By a Newsnet reporter
The Herald newspaper was aware that Dr Elliot Bulmer had requested a modest payment in order to write an article on the constitution prior to it being published by the newspaper.
Newsnet Scotland can reveal that Dr Bulmer’s request for a fee was passed on to the newspaper by pro-independence campaign group Yes Scotland, but the newspaper declined.
According to a source close to the Yes campaign, the pro-independence group, independent of the Herald, then took the decision to foot the academic’s £100 fee themselves.
Details of the payment have emerged after Yes Scotland discovered one of their email accounts had been hacked and confidential data accessed. The group were alerted to the security breach after a newspaper journalist called asking questions about the payment, which Yes Scotland was happy to confirm.
However, following the conversationfurther inquiries were made by Yes Scotlandand it was then it became clear that the information could only have come from an email account. A subsequent investigation by communications firm BT revealed that the Yes Scotland email account had been accessed several times from a number of locations.
Digital Forensic Officers from Police Scotland are now carrying out their own investigation into the allegations.
Newsnet Scotland can also reveal that the journalist who initially contacted Yes Scotland was himself warned that the information he possessed may have been acquired illegally. Despite refusing to reveal where he had obtained the information, he informed Yes Scotland that his paper had dropped the story.
Yes Scotland issued a statement yesterday which confirmed it had commissioned an article from Dr Bulmer. The academic is an expert on constitutional law and has written extensively on the subject.
The statement said: “This matter was first brought to our attention last Wednesday when we were asked for comment on Dr Bulmer and the article in question.
“We responded quickly, confirming that a small fee had been paid to Dr Bulmer at his request. We were perfectly relaxed and transparent about this.”
Despite confirmation yesterday that the email account had been hacked, rival organisation Better Together failed to issue any statement of condemnation. Instead the anti-independence group criticised the decision by Yes Scotland to pay Dr Bulmer, describing it as an attempt to “deceive the people of Scotland”.
The Scottish Labour party has similarly refused to condemn the illegal hacking of the private email account and has responded to the revelations by suggesting the decision to commission and pay for the article was dishonest.
In a statement issued yesterday, Scottish Labour attacked Yes Scotland chief Blair Jenkins: “Blair Jenkins has called for an honest debate, yet his organisation appears to be guilty of deep dishonesty and deception. Perhaps one way of ensuring an honest debate would be if Blair Jenkins stepped down and removed himself from it.”
The allegations of illegal hacking follow the recent phone hacking scandal that revealed the phone of murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler had been hacked. It also emerged that some newspapers had been involved in the illegal hacking of phones belonging to the families of dead soldiers.
Last week Scotland Yard arrested 20 people and seized over a hundred computers as part of Operation Tuleta which was set up in 2011 following allegations that the now defunct News of the World was involved in computer hacking.
Anyone convicted of illegally hacking into a computer can face a custodial sentence.