Trevor Pearce: Yes, they have.
Stephen Rimmer: Can I answer that, Ms Blackwood? One of the things I have done since coming into SOCA, because I saw it as an immediate priority, was to satisfy myself that the decision-making process had taken full account of the views of the Metropolitan Police, the ICO, and I also discussed with Keith Bristow at the NCA, given that this would roll forward, and that was absolutely the clear message from all of those. I spoke to Assistant Commissioner Dick about it in terms of the Met and I know Trevor has discussed with Commander Basu and also directly to the Information Commissioner. I have to say that from my perspective we had a very clear, consistent message, which is that SOCA has acted appropriately in the interests of continuing investigation.
Q126 Michael Ellis: Is it true, gentlemen, that Operation Millipede was so called because it had hundreds of legs; it was known to have hundreds of legs going in different directions?
Trevor Pearce: No. There was a list. When an operation starts, you phone a number; you get a name. Sometimes they are not very good, let me just say that, and I think that is clearly an example, but no, that is how it works.
Q127 Michael Ellis: So it had nothing to do with the scope that was apparent?
Trevor Pearce: No, not at all. I have seen it written down. It brings a chuckle. No, it is just a format of actually deconflicting operational names to make sure that they are-
Q128 Michael Ellis: On the subject of names, why shouldn’t the public know the names? There does not seem to me here to be any issues of national security or other issues pertaining to the wider national interest. Were these names ever read out in court? For example, if a person had been sitting in the public gallery during that court hearing, would they have been able to hear those names read out at that time?
Trevor Pearce: Well, it was a guilty plea so, therefore, it would have been a case summary. Secondly, the test is-
Michael Ellis: Nevertheless, the names might have been read out in court, including by defence counsel in mitigation.
Trevor Pearce: They might have been. I do not know whether they were all in the main bundle. The issue here is, though, that anything that has the potential to impact on an investigation or inquiry meets for me the threshold of maintaining confidentiality under the Government protective marking scheme.
Michael Ellis: Yes, you have said that. I understand that, Mr Pearce.
Trevor Pearce: I think that it is very appropriate that we stick by that precedent.
Q129 Michael Ellis: I understand that, Mr Pearce, but in what way would it affect adversely another inquiry? If it is being suggested that the release of these names into the public domain would adversely affect another inquiry, then my question is in what way would it be so affected? It is not as though we are dealing with individuals who might flee the jurisdiction, is it, or perhaps it is? Please tell me in what way.
Trevor Pearce: You would ask me to speculate on this particular case, which I will not do, but I think in broad terms you are right. The knowledge that you are being investigated may well lead you to remove yourself from the jurisdiction, destroy evidence, seek to suborn witnesses. That is a general set of issues and principles and that is why we seek-
Q130 Michael Ellis: But these names are starting to leak now.
Trevor Pearce: Whether they leak or not, I think the principle that we must stand by and the precedent I must stand by is what we attach and the confidentiality that we attach to on-going investigations or matters that may touch upon investigations or inquiries.
Q131 Michael Ellis: I would be one of the first to argue for respect for those matters that are protectively marked. In other areas I have been a keen advocate for that, but items that are protectively marked as secret or confidential can be unmarked as such. Decisions can be made. These things are not written in stone. Do you appreciate that the impression is given in some quarters-let us just talk for a moment about the political realities behind this-that it is all right to pursue journalists for offences or alleged offences but not so when it comes to large City institutions or any other entity that might be of a different nature. Isn’t it in the public interest also to avoid those sort of impressions being created of injustice?
Trevor Pearce: The notion here, of course, is that they are actually being pursued, which is why they have gone to the Information Commissioner, and you have seen what the Information Commissioner has said.
Michael Ellis: Well, several years have elapsed.
Q132 Chair: Mr Pearce, you cannot have it both ways.
Trevor Pearce: No, I have taken you through-
Chair: Just a second. You are trying to say to Mr Ellis that nothing could be done with this list because it is all subject to investigation and now you are telling Mr Ellis that it is not being pursued.
Trevor Pearce: No, I am saying-
Chair: While you have been sitting on this for four years.
Trevor Pearce: No, I am saying it is being pursued and the notion has to be that while there is an implication that something might impact on an on-going investigation, whether it is that one or a related investigation, the confidential handling around that has to be in place.
Q133 Michael Ellis: Yes, but you appreciate, do you, do you agree with me when I say that there is also a public interest in not giving the impression that there is an uneven scale of justice applying to different entities? We have to protect the wider interests of justice here and that includes that justice be seen to be done as well as actually being done. It is very tempting sometimes for officials-I mean this with the greatest respect-to closely guard those items that are restricted from the public domain, very often for good reason, without looking at the wider picture and saying that in this case perhaps we should consider departing from the general rule because a wider public interest will be served by letting people know that there is not a bias here. The figure of justice on the top of the Old Bailey has a blindfold and the scales that she carries are evenly balanced. We do not want people to think that there is an injustice here in how different entities are treated, do we?
