Self-confessed phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire accessed the new identities of individuals put under witness protection but Scotland Yard took no action, it has been claimed. BBC Panorama reported on Wednesday that the Metropolitan Police had evidence in 2006, during a previous investigation into phone hacking, that Mulcaire had accessed the highly secret information.
It claimed that four of those targeted have only recently been told that they were victims, including Robert Thompson, who murdered James Bulger, and fellow child killer Mary Bell.
Ex-Metropolitan police officer Brian Paddick, told the programme: "The Witness Protection Scheme is a very expensive operation to give people who've been convicted of very serious offences and people who are very vulnerable witnesses - to give them a completely new identity, so they can have a completely fresh start. For that information to get into the hands of journalists is potentially putting people's lives at risk"
The force insisted that there was no evidence to suggest an officer had leaked the information, and said that instead Mulcaire obtained the information via phone hacking. Injunctions protect the new identities of certain individuals, including Thompson. The Attorney General will consider an alleged breach of an injunction by Mulcaire after all criminal trials linked to the current hacking and bribery investigations have finished.
A spokesman said: "In April 2012 the Attorney General's Office was notified by the Metropolitan Police that there was a potential breach of an injunction by Glenn Mulcaire. The Attorney General is responsible for taking action when certain injunctions have been breached, but as criminal matters are still ongoing, these cases take precedence."
A spokesman for Scotland Yard confirmed that information was uncovered in 2006 showing that identities had been compromised. He said details emerged in a report which was produced after investigators on the 2006 inquiry, Operation Caryatid, asked police technology experts to examine certain exhibits.
"There was concern that within the report there were the details of a person/s who were given a new identity/ies who were subject to a witness protection programme but not in London. There is no record that shows that any further action was taken. The risk of harm was significantly reduced when Operation Caryatid successfully prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned Glenn Mulcaire."
Later, when Operation Weeting, the recent phone-hacking probe, was launched, protected identities were found in Mulcaire's notes. The witness protection teams dealing with those affected were told, with the intention of informing the victims.
The spokesman said: "There was no evidence that any MPS police officer or police staff compromised information on persons protected by the Witness Protection Unit (WPU) and Mulcaire obtained information on such individuals by using the same techniques as he used against celebrities, politicians and other individuals the newspapers were interested in."