UK

Police expected to quiz Coulson over phone-hack claims

  • 7 September 2010
  • From the section UK
Media captionAssistant Commissioner John Yates says he would like to question Andy Coulson

The police are likely to discuss new phone-hacking allegations with No 10 communications chief Andy Coulson.

Met Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates said he expected the former editor of the News of the World, who denies the claims, would be questioned.

He told MPs that of the 91 to 120 people who might have been targeted, only 10 to 12 cases could be proven.

After his evidence, the MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee launched a new inquiry into phone-hacking laws.

The BBC understands the committee agreed to carry out an investigation into phone hacking that would be pursued in writing only, rather than deciding on an investigation that would call witnesses to give evidence in public.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "The evidence of Assistant Commissioner John Yates 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.

"I hope this inquiry will clarify all these important areas."

'Dangerous assumption'

The new phone-hacking row engulfing Mr Coulson comes after former NotW reporter Sean Hoare alleged that, as editor, he asked him to hack phones. His claims are also denied by News International, which owns the NotW.

Mr Hoare and other former journalists told the New York Times the practice of phone hacking was far more extensive than the newspaper acknowledged when police first investigated the case.

Mr Yates told the committee the police would be speaking to Mr Hoare "in the near future".

And when asked about Mr Coulson, he replied: "I imagine we will be seeing Mr Coulson in some capacity."

Mr Yates has already said the Met was considering the new material and would consult with prosecutors whether to reopen its investigation into the NotW.

'Extremely evasive'

The assistant commissioner told the committee the New York Times was "not prepared to help" by passing over their evidence, but the Met had written again asking them to waive their "journalistic privilege".

Image caption Andy Coulson has told the Metropolitan Police he is happy to meet them voluntarily

The police have been criticised for failing to inform those people whose voicemail Pin numbers were discovered during the initial investigation, which saw a NotW journalist and a private investigator jailed.

Mr Yates was reluctant to discuss who was on the list but said the former Deputy PM Lord Prescott, who believes he was targeted, was not one of them.

The police found evidence of crimes being committed in no more than 12 cases, he said, and those people had been contacted by officers or mobile phone service providers.

Mr Yates warned MPs it was a "dangerous assumption" to believe individuals named on the list were victims of eavesdropping.

Phone hacking was very narrowly defined in legislation and "very, very difficult to prove", he said, adding that obtaining a Pin number without the owner's permission was not in itself a crime.

Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman has written to Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson asking him to alert any of the party's MPs "if their name, phone number or Pin number" appeared on the list.

The former Labour minister Chris Bryant, who believes his messages might have been hacked, said Mr Yates was "extremely evasive" before the select committee and the police had not "gone far enough".

Police decision

The first police investigation led to the NotW's royal editor, Clive Goodman, being jailed in 2007 for conspiracy to access phone messages left for royal aides.

Goodman, along private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed for six months for the same charge, used mobile phone numbers and secret codes used by network operators to hack into the voicemails to see if there was any information of interest.

Last year, the Guardian newspaper claimed NofW journalists were involved in widespread phone hacking of several thousand celebrities, sports stars and politicians.

On Monday, Labour MPs demanded that the police reopen the investigation.

But Home Secretary Theresa May said it was for the police to make the decision.

Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson told the Commons Mr Coulson's position was now "untenable".

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

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