The Sunday Times has been accused of employing a former actor to carry out the longest-running, most organised and grossly invasive spying operation in Fleet Street’s history, a Byline investigation has revealed.
John Ford was paid up to £40,000 per year by Rupert Murdoch’s flagship Sunday broadsheet to obtain phone bills, recover ex-directory phone numbers and penetrate private financial material, such as banking and mortgage data.
Ford admits that several email accounts were successfully hacked, each of which were done “to order” on the instructions of some journalists at the Sunday Times.
The whistleblower has identified over 20 journalists from whom he took instruction during his time working for the newspaper which was under the stewardshop of John Witherow at the time.
Following the Leveson Inquiry, Witherow was promoted to the editorship of Murdoch’s senior sister paper, The Times of London.
According to the Byline scoop:
- John Ford targeted a vast array of politicians, celebrities and captains of industry – and also members of the public.
- The confidential records and personal information of at least two former Prime Ministers – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – were obtained.
- The Leader of the Opposition , William Hague, was also a victim.
- The phones and bank accounts of cabinet ministers and government aides were monitored for weeks at a time, over a period of years, and the private information obtained was used for exclusive stories in the Sunday Times.
- Other victims in the public eye included Sir Paul McCartney and Lady Heather Mills.
- There was no sound public interest justification for the criminal conduct being carried out in many cases.
Declining to comment on the specifics of these allegations, The Sunday Times told the BBC that it strongly rejects the accusation that it has retained or commissioned any individual to act illegally, and said it has always been its expectation and practice that its contractors work within the law.