Detectives investigating possible corporate charges against Rupert Murdoch's media empire have obtained evidence to suggest News International paid private detectives to unlawfully access the phone records of alleged IRA mole Freddie Scappaticci.
Senior Scotland Yard officers are analysing an invoice originally seized from a private investigator by the Metropolitan Police in 2007.
The document – which dates from the time of the discredited original phone-hacking investigation – bills News International £850 for "Scappaticci phone records".
At the time the invoice was submitted, in April 2006, a senior News of the World executive had allegedly commissioned private detectives to find Scappaticci, reportedly Britain's top agent inside the IRA who was known by the codename 'Stakeknife'.
David Cameron's former director of communications Andy Coulson was the newspaper's editor at the time. Last week, he was convicted of conspiracy to hack mobile phones.
It is understood the explicit request to be paid for obtaining confidential phone records makes the invoice unique among the files held by the Metropolitan Police – and central to possible corporate charges.
Given the sensitivities around Scappaticci, it is not clear why Scotland Yard failed to take any action against the News of the World or the investigator when detectives seized the invoice in 2007. The investigator told the Independent on Sunday the private phone records were obtained via a police source. The investigator said the phone records belonged to Scappaticci's wife, who was thought to have stayed in Northern Ireland while her husband was in the witness protection scheme in Britain.
The private detective said the paper was trying to track the informant's whereabouts "on the mainland". He said they managed to "turn round" a possible number to a phone box which they believed could be used by Scappaticci.
The Independent on Sunday asked the private investigator whether he was worried he may have "committed any illegal acts by accessing that information from the police source then honing in on the landline number to the phone box". He replied: "Yeah, yeah. Not worried about that, not worried about that at all."
Scotland Yard failed initially to take any action over the Scappaticci compromise. However, the Met has taken a much greater interest in its implications since August last year after a concerned third party emailed it to Commander Neil Basu, who has overall charge of the myriad investigations into News International.
The source was summoned to New Scotland Yard, where he was debriefed by Commander Basu, Detective Chief Superintendent Gordon Briggs and a senior Met lawyer. The invoice has also been emailed to Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.
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The MoD has never confirmed or denied whether Freddie Scappaticci was 'Stakeknife'. He has always denied the claims. However, General Sir John Wilsey, a former commander of the Army in NI, was secretly recorded describing Scappaticci as "our most important secret".
"He was a golden egg, something that was very important to the Army," he said. T
he MoD is mounting an unprecedented legal bid for secrecy in a High Court action against Scappaticci, who was said to be protected by the British state despite his suspected involvement in the deaths of dozens of loyalists, policemen and civilians.
The ex-wife of another IRA informant is suing Freddie Scappaticci, along with the MoD and police, for alleged false imprisonment in 1994. The MoD and PSNI are seeking Closed Material Procedures, that would deny her lawyers access to material.