Operation Elveden and the victims’ right to compensation.

29 Apr 2013

It is not only victims of phone hacking who have been wronged by News Group Newspapers. Operation Weeting was established in January 2011 to investigate phone hacking when it became inescapable to the Metropolitan Police that the hacking was far more widespread, in terms of both victims and alleged perpetrators, than had been investigated prior to the conviction of Goodman and Mulcaire in 2007.

More recent investigations (Operation Pinetree and Operation Golding) relate to a different conspiracy to intercepting telephone messages. Operation Elveden is a child of Weeting and was launched in June 2011. Its role is investigating corrupt payments by journalists to public officials contrary to the Prevention of Corruption Act, Proceeds of Crime Act and Bribery Act. Much of the evidence initially arose from material handed over by the News International Management and Standards Committee which has been working with the police to provide disclosure of documents identifying illegality, however the investigation now covers other newspaper groups.

If anything the scope of Operation Elveden is leaving Weeting behind, with 85 arrests as at the time of writing. About half of those arrested are journalists with the remaining individuals coming from within public bodies such as the army, police and prison service. Unlike Weeting, Elveden has already brought cases to their conclusion. Four public officials have so far been convicted including the senior terrorism officer DCI April Casburn who was found guilty in January 2013 of seeking to provide information to the News of the World about the Met Police investigation into phone hacking.

Hacking claims have dominated the headlines (and Collyer Bristow has acted for a large proportion of those seeking a remedy for hacking), and were instrumental in bringing about the exposure of the extensive wrongdoing within News Group Newspapers. However, so far as we are aware, few claims have yet been issued solely in relation to Elveden evidence. There is little doubt that a large number of claims could arise from Operation Elveden and the police are rightly telling those victims they have contacted of their right to seek a civil remedy.

The alleged activities being investigated by this operation cover an extensive time period and often relate to the passing of private information, whether from personnel files, medical records or simply notifying a journalist of a juicy tip-off in relation to someone in the public eye. Damages could be sought on behalf of victims by way of a claim for misuse of private information or breach of confidence, as well as under the Data Protection Act. The obvious defendant would be the newspaper publisher however it is conceivable that a claim could also arise against the public bodies themselves should there be evidence of a failure to take proper steps to keep the information secure. As with hacking, the victims are not only those in the public eye or necessarily the original target of the journalist.

Steven Heffer, Head of Defamation and Reputation Management had the following to say:

'Operation Elveden is progressing rapidly. With this operation, like the phone hacking investigations (Operations Weeting, Pinetree and Golding) the police need to contact victims, explain what has been done with their information and that they have a civil remedy. There have already been a number of criminal convictions arising from Operation Elveden. Aside from the criminal proceedings I expect to see civil proceedings being issued as a result of private/confidential information being unlawfully traded between public servants and journalists. There is no doubt that victims are likely to have a right to compensation.'

If you have been contacted by Operation Elveden or indeed any of the other police operations in relation to misuse of personal information by journalists or otherwise wish to obtain advice on this issue, please do not hesitate to contact one of the team.

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