11 Sep 2010

Phone-hacking claims: Livingstone to contact police

Former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is to contact police to ask whether his phone was hacked be journalists, after Channel 4 News learns he was a victim of a “blag” by a private investigator.

Ken Livingstone said he would be writing to the Metropolitan Police next week to ask them whether his details appear on a list of names which belonged to a private investigator jailed for phone-hacking three years ago. In 2007, private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and ex-News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman were jailed for intercepting voicemail messages left for public figures.

Questions have been raised over the criteria police used to deal with the thousands of names on the list who may have been victims of criminal activity.

A number of figures, including MP Chris Bryant and former Scotland Yard deputy commissioner, Brian Paddick, have expressed outrage after they only found that their details were held by Mr Mulcaire after contacting police.

Mr Livingstone decided to approach Scotland Yard after recently finding out he had been victim of a “blag” by private investigator Steve Whittamore, who was convicted in 2005. “Blagging” – pretending to be someone you are not in order to obtain information you are not entitled to – is a criminal offense unless it is justified in the public interest.

Mr Livingstone’s private details were illegally obtained by Mr Whittamore, or someone working with him, and then sold on to a News International title.

Tom Watson, a Labour member of the culture committee, told Channel 4 News a number of MPs are seeking information about whether their details were ever involved in lists held by the private investigators. A “huge number of names” are held by the information commissioner, he said.

“Since the revelations in parliament this week a number of other people have been asking whether their names appear on not just the Mulcaire list, but on the Steve Whittamore list,” Mr Watson told Channel 4 News.

“I’ve been shown a copy of [the Whittamore] list and I confirm that Ken Livingstone was on it.

“[The list] says that Steve Whittamore conducted a “blag” on behalf of one of the News International newspapers to obtain information on Ken Livingstone.”

The former London mayor said today he would be writing to police to ask whether his details are uncovered though any other illicit activity.

Ken Livingstone said: “It is a cause of great concern to me that I appear to have been the subject of a “blag” in the Whittamore-News International activities – not least because it then inevitably raises the question of whether I was similarly targeted by News of the World as part of the Glenn Mulcaire-Clive Goodman case. I am considering my options in the light of this.”

MPs ‘backed off’ over phone-hacking probe
Earlier this week MPs voted to refer fresh phone-hacking allegations to parliament’s standards watchdog.

Rupert Murdoch’s News International – which owns the News of the World – insists the 2007 case was isolated. A row has since ignited after a former reporter claims that the paper’s former editor Andy Coulson – currently David Cameron’s communications chief – was aware such eavesdropping was happening.

Mr Coulson has repeatedly denied the allegations and Downing Street insists he retains the prime minister’s confidence.

Channel 4 News exclusively learned that members of the original committee set up to investigate the phone-hacking scandal shied away from forcing News International chief executive and former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks to attend a meeting with them.

After Mrs Brooks had repeatedly avoided being interviewed, four MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport committee wanted to ask the Serjeant at Arms, the Commons official in charge of security, to issue a warrant forcing her to attend.

In an exclusive interview, former Plaid Cymru MP, and a member of the committee, Adam Price said he was warned by a senior Conservative committee member that if the committee pursued this plan, the tabloids might punish him by looking into his personal life.

“We could have used the nuclear option. We decided not to, I think to some extent because of what I was told at the time by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I know was in direct contact with NI execs, that if we went for her, called her back, subpoenaed her, they would go for us – which meant effectively that they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish them and I think that’s part of the reason we didn’t do it. In retrospect I think that’s regrettable,” Mr Price said.

“It’s important now that the new inquiry stands firm where we didn’t. Politicians aren’t above the law but neither are journalists including Rupert Murdoch’s bovver boys with biros.”