Fri Aug 5th, 2011 at 07:11:13 PM EST
One of the most regular questions asked is when did the phone hacking start? Now the initial story, on which the police had no choice but to act happened in 2005, the reason they acted was that the one group of people more important and with more influence than the Murdochs is the Royal Family. Since then we've been staggering between the police not examining, and a very narrow group of politicians and newspapers holding the investigation together. The recent cases have pushed the boundary of when things began first to 2003 and then to 2002, but how far back does it actually go?
Back in 1999 I was working in South Wales. amongst other things I was working on University computer network security at around that time. One day a colleague brought in a copy of a newspaper from where their son was working, with a story of a man who had found a flaw in the security of a mobile phone companies voicemail system, the story ran that he'd informed Vodafone, and they didn't seem interested, he'd also informed the two national newspapers, and while initially they had been most interested, after a couple of weeks they had become most distant and suddenly decided that the story wasn't worthwhile anymore. I was asked whether I thought it was a problem, and seeing as the person involved didn't use voicemail, we decided that it probably wasn't a problem for them. Having forgotten completely about that until the beginning of the current year someone threw a link at me from the guy who had been the person who had been the subject of the original article
Having spoken to him online he's given me permission to copy his webpage so people will have a more solid knowledge of where this all came from. Steve is going to become a big name in this story, and having spent many years trying to get people to take him seriously, I think he's going to find himself in a whole new world where people finally listen to him soon.
Hackergate - Phone Hacking Scandal - How Steven Nott tried to raise the alarm in 1999
This is briefly what happened in 1999.
In May/June 1999, I met with Paul Crosbie, Consumer Affairs Correspondent for The Sun Newspaper. He recently confirms my story of how I met him at News International in Wapping and showed him the security issues with the Vodafone voicemail. I explained to him the implications and risks to Government Officials, Mps, celebrities and any famous people how easy it was to access their voicemail. We also discussed the possibilities of terrorists tracking the movements of the Royal family and other famous people just by accessing their voicemail. I highlighted the fact that not only could this have been done here in the UK but elsewhere ie city stockmarkert trader calling another city trader's phone across the Atlantic listening to snippits of information that could help to sway deals one way or another.It was all too easy and scary. Paul Crosbie wrote a story on me and how I had highlighted a big security risk and the fact that it was a major news story and would probably be on the front page. He also added, he couldn't believe the Daily Mirror had already been told by myself about the flaw in voicemail security and hadn't done anything about it themselves. The Daily Mirror, who then, the Editor was Piers Morgan, had promised to publish the story after they had finished going through everyone's mobile phone by hacking the voicemail and getting a response from the mobile user.....ie, the stars and Celebrities and Government officials etc. Both The Daily Mirror and The Sun newspaper failed to publish any story about the fact you could intercept voicemail and failed in their duty as a British newspaper to report 'news' especially a story with such a large public interest. Paul Crosbie said once the story had been written, it would go up the chain for approval so whoever was higher than him would have seen it. Rebekah Brooks was the Deputy Editor at The Sun newspaper during this time and then went on to being the Editor for News of the World in May 2000. The rest of the My story in more detail.
In 1998 I worked as a Salesman for a food manufacturer that delivered it's products all over the UK and my main target area was central London and the city.
I was very productive and had a lot of success with the company and on a daily basis received up to 10 new orders per day from customers I'd previously seen. These orders needed to be progressed quickly, phoned in to the office, and delivered to the customer within a 3 day turn around so it was imperative I got the orders in on time each day.
During late 1998/early 1999 the Vodafone network had a problem and 'went down' for a few hours. I was driving along the M4 at the time and couldn't get a signal as there was no network available.
After the situation hadn't changed for some hours, I stopped at a service station and decided to make a call to the Network operator Vodafone.
I explained my circumstances and the need to get to my voicemail asap to further my customers' orders. They explained to me that it wasn't a problem and explained to me that Icould access my voicemail messages from any other phone, landline or mobile.