Stephen Rimmer: I think if I may say so, Mr Ellis, that goes to a wider public policy issue. I think in the context of individual investigations it seems to me entirely appropriate for SOCA to continue to operate against the principles that are understood if there is a judgment about, as you say, on a broader canvas the interests of justice not playing out sufficiently in relation to individual investigations. I think those considerations would be looked at in the round rather than in the context of a specific investigation.
Q134 Michael Ellis: Sorry, just one more. Are you confident, both of you, that despite the particularly high-profile circumstances of this case there is a continuing and proper need for these names not to be released into the public domain and that it would not be in the public interest to release them? Are you satisfied in yourselves that that is the case?
Trevor Pearce: I am satisfied with that, which is the position that the Information Commissioner has taken as well now because those will now fall to the ICO for consideration of regulatory and other activity. It remains the case, and that I think is the point, sir, that it is not that these have been put away. They are now with the appropriate regulator to be considered and you have seen the range of options that the Information Commissioner has talked about that are available to him to progress those.
Q135 Michael Ellis: I cannot help but reiterate that the Information Commissioner has only had these 20 or 30 boxes of this stuff for a few hours or a couple of days, whatever it is. Four years have elapsed since the initial decision appears to have been made not to do anything about it, so again-
Trevor Pearce: Well, I think the decision, sir, was to do something about it and that was about working in conjunction with the Information Commissioner. That was a properly documented policy decision, absolutely right by my judgment, that there has been, as you will see-I think it is from appendix C of my letter to the Chairman of 16 August-on-going dialogue with the Information Commissioner, which has taken us up to a point in August when with the Metropolitan Police it has felt that it is now in a position for that to be moved forward.
Q136 Chair: Mr Pearce, nothing was happening on this, absolutely nothing, until the revelations in the newspapers in July and your appearance before the Select Committee. You did not even have a list until 17 July. I know we all look young and green sitting round this table, but some of us have been around a long time. Please do not think we do not understand what is going on here. To suddenly deliver to the Information Commissioner last Friday-and I have spoken to the Information Commissioner. He has been after this information for years. On Friday, despite his request, you delivered boxes of files. Now, the fact is this has only happened in the last six weeks because of what has appeared in the newspapers and because of your appearance before this Committee. Otherwise, this list would never have been formatted. It would still be sitting in the Millipede papers. That is right, isn’t it? Did you have any plans to get a list together?
Trevor Pearce: Absolutely and we have a-
Q137 Chair: When was your plan to get the list together?
Trevor Pearce: The plan was to give the appropriate case files and documentation to the Information Commissioner. We had-
Q138 Chair: At the end of Tuleta?
Trevor Pearce: Well, yes, and actually we brought that forward.
Chair: Which is 2015.
Trevor Pearce: Potentially, but there had been regular engagement, as you have seen from the letter that I wrote to you, with the ICO’s office. They were with us at the planning of that investigation. They were with us on the search. They have made expert witness statements in support of the Millipede investigation and in 2012, at the conclusion of the case, we had further discussions with them about when this material could go to them.
Chair: Well, we will look forward to seeing those letters.
Trevor Pearce: Well, I think you have the timeline there.
Chair: No, we have not had the letters from the Commissioner. We have had your timeline.
Trevor Pearce: Okay, that is pleasing to know.
Q139 Steve McCabe: Gentlemen, in last week’s Mail on Sunday-I do not know if you saw it-it was reported that one of the corrupt investigators, a John Spears who is a former police officer, said that he told SOCA that he could ring up and say, "Would you do a criminal records check for me?" and he would be given a price and it would be done. When you got this information from Mr Spears what did SOCA do to tackle Spears’ sources?
Trevor Pearce: I have already referred to that. Shall I go through it again, Chairman, for the benefit of Mr McCabe?
Steve McCabe: I just want to know specifically about Spears, so it is a very specific observation. I am just wondering what you did to tackle that.
Trevor Pearce: Okay. The material taken from Mr Spears at the time of the search indicated I think in the region of 40 names or names and some biographical detail. Alongside those were the wording "club check". That is a colloquialism for some kind of criminal records or other check. The officers pursued relevant lines of inquiry on those and were not able to identify that any checks had been done. There were no police officers, law enforcement officers, in this or other jurisdictions named by Mr Spears and, indeed, in interview Mr Spears denied that he had in any way commissioned police officers to carry out those tasks. We put together a case file that went to the Crown Prosecution Service and the Crown Prosecution Service felt that on the basis of what we were able to put before them they were not able to press charges. So no officers were ever named. No officers were identified.
Q140 Steve McCabe: I do not want to prolong this, but let me just be clear. What you are telling us is that you are satisfied that there was no substance to the claims that Spears made and you have exhaustively investigated to the point where you can safely conclude that it is finished? Is that accurate?
Trevor Pearce: I think we have to say that there has always been a suspicion and there has been evidence that law enforcement officers and others have done checks. In this case, were we able to identify any officers or did we have identified to us any officers or staff who carried out checks? There were not. Did we take the material that we did have to the Crown Prosecution Service? We did. Were they able to formulate charges? No, they were not.
