Former counter-terrorism chief John Yates says Virgin ‘highly likely’ to have been source of information published by Mail on Sunday
Britain’s former head of counter-terrorism says he believes his personal data was leaked from within Virgin airlines, in a potential breach of national security.
John Yates told the Guardian that details about his flights and airmiles, which formed the basis of a Mail on Sunday article in September 2010, were “highly likely” to have involved leaks from within the airline.
Last week the Guardian revealed that details of the flights of celebrities were leaked to a paparazzi agency, and that a Virgin airlines employee had resigned.
Yates told the Guardian: “It seems highly likely that the story in the MoS was based upon leaked data from Virgin Atlantic.”
The former counter-terrorism chief said he had instructed his lawyers to press Virgin Atlantic for answers.
The Mail on Sunday denies that the story resulted from a leak from Virgin Atlantic, with a spokesperson saying it had come from a “police source” and was in the public interest.
Although Yates’s allegations have not been independently verified, they add a level of seriousness to the scandal because he believes the leak of his and his family’s data came at a time when he was serving at Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism.
At the time senior police officers travelling in an official capacity were entitled to business class travel.
The story, published in September 2010, said that Yates had used airmiles clocked up during official business to cut the cost of travel for family members. The paper said up to 10 flights had been subsidised this way. An inquiry cleared Yates of wrongdoing.
While details of Yates’s business trips were available to the pubic, only a handful of people, including his family members, would have known about the trips taken by his children and wife.
Yates was a member of a privileged Virgin programme, “u” or “unique” class, for regular business and Upper Class service passengers who held the airline’s gold card.
Virgin were also the Met’s preferred airline for several years after fighting hard to win their business.
Virgin Atlantic is under mounting pressure to answer accusations that a senior employee passed private flight details for almost 70 celebrities – including Princess Beatrice and Madonna’s children – to a global paparazzi agency.
Yates resigned from the Met over the phone-hacking scandal in July 2011. He had insisted there was no need to reopen the Scotland Yard inquiry into the hacking of private voicemails by the News of the World.
He said he accepts that some will see an irony in him now complaining that his own privacy and that of his family was violated by a leak of personal data.
Yates explained why it was a serious issue: “This story was published at an extremely sensitive time in both my personal and professional life. As it transpires, the allegations contained in the article were without foundation.
“After an inquiry I was cleared of any wrongdoing and the policy on using airmiles for private use amended to permit such use. However, as the then UK lead for counter-terrorism I was very concerned that sensitive personal details about myself and my family had found their way into the media.”
Yates apologised after the newspaper article to the home secretary, the mayor of London and senior Yard colleagues.
Yates added: “The article in question caused great distress to my family and was also very damaging to my professional reputation. I intend to instruct lawyers in order to investigate matters further.”
A spokesman for the Mail on Sunday said: “The Mail on Sunday stands by its story which revealed how John Yates, then assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, used business airmiles for his family, contrary to the Metropolitan police’s regulations.
“This was confirmed at the time by the Metropolitan police’s press spokesman. No part of the story published by The Mail on Sunday was based on information from Virgin Atlantic. It came from police sources and was both accurate and in the public interest.”
After the first revelations last week, Virgin said: “The allegations that have been raised are extremely serious and we have launched an immediate investigation.
“The security of customer information is our highest priority and we have robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected.”
Virgin declined, however, to comment on Yates’s specific allegations.