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Scottish journalist ‘was prime suspect in blagging probe’

A Scottish journalist was one of the ‘top ten targets’  for prosecution in a 2003 investigation into so-called ‘blagging,’ according to claims by a former Special Branch officer.

In a report in the Sunday Herald, former leading police officer Alec Owens lifted the lid on Operation Motorman, an investigation into newspapers illegally trading in personal data including phone numbers, health details, bank information, police records and private addresses.

He revealed that records showed that Rangers FC‘s manager Ally McCoist was one of the one of the main victims of repeated blagging attempts, though neither the journalist, or the Scottish newspaper involved has been named.

Operation Motorman was set up by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2003 to probe offences under the Data Protection Act by the press including ‘blagging’ – obtaining information by subterfuge and also paying for information from corrupt officials. It is lawful if it is in the public interest.

The investigation listed around 20 national newspapers and several magazines but the Herald’s article makes clear that The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times were not named in the investigation.

Alec Owens, who resigned in 2006, told the newspaper that an unnamed Scottish journalist on an unnamed Scottish paper was one of the ‘top 10’ targets for prosecution among over 300 reporters listed.

He said: “There was a lot of information about … Scottish reporters. One in particular, who I can’t name, came out very strongly and, had we been allowed to do the job we wanted to do, he would have been in the top 10.”

Strathclyde Police is liaising with the Metropolitan Police over any Scottish dimension to the Met’s current investigations.

The force declined to comment to the Sunday Herald on Mr Owens’s revelations. A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office also told the newspaper there would be no comment on specific names in the Motorman paperwork.

Alec Owens has been a vocal critic of the ICO’s decision not to prosecute journalists over the investigation’s findings, and contacted the Leveson inquiry into press standards about his concerns.

After blowing the whistle, his home was later raided by police just days before he was due to give evidence to the inquiry.

During the raid officers demanded documents relating to Operation Motorman. He had provided details of Motorman to Strathclyde Police to aid its investigations.