Labour MPs call for phone hacking probe

Theresa May: "If there is fresh evidence they [Met Police] will consider it"

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Labour MPs have demanded the police reopen the investigation into alleged phone-hacking of prominent figures by News of the World reporters.

Home Secretary Theresa May told a heated urgent session in Parliament it was for police to take the decision.

The Metropolitan Police has said new material on hacking had emerged that would be considered by officers.

The News of the World has rejected "any suggestion of a widespread culture of wrongdoing" at the paper.

The allegations resurfaced last week, when Sean Hoare and other former journalists on the paper told the New York Times that the practice of phone hacking was far more extensive than the newspaper acknowledged when police first investigated the case.

Mr Hoare alleged that the former editor of the the paper, and current Number 10 communications chief, Andy Coulson asked him personally to hack into phones - something Mr Coulson has denied.

In the House of Commons on Monday, Labour MP Tom Watson asked Ms May an emergency question about the allegations.

Andy Coulson

Start Quote

If they conclude that there is little new - in terms of evidence rather than journalism - in what the New York Times reported then Coulson can breathe a sigh of relief.”

End Quote Nick Robinson BBC Political Editor

She told the House of Commons the allegations of phone-hacking had been investigated thoroughly before by different parties but this particular case was still a police "operational matter" and the government would wait for the police before making its decision.

She added: "The Metropolitan Police have made it clear if there is fresh evidence, then they will consider it.

But Mr Watson responded: "The integrity of our democracy is under scrutiny around the world and the home secretary must not make it a laughing stock".

Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the actions of the Metropolitan Police Service had to be subjected to greater scrutiny in light of the New York Times allegations.

He asked how many people who may have been affected by phone-hacking were informed. And he sought assurances Mr Coulson would not be involved in "any way" in the government's response to the latest allegations.

"When I was home secretary dealing with this case there was nobody anywhere in government who was implicated. Now there is," he said.

But Mrs May replied: "You did look at this issue last year, you looked at what had happened and the way it had been handled, and you said that you were reassured."

Mr Coulson, who has the support of Downing Street, has said he was "happy to voluntarily meet" police over the claims.

Chris Bryant and Kelvin MacKenzie spar over tabloid phone hacking allegations

But Mr Johnson told the Commons Mr Coulson's position was now "untenable".

Earlier he had suggested there could be an investigation by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary or a judicial review.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the culture, media and select committee said the panel had found "no evidence" that Mr Coulson knew of the phone-tapping, although it was "difficult to believe" that Goodman was the only one who had been involved.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who was among those affected, urged Mrs May to contact Scotland Yard again as there could be many other MPs affected.

He said he told the Metropolitan Police months ago his phone had been "interfered with" but they had "done nothing about it".

In a statement responding to the latest allegations, the News of the World said: "[We] repeatedly asked the New York Times to provide evidence to support their allegations and they were unable to do so."

The News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, was jailed for conspiracy to access phone messages in 2007, along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, but the paper has insisted that this was an isolated case.

The House of Commons Culture and Media Committee criticised the conduct of the News of the World's journalists but found no evidence that Mr Coulson either approved phone-hacking by his paper, or was aware it was taking place.

And in 2009, the Met chose not to launch an investigation following the Guardian's claims that News of the World journalists were involved in widespread phone hacking of several thousand celebrities, sports stars and politicians.

Mr Hoare told the New York Times he was fired from the News of the World during a period when he was struggling with drink and drugs.

Lawyer Charlotte Harris told the BBC she had several clients working in the political, sporting and entertainment industry who were suing the News of the World who just wanted to know if their privacy had been infringed.

Former Met Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman told the BBC the "fresh revelations" were interesting and should be reexamined.

Mr Hayman, who oversaw the original investigation, also denied there had been anything "improper" about his decision to write columns for News International - which owns the News of the World - after he retired from the Met.

The BBC's deputy political editor James Landale said this was the last sort of distraction David Cameron needed upon his return from leave.

But, he said, Labour MPs are determined to keep asking questions about the case.

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