5 Apr 2011

Phone hacking: two News of the World journalists arrested

Police investigating claims that the News of the World hacked into people’s mobile phones arrest the paper’s former head of news and its current chief reporter, as Carl Dinnen reports.

Phone hacking arrests: two men held

Ian Edmondson and Neville Thurlbeck both voluntarily presented themselves to police stations this morning, where they were arrested over suspicion of “conspiring to intercept communications” and “unlawfully intercepting voicemail messages” while working at the News of the World.

The two men were later released on bail to return in September. After the arrests police were seen searching Edmondson’s home.

The News of the World sacked Ian Edmondson from his job in January, days after evidence appeared linking him to phone hacking claims.

News International has consistently reiterated that it will not tolerate wrong-doing. News International statement

News International reacted to the news of the arrests today saying they will not tolerate any “wrong-doing”. They said in a statement: “In January, News International voluntarily approached the Met Police and provided information that led to the opening of the current police investigation.

“News International terminated the employment of the assistant editor (news) of the News of the World at the same time. News International has consistently reiterated that it will not tolerate wrong-doing and is committed to acting on evidence.

“We continue to co-operate fully with the ongoing police investigation.”

Neville Thurlbeck’s name arose in 2009, when a Guardian journalist gave evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee investigating the phone hacking claims, alleging that Thurlbeck received transcripts of intercepted phone messages.

Fresh investigation

The two arrests are the first since the Metropolitan Police re-opened the inquiry, now called Operation Weeting, into the claims that staff at the News of the World hacked voicemail message of celebrities and politicians alike.

The fresh investigation was launched after police said they received “significant new information” from the News of the World in January this year.

The previous investigation saw the conviction of the News of the World Royal Editor, Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2007 over the hacking of Prince William’s mobile phone. Goodman pleaded guilty and apologised in court to Princes William, Harry and Charles.

The Editor of the paper at that time was Andy Coulson, who was forced to quit his role as communications chief for David Cameron shortly before the inquiry was re-opened in January this year.

He said that “continued coverage of events connected to my old job at the News of the World” made it difficult for him to stay on and that “when the spokesman needs a spokesman” it is time to go.

Mr Coulson issued a statement confirming his resignation, in which he reiterated his innocence at the allegations made against him.

David Cameron also defended Mr Coulson saying “There was no evidence that Andy Coulson knew about phone hacking and that remains the assurance he has given.”

The arrests come on the day that one celebrity, Sienna Miller – who claims her phone was hacked – won a court ruling ordering Vodafone to disclose data relating to other users.

Legal advice ‘did not limit’ police investigation into phone hacking

In evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committe, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC denied claims that legal advice had limited the number of successful prosecutions the police could achieve over phone hacking.

Previously John Yates, acting Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who took over the phone hacking inquiry after Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, had told the committee that there were only a small number of people whose phones they could prove to have been hacked.

Yates said that the police came to this conclusion based on legal advice saying the police would have to prove messages were intercepted and listened to before those messages were heard by the person for whom they were intended.

Yates said: “The prosecution had to show that a voicemail had been intercepted prior to it being listened to by the intended recipient. On this basis, I advised that there may in fact only have been 10 to 12 victims against whom we could actually prove an offence.

Previously at another hearing he used the analogy of “the envelope and the opened letter” saying: “It is not an offence to read the opened letter, but it is an offence to open the letter and read it.”

Mr Starmer however insisted today that the legal advice given by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) “did not limit the scope of the criminal investigation” and argued that CPS had assured the police that under the Computer Misuse Act that the issue of when a messaged was intercepted “would not present a difficulty”.

He said: “From the outset, the CPS also gave the Metropolitan Police advice about the Computer Misuse Act offence in respect of which the issue of when a message was listened (to) did not present a difficulty.

“Furthermore, from a relatively early stage of the investigation, the head of the SCD also gave advice that conspiracy to commit offences both under Ripa and Computer Misuse Act might be a possibility.

“Again that would not necessarily require the prosecution to prove that a message had been listened to before it was accessed by the intended recipient.”