Phone-hacking police round on News International

Peter Clarke says that News International "deliberately tried to thwart a criminal investigation"

News International tried to "thwart" the original inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, senior Met police officers have told MPs.

Ex-Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said there was "prevarication and what we now know to be lies".

Assistant Commissioner John Yates said the firm "appears to have failed to co-operate" during his review of the case.

Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz said Mr Yates's evidence was "unconvincing".

Current Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, who was seen emerging from 10 Downing Street on Tuesday evening, said Mr Yates had his "full support and confidence".

A police investigation began in 2005 triggered by stories in the News of the World (NoW) about Prince William's health.

News International closed the paper last week amid continued outrage over reports of hacking including revelations that the mobile phones of murder victim Milly Dowler and relatives of dead soldiers had been accessed.

In his evidence to the committee, Mr Clarke said: "We pursued it as far as we could through the correspondence with the News of the World lawyers."

But he added: "This is a major global organisation with access to the best legal advice, in my view deliberately trying to thwart a police investigation."

In other developments:

  • News International (NI) denied that the Sun accessed the medical records of former prime minister Gordon Brown's son Fraser, explaining a 2006 story about him having cystic fibrosis "originated from a member of the public". Another NI paper, the Sunday Times, denied it broke any laws when investigating the purchase of a flat by Mr Brown
  • Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who is leading a new investigation into phone hacking, revealed to the committee that only 170 out of more than 4,000 potential victims whose details were stored by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had been contacted by police
  • Labour leader Ed Miliband met David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg to discuss the fall-out of the scandal
  • MPs will vote on Wednesday on a Labour motion urging News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch to withdraw his bid for BSkyB - and the government said it would back the call
  • News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, its chairman James Murdoch and News International's chief executive Rebekah Brooks have been invited to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee next Tuesday
  • Mr Miliband had a meeting with the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was allegedly hacked, and told them his "heart goes out" to them
  • The final edition of the News of the World on Sunday sold 3.8 million copies, 1.1 million more than the previous week
  • The websites TheSunOnSunday.co.uk and SunOnSunday.co.uk are transferred to News International amid speculation a seven-day edition of the Sun is being planned
  • News International said it would offer new positions to the "vast majority" of former News of the World staff

Mr Clarke told MPs his remit during the initial investigation was strictly to look into who had been hacking into the phones of members of the royal household.

Analysis

This was three hours of theatre that ranged from drama, when John Yates was asked whether he should resign, to pantomime, as Andy Hayman was offered a piece of paper in order to eat his words.

But the most telling contribution came from Sir Ian, now Lord, Blair, who said the first phone hacking inquiry, under his watch as commissioner, was a "tiny fragmentary event... not seen as particularly significant".

That told you more about why those 11,000 pages of material weren't "exhaustively" examined than any of the other evidence. Tackling phone hacking, intrusion into people's privacy, just wasn't as important to the Met as stopping terrorist attacks.

The scale of the investigation now - almost 4,000 names and 9,000 phone numbers to trawl through - illustrates why detectives feared in 2006 they'd become so bogged down that other duties would be neglected.

Only the "most important" victims of phone hacking had been told about it, he said.

He said he had to weigh up a breach of privacy investigation with counter-terrorism investigations, and an exhaustive analysis of the evidence at hand may or may not have made any difference at all.

"If at any time News International had offered some meaningful co-operation instead of prevarication and what we now know to be lies, we would not be here today," he said.

In 2007, a reporter and private investigator working for the paper were jailed for phone hacking.

It was reported that the pair were considered to have been acting alone and the investigation led by former Met Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman ended.

Mr Hayman told the committee: "At the time everything possible that they were able to do, given the resources and the parameters they set, was done and I stand by that...

"What we look like now, it's very lame. I think what's happened is I think we've had more time to do it, more revelations have come out, the News of the World have given us material that we didn't have at the time."

Mr Hayman later went on to become a columnist with News International title the Times but rejected suggestions he was in the newspaper group's "back pocket".

In 2009, Assistant Commissioner Yates oversaw a review of the investigation after allegations appeared in the Guardian that NoW reporters had paid private investigators to hack into thousands of phones, many owned by politicians and celebrities.

At the hearing, he admitted it was a "poor" decision not to reopen the inquiry and he regretted not doing enough to protect victims.

But he said: "It is a matter of great concern that, for whatever reason, the News of the World appears to have failed to co-operate in the way that we now know they should have with relevant police inquiries up until January this year.

Key moments from the Home Affairs Select Committee session

"They have only recently supplied information and evidence that would have had a significant impact on the decisions that I took in 2009 had it been provided to us then."

He said he would not resign over criticisms of his actions, and told MPs he had not been under pressure from the NoW over issues in his private life.

Mr Yates also said he was 99% certain his own mobile was hacked between 2005 and 2006.

In a statement, the Met Commissioner said Mr Yates should be given "credit for his courage and humility in acknowledging that if he knew then what he knows now, he would have taken different decisions".

He added he hoped Mr Clarke's evidence "helps to inform the public debate and the reasons that the original inquiry operated as it did".

One of the members of the committee, Labour's David Winnick, said the hearing confirmed the initial police investigation into phone hacking was "totally inadequate".

Other MPs not on the committee but who listened to the evidence, were also critical of what they heard.

Giving evidence

  • Lord Blair: Met Police Commissioner at the time of the original inquiry
  • Met assistant commissioner John Yates: In 2009 he oversaw a review of the inquiry but ruled out reopening it
  • Former deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke: One of the senior officers who first investigated NoW hacking claims
  • Former Met assistant commissioner Andy Hayman: Oversaw the 2006 investigation
  • Deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers: The officer in charge of the current investigation

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who suspects his phone was hacked, said: "Nearly everything that we have heard in the last few weeks was in the papers that the police gathered in 2006 if they had chosen even to read it. All we learned today is, they didn't even bother to read most of it."

And former shadow home secretary David Davies said: "There was incompetence in the handling, there was complacency over the issue."

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Akers confirmed to the committee that the material gathered by police contains 3,870 first and second names. There are 5,000 landline phone numbers and 4,000 mobile phone numbers.

She said senior management at News International were now co-operating with her inquiry.

"I held a meeting at which for the first time two News International executives attended to debate our very different interpretations of the expression full co-operation and subsequent to that meeting I can say that relationships have been much better," she said.

The committee hearing opened with questions to former Met Police Commissioner Lord Ian Blair about claims police officers had been paid for information by the News of the World.

He said he strongly suspected corruption in the force, but knew of no payments made to police officers.

Lord Blair was also asked about the decision not to reopen the inquiry in 2009.

He said: "If material was available at the time that showed 'industrial level hacking' it would have been appropriate to have gone further.

"I didn't know and I wouldn't have expected it to have been known further up the organisation."

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