Detectives investigating phone hacking by the News of the World discovered personal details about Ulster MEP Jim Nicholson in a private investigator’s notebook, the News Letter can reveal.
The Ulster Unionist MEP appears to have been targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, the phone hacker who was jailed in 2007 for illegally intercepting voicemail messages, though it is unclear whether the hacking was for the newspaper or another organisation.
The News Letter has seen a photocopy of a page from Mulcaire’s notebook, dated 31/4/02 (sic), which was given to Mr Nicholson by the Metropolitan Police.
The date relating to Mr Nicholson is less than a month after the News of the World hacked the voicemails of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
The notebook page contains the veteran Ulster Unionist’s name, home address, mobile and home phone numbers, details of his occupation, phone company, phone numbers for the phone company and other unidentified numbers and initials.
The notebook entry also contains a Star of David. It is unclear whether it is merely a doodle by the private investigator or is an indication of a reason for the hacking.
April 2002 was the height of Operation Defensive Shield, the biggest military operation in the West Bank since the Six-Day War. At the time, Mr Nicholson, who has broadly pro-Israeli views, was chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the United States, which involved a visit to the Pentagon.
Mr Nicholson told the News Letter that he received a phone call from the Met Police in 2012 and his first reaction was “My goodness – what have I done wrong? Have I got a speeding fine or something?”
A police officer told him that his name appeared in material seized by police six years earlier.
But he said that the officer told him “this is not serious – don’t worry about it. We’re only doing this because this is what we are supposed to do...there is evidence which has come up; we don’t think it’s serious but it’s our duty to inform you”.
The UUP man said that eventually he had gone to a solicitor who had been able to find out more details about what had happened and obtain the handwritten page from Mulcaire’s notebook.
The MEP said: “When you’re in public life, the harsh truth is that you’re inclined to believe that goodness knows what is happening.
“But at the same time, I think people in public life are entitled to some degree of privacy and I was rather taken aback by it.
“Because of the timing, and the fact that at that time I had just become chairman of the US Delegation of the European Parliament, we relate back to that as some degree of something to do with it. I don’t know – I can’t prove it.
“It’s only pure speculation; I can’t prove it. But the timing does fit in because the relationships between Europe and the US were very bad at that time – that was the time when they removed French Fries from the menu of the House of Congress and put in Freedom Fries...”
Asked whether, given the News of the World’s reputation for salacious reporting, he believed that it may have been attempting to dig dirt on him, Mr Nicholson said: “I have no idea... to be honest I would have thought I was rather low down the pecking order, but who knows?”
He added: “I know they’ve hacked people far more important than I but at the same time, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the public eye in a major way as a celebrity or a politician.
“I don’t think anybody has the right to do this – it is just totally wrong.”
He said that the last time the police had contacted him was to ask him if he had any objection to his name being made public and that was the reason that he was speaking publicly now, as he would rather release it on his own terms.
The hacking appears to have taken place in 2002, prior to Mulcaire beginning his full-time work for the News of the World.
Although Mulcaire was working for the now-defunct tabloid at the time, he was still playing non-league football for AFC Wimbledon and had been working for other clients.