A fresh probe has been launched into allegations that prominent public figures had their phones hacked by News of the World journalists.
The pressure on key Number 10 aide Andy Coulson mounted again yesterday when the Home Affairs Select Committee launched a fresh inquiry into allegations that News of the World reporters hacked into public figures’ phones while he was editor.
The inquiry has been launched in response to new evidence from Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates, whose evidence raised questions about the law.
The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chair Keith Vaz said: “The evidence of Assistant Commissioner John Yates today raised a number questions of importance about the law on phone-hacking, the way the police deal with such breaches of the law and the manner in which victims are informed of those breaches,” he said.
“I hope that this inquiry will clarify all these important areas.”
Mr Yates had earlier told MPs he expected to discuss renewed phone-hacking claims by journalists working for the News of the World with Downing Street’s communications director Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor.
Mr Yates said detectives also hope to question former reporter Sean Hoare, who told the New York Times last week that eavesdropping on mobile phone voicemail messages was widespread when Mr Coulson was editor.
“We have always said we would consider new material,” he said.
“In terms of Sean Hoare, that is new material and of course we will be seeing him at some stage in the near future.
“We will consider what he has to say and then consider the necessity of speaking to Mr Coulson, but at some stage I think we will be seeing Mr Coulson.”
Decision keeps pressure on Andy Coulson
If the police start looking into allegations of widespread, endemic phone hacking at the News of the World, something they didn't do in 2006, the pressure for Andy Coulson to stand aside during a revived full-scale investigation could be hard to resist, writes political editor Gary Gibbon.
Mr Coulson's political enemies were refused a Privileges Committee investigation yesterday but got a Home Affairs Select Committee investigation into phone hacking...and "Police to quiz top Cameron aide" headlines (Yates said he'd probably be chatting to Coulson in some capacity) so in a slight news vacuum the story is guaranteed another appearance in the papers.
Mr Coulson’s spokesman said earlier this week he would be happy to talk to police over the allegations, which he denies.
Mr Yates said detectives had written to the New York Times asking them to reconsider their refusal to co-operate with any new inquiry into the claims. However he was “not hopeful”.
He also told the MPs there were between 91 to 120 people – believed to include politicians and celebrities – who may have been targeted but they could only prove 10 to 12 cases.
In 2007, News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed after being convicted of illegally intercepting the voicemail messages of staff working for Princes William and Harry.
Mr Yates told the MPs he believed the initial police inquiry had been a “success”.
“You may not believe it but I still think the investigation was a success, and if HMI (the Inspector of Constabulary) wants to come and have a look at it, I wouldn’t have a problem at all,” he said.
Last year, the Guardian newspaper claimed News of the World journalists were involved in widespread phone hacking of several thousand celebrities, sports stars and politicians.
Labour MPs have called for a new investigation into the claims, although the home secretary Theresa May said earlier this week that would be a decision for the police.
Mr Yates told MPs his belief was that former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott’s mobile phone had not been hacked into, and said there was no evidence that any MP’s phone had been tapped.
It was a “dangerous assumption” to believe that any particular individual named on lists seized during the police investigation was necessarily the victim of eavesdropping, he warned MPs.
However he promised to speak to the Labour MP Chris Bryant, who told Channel 4 News earlier that his phone had allegedly been targeted.
But Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, showed Channel 4 News a letter which he said was evidence that the jailed News of The World investigator Glen Mulcaire had been hired to hack his phone.
The letter said the Metropolitan Police had a document from News International to Glen Mulcaire’s company showing a payment of £250 made on 7 May 2006, the date it was revealed Lord Prescott had had an affair – along with the mysterious words “other Prescott assist.”
Lord Prescott said the letter highlighted differences in what the police had said about his case.
“My argument is basically, what I tried to get from Mr Yates [the fact that Lord Prescott’s name is on the list of people whose phones may have been hacked], and that all he would say is ‘no, you’re not on that list.’
“I write to the legal section of the Metropolitan Police and say ‘Can you tell me if there is any information on me?’. So they write and say there were two £250 payments for information.
“[On Friday] Channel 4 News reports all there is a piece of paper with JP on it – and that’s all, but a telephone number. Is that a new piece of information? My complaint is there is not a proper investigation to find out what that information was and where it came from.
“I found out my name from the Guardian. It took the New York Times actually to expose this story – things that should have come from the investigation conducted by the police…I want the information. I want to know whether I’ve actually been hacked into and I need an investigation for it.
“I’m now going for judicial review except by 10 September they will give a further response having this information. Failing that, I’ll go into a judicial review.”