They explained to me that once you've called your own mobile number, once you hear. " Please leave a message after the tone", the operator said to press 9 and then key in my PIN number. I said the PIN number for my phone, and she said "No ,you have a PIN number for your voicemail and as you don't know about it then your's will still be the default 3333" Ok. I said to the operator, that it all seems a bit 'easy' to access and mentioned the fact that I could do it with anyones phone then. She said " yes i could, but I wasn't supposed to" and that's only if the PIN number was set on default. At the time, it was not common knowledge to anyone about PIN numbers for voicemails. Most people then didn't have a clue. As long as the mobile phone you were calling was switched off or 'busy' then you would be able to access email immediately. If you pestered the person with enough calls, they would switch it off anyway so making the hacking so easy.
Ok, so you've heard it all before, voicemail phone hacking news stories going on for some years now and still currently causing a nuisance to celebrities and politicians alike and now Scotland Yard are having to backtrack and invest more time into something that seems like it won't go away.
I was gobsmacked by the way, that it was so easy to be able to do this and spent the next couple of months having fun and games with my mates phones, work colleagues phones and so on.
I realised that this issue of easily being able to intercept voicemail, change welcome greetings, delete messages and change the voicemail PIN was too serious to play about with and decided to make some noise about the risks to National Security I'd stumbled across.
I called Vodafone and told them of my worry. They weren't helpful. I called them on various occasions explaining my concerns and still no joy. Vodafone told me each time, that the instructions for the voicemail PIN security number were in the handbook that came with each phone. I could not find any handbook anywhere that this was the case. All of the instruction manuals for Vodafone mobiles had the basics but nothing about voicemail security and changing a default number. ( I have recently asked them for more information relating to this matter for the year 1999 ). The mobiles that we were using in our company were all company phones and there were loads of them. The phones were just handed out and used and often moved from one person to another as staff started and left the company. I made a point of investigating what Vodafone had told me at the time and found out that no-one knew about voicemail PIN security because no-one had a handbook or instruction manual that explained this. Now I was chomping at the bit and decided that I wasn't getting anywhere with Vodafone and took matters into my own hands and changed my plan of action. I wasn't going to let this go. Just to note, Vodafone were in the process of a takeover bid with mannessmann the german mobile giant. I don't think they wanted anyone causing a fuss. I was also speaking to the Orange press office at the time regarding voicemail interception and ruled them out of the security issue.
I made a list of how it could affect the public and also the security implications on important people ie the Royals, Politicians etc. The fact that people could be tracked by monitoring their movements through listening to their messages. Not only could you intercept voicemail in the UK from any mobile network or landline, it didn't have to be from this country. In fact, it could be done in any other country providing the mobile number was on the Vodafone network because Orange had a completely more secure system.
I was in London and made a phone call to the Daily Mirror and explained to them I had a story. They were very interested and after giving them the instructions to 'hack' into the voicemails they said it's possibly going to be one of the biggest stories that decade and would make front page and couldn't believe how easy it was to do and the fact that nobody knew about it. They said they were going to try it out for themselves and see how it all works.
I called the Daily Mirror a few times and they kept saying they were working on it and to be patient as it was going to be a massive story.
They told me that they had 'everybody' onto it as they had a massive bank of phone numbers and were ringing everyone to get their reactions that their mobile's voicemail had been tampered with. They said it was a massive story and was taken a long time to get through the numbers. I had daily contact with the newsdesk at the Daily Mirror. I cannot for legal reasons name the person however I believe she now works for another newspaper.
Twelve days went by, still waiting for front page headlines as promised, I rang them up and they said they weren't interested anymore. I was amazed, one minute, massive news story promises and excitement then 'nothing'
It didn't take me long to realise 'What had I done ?' I couldn't believe I was so stupid to tell a National newspaper how to get hot news for free just by hacking into someones phone. I was on a campaign to raise public awareness and it was backfiring.
