RMT demands information into News International surveillance

Posted on December 9, 2011

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The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has demanded the names of News  International journalists involved in surveillance operations, submitting a full dossier of evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today.

The transport union wrote to News International lawyers today demanding exactly who was involved in surveillance. The operation was run in conjunction with MI5-trained former policeman Derek Webb, whose list included campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson, as well as RMT General Secretary Bob Crow.

Channel 4’s political correspondent Michael Crick provides a fuller list here – which shows that News of the World asked Derek Webb to carry out surveillance on everyone from Angelina Jolie, Daniel Radcliffe (and his parents), Gary Glitter, Miss Dynamite to Prince William, David Blunkett and David Miliband MPs. It is an absurd, funny and terrifying list of names. I know what the paper could be looking to get on Miliband, but what about Ainsley Harriott? Or Alan Titchmarsh?

Members of the public were also on the list, but were excluded from Crick’s list in the interests of privacy.

However – amongst the evidence sent to the Leveson Inquiry today, RMT have included information on:

  • “Illegal sourcing of data” from Driver Licensing and Vehicle Agency (DVLA) and Police National Computer by “investigator” Stephen Whittamore – for sale to union-bashing rag The Mail on Sunday 
  • News International “operatives” going through bins at RMT’s national conference last year (currently subject to separate police investigations)
  • The harassment of national officials, their families and neighbours by operatives
  • The role of “key players” from News International in operations against RMT – including Neville Thurlbeck, former chief reporter at News of the World, whose by-line headed the Kate McCann private diaries story.

An RMT spokesman said the evidence sent to the inquiry dated back “nearly a decade.”

All in all, this all sounds like good old-fashioned Establishment snooping. While the true extent of hacking, naughty journalism and more insidious surveillance is ascertained by the Leveson Inquiry, we can only speculate as to how that fits with RMT’s information.

The union is another political target on the surveillance list, which suggests the News of the World (and the Murdochs) were interested in more than just John Major’s virginity or what Alan Titchmarsh and Elle Macpherson had for breakfast (not together hopefully).

Bob Crow is – I think – the only union representative on the list. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Thatcher government’s campaign of press surveillance, disinformation and smear campaigns in its attempts to destroy this country’s trade union movement. Crow represents the same threat to the Establishment as the likes of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) President Arthur Scargill did in the past. He is “bully-boy” (in the words of the Mail), a Marxist and not afraid of industrial action.

Presumably this surveillance was a new chapter in the campaign against trade unions – that lasted almost 10 years – by quarters of the corporate media, security services and government.

Any incursion into privacy is wrong when it is not truly in the public interest. We can only hope the fullest extent of the truth comes to light through inquiry.

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Posted in: Politics