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03.29.12

Latest News Corp. Scandal Embroils Company’s Man From Scotland Yard

A former Scotland Yard commander is at the center of the latest allegations of misdeeds at News Corp. It’s not the first time that Ray Adams has come under fire.

As the scope of the hacking scandal widens, a former senior police commander employed by Rupert Murdoch is coming under increased scrutiny, and his colorful past is a walk down memory lane in some of the most memorable British crimes of the last few decades.

For six years, Ray Adams, a neat, bespectacled, and intense-looking man, headed a secretive unit of Murdoch’s media empire, engaged with “operational security.” But according to a BBC documentary this week and a cache of emails allegedly obtained during a four-year investigation and publicized by The Australian Financial Review  on Tuesday, the 69-year-old Adams may well have been engaged in something else: namely sabotaging News Corp. competitors in  satellite TV.

British police confirmed Tuesday that they are in contact with federal agents in Australia examining the charges of pay TV hacking. Curiously, early Thursday in Australia, government officials denied the British reports that it is investigating the News Corp. pay-TV operations in the U.K. Adams did not respond to requests for comment.

It is not the first time that Adams’ name has surfaced in connection with scandal.

In 1987, he was subject of an internal corruption investigation, Operation Russell, soon after he took over the Met’s Criminal Intelligence branch at the age of 45, the second youngest officer in Scotland Yard to be appointed commander. The allegations related to his time as a detective in South London and his connections with an infamous gangster, Kenneth Noye, who had killed an officer investigating the famous Brinks Mat gold-bullion robbery. Adams’s colleague, DC Alan Holmes, was found dead with gunshot wounds the day after he was interviewed by investigators about Adams and Noye.  The inquiry concluded Adams’s behavior was “highly questionable and unprofessional,” though it failed to level any charges.

However, it was the notorious Stephen Lawrence murder six years later that brought his name to the wider public. In 1993, Lawrence was stabbed to death in Eltham, a British National Party stronghold in South East London, by a gang of young men yelling racial taunts.

The police investigation, however, paid little heed to the question of a racial motive. Officers responding apparently failed to give Stephen proper medical attention, and treated his friend Dwayne Brooks as a suspect rather than a witness. Police also failed to take proper forensic evidence or interview several well-known figures in the area, although they were named by eyewitnesses as having been involved in the stabbing. 

The Stephen Lawrence case eventually developed into a cause celebre, leading to a public inquiry that found that there was a problem of “institutional racism” within the Met. Lawyers for the Lawrence family, however, suggested that police corruption had played a part: Clifford Norris, the father of one of the suspects and a well-known criminal, was also a police informant, and claimed to be a friend of Noye.

BBC journalists interviewed several witnesses who claimed that Adams distributed the hacks of rival companies to encourage piracy against News Corp.’s competitors.

During the murder investigation, Adams contacted the family of the victim through their lawyers offering to act as a liaison. The Lawrence family claimed that Adams’s connections to Noye and thereby to Clifford Norris, the father of one of the prime suspects, was a “channel of influence.”

It took 19 years to finally convict David Norris for Stephen Lawrence’s murder. He was sentenced this January.

Adams, who denied all allegations of interference with the original murder investigation, was questioned during the public inquiry, and although his testimony was accepted, the inquiry found that Adams’s involvement in the case, which was nothing to do with Criminal Intelligence, had “strange features.” Earlier this month, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, Doreen Lawrence, demanded that a public enquiry should be re-opened to look at these allegations.

In 1993, the year of the Stephen Lawrence murder, Adams was also the target of another internal anti-corruption investigation, Operation Othona, a secret four-year investigation into corruption in the Metropolitan police, which again failed to come up with any criminal charges. Adams retired soon after, citing a back problem.

Now his private sector career began. Adams was soon recruited by National Datacom Services, a News Corp. company, which provided encryption for smart-card and set-top boxes in the burgeoning world of pay-TV and satellite, and he rapidly became an expert on the problems of hacking in the industry. And from 1996, he headed Operational Intelligence in Europe, a unit which reported directly to the chairman—Murdoch.

The BBC investigative journalists interviewed Adams about his NDS work, especially regarding his approach to various computer hackers who had compromised pay-TV encryption keys and pirated the access cards. Adams claimed he used these hackers to test and improve the company’s own security. The BBC journalists, however, interviewed several witnesses who claimed that Adams distributed the hacks of rival companies to encourage piracy against News Corp.’s competitors. (In 2002, the year he left NDS, Adams was cited by plaintiffs in a billion-dollar piracy lawsuit launched by Canal Plus in California, which was eventually dropped when the company was acquired by News Corp.)

Today, Adams is retired and living in a large three-story house opposite a golf course in Windsor, the wealthy suburban town near the royal family’s historic castle and country retreat.