Thursday, July 09, 2009

Police to probe phone hack claims!

(Clockwise from top left) John Prescott, Boris Johnson, Tessa Jowell and Gwyneth Paltrow
"Thousands" of celebrities and politicians were allegedly targeted

The police are to examine claims that a huge mobile phone hacking operation was launched by the News of the World, targeting thousands of people.

The Guardian says the paper's reporters paid private investigators to hack into phones, many of them owned by politicians and celebrities.

It is alleged details were suppressed by the police and the High Court.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has ordered a senior officer to "establish the facts".

Sir Paul said Met Assistant Commissioner John Yates would "look into that detail and I would anticipate making a statement later today perhaps".

Shortly afterwards, Home Office Minister David Hanson told MPs "serious allegations" had been made and that Home Secretary Alan Johnson had spoken to the Met Commissioner.

He added: "They deserve an examination. The Metropolitan Police this afternoon will be examining those allegations. I will report back to the House in due course."

MPs on the House of Commons culture and media committee have also pledged to reopen their investigation into phone hacking.

MPs to re-open hacking inquiry

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who now works as director of communications for the Conservative party, was likely to be summoned to give evidence.

The Guardian alleges former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, London Mayor Boris Johnson, former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and actress Gwyneth Paltrow were among "two or three thousand" public figures targeted by the hacking operation.

But the paper says details about how widespread the operation was were suppressed by the police and the High Court.

However, the Information Commissioner's office said it had already published evidence that 31 journalists working for the News of the World and the Sun had acquired people's personal information through "blagging".

ANALYSIS
Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson,
BBC political editor

It is now clear that phone hacking at the News of the World was much more widespread than previously thought; that it targeted senior ministers not just celebrities and that, if the Guardian is correct, at least one of the paper's executives knew about it.

This is leading to calls - not just from Labour politicians - for Andy Coulson to answer questions about what he knew and to questions about whether he should be at David Cameron's side.

That is why I am sure that David Cameron is anything but "relaxed", as was claimed last night.

Coulson has already broken rule one for any spin doctor - "Never become the story". He's good enough at his job to know that this story will soon become one about David Cameron's judgement.

The details obtained by the Guardian allegedly emerged during a court case involving Professional Footballers' Association head, Gordon Taylor, and the News of the World.

Mr Taylor sued News Group, which owns the News of the World, on the basis that its senior executives must have known about an alleged hacking operation on his mobile phone - claims of which had emerged in a court case involving the paper's royal editor.

He received £700,000 in damages and court costs last year, but on condition that details of the case were not made public.

News International, the parent company for News Group, said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the Guardian's allegations.

But pressure is mounting on the company after Business Secretary Peter Mandelson called for a new police investigation.

Lord Mandelson also called on Mr Coulson to give a "full and open explanation" of his role in the affair.

Mr Prescott said while Mr Coulson needed to answer allegations, "many many" other questions also needed to be answered.

He said: "First of all, those of us that had our phones tapped and the police were aware of it - why were we not told? Why were they [the News of the World] not prosecuted?

"Why was a separate deal done in the court and then put away, and not made available to us? To the legal authorities [I would ask] why did you do this?

Andy Coulson

He said News Group newspaper executives had previously convinced MPs that News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman, who was jailed for hacking into mobile phones, was a "one-off" example of a "rogue" reporter.

"That was clearly untrue if these allegations are to be believed," Mr Prescott said.

He said the committee and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which both investigated the Goodman case and found no evidence of a wider hacking operation, should reopen their inquiries.

In a statement the PCC said it had previously made it clear that there were "outstanding questions" about the case it had investigated.

"Any suggestion that further transgressions have occurred since... 2007 will be investigated without delay," it added.

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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