LONDON - The names of three dozen British journalists allegedly involved with a shady private investigator were leaked Tuesday to the Internet, posing another potential embarrassment for the U.K.'s scandal-tarred media.
Paul Staines, who blogs under the name Guido Fawkes, published what he said were more than 1,000 recorded transactions between staffers at Rupert Murdoch's British papers and freelance detective Steve Whittamore, who was convicted of trading in illegally obtained information.
In a blog post, Staines said he wanted to expose the "industrial scale criminality" perpetrated by Britain's press, accusing newspaper companies of refusing to name names because they "do not wish to report their own crimes."
Whittamore worked with hundreds of reporters, bending or breaking the law to keep his clients supplied with unlisted numbers, vehicle registration records and other confidential information. Whittamore was convicted in 2005 but did not go to prison and none of the journalists who were named in his files were ever punished.
Interest in Whittamore and his associates has been revived by Britain's phone hacking scandal, which erupted last year after it emerged that Murdoch's News of the World tabloid routinely hacked into the phones of celebrities and others in the news and bribed officials to win scoops.
Several British media organizations — including the Guardian, The Independent and ITV News — have run stories based on the documents recovered from Whittamore's office, but so far none have identified the journalists involved.
Staines did so Tuesday, publishing a spreadsheet naming 35 journalists from Murdoch's News International, the British newspaper division of his global News Corp. media empire.
That's a small subset of the more than 300 reporters named in Whittamore's files, but it includes several people at the heart of the hacking scandal.
Among them: Former Murdoch protege Rebekah Brooks (under her maiden name); former News of the World Chief Reporter Neville Thurlbeck (whose name is misspelt in the file); and the scandal's first whistleblower, Sean Hoare, who has since died.
A spokesman for Brooks did not immediately return a call and an email seeking comment. Thurlbeck declined comment, as did News International spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop.
The Information Commissioner's Office — which investigated Whittamore — declined to authenticate the spreadsheet, but in a statement his organization said authorities had been mulling whether to release the information before it appeared online.
"It's most unfortunate that Guido Fawkes has chosen to jump the gun," the statement said.
Being in Whittamore's files isn't necessarily evidence of wrongdoing — some of his searches could have been carried out by checking voter rolls or county court records.
However many tasks — such as police records or vehicle registration searches — could have been against the law. And if journalists knew how Whittamore was getting his information, they could have been prosecuted alongside him.
But even if wrongdoing could now be proven, the limitation period attached to Britain's Data Protection Act means that prosecution of the journalists is not likely.
The hacking scandal has rocked Britain's establishment, leading to a slew of arrests, lawsuits, settlements and high-profile resignations. Murdoch has since closed the News of the World and a judge-led inquiry could yet propose sweeping changes to the way Britain's press is regulated.
Guido Fawkes' blog: http://order-order.com/
Information Commissioner's Office: http://www.ico.gov.uk/