At the end of May, early June, I then contacted Paul Crosbie - Consumer Affairs correspondent at The Sun newspaper and explained to him about the story but didn't tell him how to do it. He was very curious and called me in for an appointment in Wapping, News International. I met Paul there and explained to him the whole story and the fact that I had told the Mirror newspaper and he was astonished with the whole thing. firstly, he was gobsmacked and very excited at how it could be done and also shocked that the Daily Mirror had the information from me 2 weeks earlier and said "I can't believe the Mirror would keep something so quietbeing such a massive story of national importance"
Paul asked me to demonstrate how anyone's voicemail system was accessed and called some colleagues in the office, asked them to not answer the next call so I could call them and show him. Paul Crosbie explained to me that it was a massive story and thanked me for coming to see him and expect the story to be in the paper within 48 hours on the front page. He said I was going to be a public hero because of the risk to National Security which I had brought to the media's attention.
Guess what.....no news story, not a dickie bird. I couldn't get hold of Paul Crosbie again after the first meeting. I've had communication with Paul Crosbie recently and he says I never spoke to him again after that but he was always available. Maybe, I was just unlucky at the time and just couldn't catch him in. I only tried a few times as I thought to myself at the time....'Oh no, what had I done.....I've told another newspaper now and I was making it worse'. Paul Crosbie confirms everything in my story and agrees that something should have been done about the problem and that he'd never heard of 'voicemail hacking' before. Bear in mind during all of this I had a very busy day job to do and was trying relentlessly to think of ways of making the public aware.
I started to spread the word. I knew that the information I had was important and took it upon myself to make sure everyone knew. I contacted as many newspapers as possible informing them of the problem and hoping that one of them would do something with the story. This never happened. ( The Daily Mail did run an article about listening to voicemail in late 2000 or early 2001 - it was centre spread and was covered well.)
I called Security Services. They thanked me for the information. I never heard from then since.
I spoke to New Scotland Yard and also wrote them a detailed letter explaining my issues, my findings and the problem that was a National Security risk. I never had a reply from them.
I wrote to the DTI in Victoria. I never received a reply. (I wrote to the DTI again some years later when there was news about two city traders from the Daily Mirror were involved in some fraudulent activity. )
Now there are no proven episodes of phone hacking before 2002, but there are a couple of other details that suggest that 2002 is not the beginning, to start with we have the Dominic Mohan award Speech
New Statesman - What did Dominic Mohan say in 2002?
In the Guardian on 1 May 2002, there appeared an intriguing paragraph in a report about "showbusiness journalism's most glamorous event, the Princess Margaret Awards -- aka the Shaftas":
Ring, a ring a story
How appropriate that the most glamourous event in the showbusiness calender should be sponsored by a phone company. Mohan went on to thank "Vodafone's lack of security" for the Mirror's showbusiness exclusives. Whatever does he mean?
Indeed, whatever could he have meant?
And what was known in the world of showbusiness journalism back in 2002?
A UK gossip website also published a report of a conversation that they had had with a separate newspapers Journalists which they'd published in 2003, where they were shown how to hack peoples voicemail by a junior hack at a non NI paper. and they pointed out that if a relatively junior hack, at a more minor paper knew the details of how to do it, then the chance of an editor who had been a senior showbiz hack at the best selling newspaper in the country not knowing was spectacularly slim.
If we add the three stories together i'd say there are several conclusions that can be reasonably drawn. Firstly any defence that the hacking was limited to a small group of reporters or run through a single PI appears to be untrue. Secondly it appears to have been reporters who told PIs how to do it rather than the other way round, as we can track reporters as having known about it before the first PI case that we know about. and thirdly the responses from both the Murdoch organisation and Piers Morgan about a lack of knowledge should be treated with a degree of Skepticism.
So if you have a local Murdoch owned newspaper and have scanned back through its archives search back earlier for suspicious stories, back to 1998 and if Steven Notts initial encounter with the two papers is the source of the medias knowledge of this technique then we should see a boundary of phone related stories at a point early in 1999 (it's a shame that google trends doesn't stretch back another decade, or we'd see a spike in the graph).
Other than this, if people can see any stories relating to an even earlier point, please point it out.