Crowdfunded journalism platform Byline Times has revealed how eleven separate England football team captains were illegally spied on by British journalists over the years.
David Seaman, Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer were all targets of long-term surveillance, their phone communications, medical records, and physical movements monitored and recorded. In some cases their friends and families were also covertly monitored.
Information collected via espionage ended up as front and back page splashes from 1995 - 2010, including stories based on confidential medical information related to hospital visits and injury treatments.
“Disgracefully, some sports editors tried to legitimise the information they received, even when they knew full well it had been illegally obtained. In my case, it led to absolute paranoia and distrust of people close to me, thinking they had betrayed me and sold stories to the papers. The truth was something entirely different though. Relationships were torn apart,” an England international forward told Byline.
In one instance, a Sun journalist was ordered to approach two England players being treated for mental health problems while also undergoing physical therapy for injuries at a clinic in France. He was made redundant after refusing.
A media insider claims sports departments “thought nothing” of publishing scandalous, ill-gotten information, and reporters “rarely” questioned the information’s source.
“Sometimes sports editors put reporters’ names on illegal stories they’d had little or nothing to do with, and because of the pressure of working for these papers the journalists were just happy to see their names in print without really questioning the origins of the stories attributed to them. There were instances when some sports reporters, unhappy with it all, threatened to blow the lid the illegal operation, but they were silenced by pay-offs and forced to sign confidentiality agreements,” they allege.
The revelations raise the prospect of yet further legal actions being launched against The Sun and Mirror. Hitherto, actions arising from the phone hacking scandal have focused on other departments, costing hundreds of millions of pounds in damages and legal fees. Scores of players are said to be preparing claims.