Cleveland's police force has admitted unlawfully accessing the private phone records of a criminal defence solicitor as well as those of journalists and former officers in the force.

Cleveland Police told an Investigatory Powers Tribunal that it used anti-terror powers as part of an investigation into the alleged leaking of confidential information to newspapers in 2012.

The solicitor involved has been named as Alan Samuels of Slater and Gordon in Newcastle. His mobile phone records were intercepted, the tribunal heard. Samuels was unable to comment when approached by the Gazette

Two former officers with the force, Mark Dias and Steve Matthews, also had their phones accessed. However the force, which used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, claimed its actions were justified.

The force’s investigation attempted to locate the source of newspaper stories that related to an internal grievance inquiry, an internal racism report and information about a murder investigation.

The decision over whether the force’s techniques were lawful will be made in the new year, but according to the BBC, Mr Justice Burton said it was clear what his decision would be and that the force should start thinking about compensation.