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McCoist named as victim of black market in illegal information

Rangers manager Ally McCoist was one of the key targets in Scotland of newspapers illegally trading in personal data including phone numbers, health details, bank information, police records and private addresses.

Rangers manager Ally McCoist
Rangers manager Ally McCoist

Following investigations by the Sunday Herald, it is understood the news was broken to McCoist on Friday night.

Details about McCoist appeared numerous times in documents looked at by the Operation Motorman inquiry team. Motorman was a 2003 investigation set up by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to probe offences under the Data Protection Act by the press including "blagging" – the term for obtaining information by subterfuge – and also paying for information from corrupt officials. Blagging is not against the law if it is in the public interest.

It is not known if the embattled football manager, currently dealing with the fallout from Rangers' administration, was targeted by a particular newspaper or several of the many titles listed by Motorman, which included around 20 national newspapers and several magazines. The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times were not named in the investigation.

Famous Scots names already mentioned in media reports on Motorman include former rugby player Kenny Logan and his wife, Gabby. The families of Dunblane massacre victims Aimie Adam and Matthew Birnie have also been named as subjects in the Motorman files, following requests for ex-directory numbers by reporters.

McCoist was one of numerous Scots-based names in the Motorman dossier, according to the lead investigator for the ICO who probed the cases. Former special-branch police officer Alec Owens probed data breaches that had been carried out by private eye Steve Whittamore on behalf of journalists. They allegedly included accessing police records, DVLA details, bank and health records, and phone numbers.

Speaking for the first time about the Scottish aspects of Motorman, Owens said one of the main victims of repeated blagging attempts in the Motorman record of 4000 names was McCoist.

Owens said there were numerous Scottish phone numbers and postcodes among the lists of victims and journalists, adding that he travelled to Scotland to prepare a test case for possible prosecutions that, to his dismay, failed to transpire.

He also claimed an unnamed Scottish journalist on an unnamed Scottish paper was one of the "top 10" targets for prosecution among over 300 reporters listed.

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 about his concerns.

After whistleblowing, 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. Owens had provided details of Motorman to Strathclyde Police to aid its investigations.

Whittamore, the private detective at the heart of Operation Motorman, was brought to court and pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining confidential information and was given a two-year conditional discharge.

Owens said of the Motorman investigation: "Ally McCoist came up. He appears very strongly in the documentation." Alluding to his claims that senior figures at the ICO were unwilling to take on the press by prosecuting journalists, Owens added: "We didn't get round to informing [McCoist] because by that time we'd been told to back off.

"Amongst the files there were a lot of Scottish telephone numbers for reporters, a lot of Scottish numbers like 0141, 0131. A lot of numbers I recognised as Scottish. There were a lot of victims in Motorman that could be related as Scottish."

Owens and his team also spoke to numerous "ordinary" men and women who were victims of blagging. He said: "We were trying to get a full picture of the types of people they were going after. We didn't want people accusing us later, saying: 'You went after Hugh Grant and Charlotte Church', and we were just looking after celebrities."

HE expressed his frustration at not being allowed to take on rogue reporters, saying: "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."

Owens said he gave officers on Operation Rubicon, the ongoing Strathclyde Police probe into phone-hacking and breaches of data protection, details of his own investigation.

Officers from the Major Investigation Team have been ordered by the Crown Office to examine some of the evidence presented during the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.

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

Owens insisted that, as a former policeman, he would never wish to do anything to jeopardise an ongoing inquiry like Rubicon, saying: "I'm not prepared to hide any information I've got. If the Information Commissioner is not going to be open, I am."

Strathclyde Police have declined to comment on Owens's revelations. A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office also said there would be no comment on specific names in the Motorman paperwork.

"Anyone wishing to see what, if anything, is recorded about them in the Motorman files has always been able to exercise their right to make a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act to our office," the ICO spokesman added.

McCoist said he did not wish to comment on the revelations.

A call for the Motorman files to be made public was made last week by the Hacked Off campaign, which includes the actor Hugh Grant.

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