Soca refuses to name rogue investigators' client list

Man sitting at a computer
Image caption The clients were identified as part of an inquiry into private investigators

The Serious Organised Crime Agency has refused to publish the names of rogue private investigators' clients despite pressure from MPs.

The Home Affairs Select Committee said the agency should reveal the names of clients before next Monday.

But in a short statement, Soca said that it had provided the list in confidence.

The committee's chairman Keith Vaz has already said it will publish its own list if Soca refuses to do so.

Earlier this year, Soca gave the Home Affairs Select Committee the names of 102 clients of investigators who used criminal methods to obtain information.

The agency ordered the committee to keep the clients' names secret - but Mr Vaz said it was in the public interest to publish the names, which included law firms and celebrities.

On Friday afternoon, Soca said its director-general Trevor Pearce had written to Mr Vaz and reminded him that the MPs had given an assurance in July they would not release the list of names.

The agency said it had carefully considered its position on refusing to publish - and had also consulted the Information Commissioner and the Metropolitan Police.

"Having done so, Soca's position remains unchanged," said the statement. "Publication of this information could be detrimental to ongoing investigations and enquiries.

"At the request of the Home Affairs Committee, Soca drew up and provided a bespoke client list. in accordance with Cabinet Office guidelines, on the provision and handling of sensitive information, and received confirmation that the committee would treat the list as confidential.

"Furthermore, Soca is not alleging that individuals or companies named on this list have or even may have committed a criminal offence."

Committee letter

The agency added that publication may undermine a number of ongoing police investigations and the Information Commissioner had begun an inquiry into whether the clients knowingly broke the law.

Scotland Yard has confirmed that nine names have been removed from the list as they are subject to live investigations.

A spokesman said five relate to Operation Tuleta - the force's inquiry into computer hacking while four relate to other ongoing cases.

On 17 July, Mr Vaz told Soca in a letter available on its website: "I confirm that the Committee will treat any such information as confidential and that it will be handled in accordance with current guidance on the provision of sensitive information to select committees."

The BBC has not yet received a response from Mr Vaz or the committee.

The list of names at the heart of the row relates to the conviction of a number of private investigators in 2012 who were prosecuted for using criminal techniques to obtain private information.

The offences prosecuted under Operation Millipede included illegally acquiring information from banks, utility companies and HM Revenue and Customs.

In July, the committee published a breakdown of the clients by company type but did not name them individually.

The list includes 22 law firms, financial services and insurance firms, accountants and two celebrities. It also includes 16 private investigation agencies, suggesting they often subcontract work to each other.

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