Police and Ripa requests

Are there questions to be answered?

One of the interesting questions raised by the developing scandal into the use of phone-tapping by tabloid reporters and private investigators is: how did they get the telephone numbers and other data, such as PIN codes?

The usual explanation is that there were "blagging" exercises: someone would call the telephone company a number of times and would gradually eek the relevant details out by deception. This may well be true, though it would be time-consuming and possibly unsuccessful.

There are other ways, which are quicker.

For example, there may have been individuals at the telephone companies happy to provide such information.

But the police themselves have extraordinarily wide powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to demand any and all data from telephone companies in respect of an account or an individual: hundreds of these "Ripa notices" are issued every day, usually on standard forms, with all the data then provided by return.

There is currently no evidence that the police wrongly used their Ripa request powers to pass on (or even sell) information to reporters and private investigators. So I am not making any suggestion of wrongdoing, and my suppositions here may well be wrong.

All that I am suggesting is that there was another – quicker and far more effective – way for the reporters and the investigators to obtain information, instead of blagging. And this alternative means is also consistent with the known facts and could perhaps explain the reluctance of the police to progress their investigations.

As it would clearly be in the public interest to put the matter beyond all doubt, I have submitted two Freedom of Information requests on this to the Metropolitan Police.

Let's see what happens.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He is also a practising telecoms and media lawyer.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496