Q141 Steve McCabe: You are satisfied nothing else, no more skeletons will fall out of the cupboard in relation to this particular case?
Trevor Pearce: I think there are lots of issues that sometimes come out of this and I am surprised at them sometimes, frankly, but that one was a particular concern to me and particularly important and I have satisfied myself about the investigation that we carried out.
Chair: Fine. We are nearly at an end here. Mr Ruane and then we will sum up.
Q142 Chris Ruane: The Government have a list of 35 opt-in measures. Do they have the correct list? Is there any measure that you feel should be on that list that is not on that list?
Chair: This is not to do with the SOCA list.
Trevor Pearce: Okay. A colleague of mine used to talk about the tyranny of lists and I think we have hit it this afternoon. In relation to the 35, completely separate and subject to the EU opt-out to put it in context, we have had the opportunity to engage with Home Office colleagues during the course of these considerations and to advise on what operations-
Q143 Chris Ruane: Have they listened?
Trevor Pearce: They have listened and we are content that for us to continue to operate systemically with European colleagues that the 35-and they are not all relevant to my organisation, that the right ones are there to be progressed.
Q144 Chris Ruane: Are there any that you would like to see included?
Trevor Pearce: Not for me.
Q145 Chair: Just a quick question on the European Arrest Warrant. Was SOCA involved in any way in respect of the Arrest Warrant agreement that Emmanuel Hening should be extradited to France? Does that name ring a bell?
Trevor Pearce: It does not ring a bell.
Q146 Chair: Would you write to me about it?
Trevor Pearce: I will because, as you know, we are the authority for that.
Q147 Chair: You are the authority, so I am surprised because he owes the taxpayers of Britain £40 million. He was allowed to return to France where he was released from prison immediately. If you could write to us about that.
Trevor Pearce: We will let you know on that one, Chairman.
Q148 Chair: Mr Pearce, you have been very open with this Committee since you appeared before us in July and we are very grateful and you must not take this personally.
Trevor Pearce: No.
Chair: Mr Rimmer, you are appearing for the first time. We know that this is a short-term job and that you are going to be giving it up on 1 October, but we feel very strongly that in view of what has happened to Sir Ian Andrews and, indeed, in view of the reputation of this organisation-and we have been abroad. We have been to places like Colombia where everyone reveres the name of SOCA in terms of what you are doing in international co-operation. I think it is in your interests to make sure that these issues are resolved about conflicts of interest because I would be very surprised if one of your directors, for example-she is a director of Serco-would not have employed private investigators at some stage, so you should check that. You should just not accept that everything is okay in the garden at Marsham Street. You must actually go and find out what is going on, especially as you were responsible for all this until April of this year. They were reporting to you.
Stephen Rimmer: Indeed, ultimately everything goes back to the Home Office. Yes, I understand the Committee’s concern and yours, Chair, and I will write back to you when I have conducted that.
Stephen Rimmer: Can I also just very briefly flag-because I, coming fresh to your considerations on this, completely get the frustrations around timelines-I think it is only fair to say from both a SOCA and a Home Office perspective that the direction of travel that is now being pursued around the licensing regime clearly, around NCA and around-which I think is also relevant for this Committee-the setting up of the Morgan panel are all very positive reflections of the concerns that you have brought to bear.
Q149 Chair: Indeed, but the timescale of autumn 2014 for regulation of an industry that needs to be regulated, as Mr Pearce has said in his previous evidence to us. This is an industry, the private investigators. The vast majority do terrific work and help everyone conduct their affairs properly, but there are some that are not within the law. Therefore, we need to regulate them, we think, sooner. The Committee has taken a view that this list should be published, Mr Pearce. We would like you to publish the list. We see nothing wrong with you publishing the list. We know that it has gone to the Met and we know that they have removed the names that are subject to criminal investigation. We give you until Monday to publish this list. If you fail to publish it on Monday we will publish it because we think it is in the public interest to do so. As you correctly said in your letter to this Committee, at the end of the day we must decide. We have taken legal advice and we believe it is important that this should be done. We do not like the drip-drip of information that is going on in newspapers. It is worse for the reputation of some of these companies-who may indeed have done absolutely nothing wrong as you have said- that they should be tarred with the same brush and lots of people should be subject to telephone calls: are they on the list, are they not on the list? I am afraid, as you know, once you have a list, people want to either be on it or they want to be off it. We think it is in the public interest this should be done, but it is not a reflection on you, Mr Pearce, because we know that you have worked very hard in the last six weeks to give us the information that we require. We are very grateful for that.
Trevor Pearce: Thank you, Chairman, and we will take advice-
Chair: We hope very much that you will publish it first before it all appears in the Sunday newspapers and before any of us can have any say as to how to control this information. Mr Rimmer, good luck in your new job. I know it is time limited, but please follow what we have said. Thank you very much.
Stephen Rimmer: Thank you, Chairman.