In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

The Met’s News of the World phone-hacking investigation is itself a scandal

Posted by seumasach on January 6, 2011

Chris bryant


6th January, 2011

Last month, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service announcedthat they were dropping their investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World when Andy Coulson was its editor on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support charges. Yesterday, we learned that an assistant editor working under Coulson has been suspended following the emergence of evidence that appears to link him to the activities of Glenn Mulcaire. With new evidence added to the pile of unexplored leads on a daily basis, how can the Metropolitan police possibly argue that they have exhausted all of the evidence available?


Let’s look at what we know. In its investigation into the hacking of the royal princes’ phones, the Met garnered from the disgraced private investigator Mulcaire a cornucopia of information, including a large number of pin numbers, notebooks with details of celebrities’ and politicians’ private addresses, phone numbers and connections. In some instances there were transcripts of intercepted phone messages. So far the Met has only notified a tiny handful of those implicated.


In response, the News of the World have put up two defences: first, that this was an isolated incident because Mulcaire, working with the paper’s then royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, had gone rogue; and second, that Coulson knew nothing. By suspending Ian Edmondson as assistant editor, the NoW must now surely admit what most have suspected from the start: that the culture of phone hacking goes far deeper than one rotten apple. As for the second defence, it is virtually inconceivable that Coulson knew nothing. Indeed I don’t know a single journalist who believes it. They all rightly point out that any editor presented with a major story by one of his journalists wants to know its precise provenance. Edmondson’s complicity, if proved, would bring these practices one step closer to the then editor’s door. To be fair, Coulson maintains, including on oath, that he knew nothing, which would make him at best a negligent and incompetent dupe.


But there are far bigger issues at stake here. We know that in the material held by the Met are details of literally thousands of other people who were, in the Met’s own words, “people of interest to Mr Mulcaire”. I happen to be one of them, but I only know that because I happened to ask the Met, who are still refusing point blank to give me all the material they hold, or to contact the many thousands of others affected. Other targets have had to take legal action to get hold of material relating to them and have found the names of senior journalists written in the corners of Mulcaire’s notebooks. There may be other pages with other senior journalists named that the Met has failed to disclose. It is clear that any investigations they have conducted have been cursory.


Even more important is the culture of complicity. Back in 2003 the then editor of the Sun, Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) admitted to the commons culture select committee that she had paid police officers for information. There has still been no investigation into such police payments. And Andy Hayman, the officer who once ran the Met investigation, now writes for the Murdoch press. All of which casts a pall over the Met’s reputation for impartiality and independence.


Evidence is mounting that the one convicted case of a dodgy private investigator being used to track down stories illegally is a far from isolated case. Nor is it just a matter of murky Murdoch practices. We know that the account of the extent of the Mulcaire/News of the World case by the Press Complaints Commission has been profoundly misleading. Indeed, its chair, Baroness Buscombe, has had to apologise in the high court for suggesting that it was untrue that a police officer had said that there were 6,000 victims. Considering the declared desire of the PCC to put a stop to this kind of illegal activity across the industry, it is extraordinary that she is still in the post.


The time for a proper inquiry into the Met’s investigation by another police force is long overdue. All evidence points to this going far deeper than the Met are willing to credit, and so it is time for a fresh pair of eyes. Otherwise we shall never get to the bottom of what really happened at the News of the World. With the present culture of impunity the worst of the dark arts will continue to besmirch the fine tradition of the free press.


• This article was amended at 18:25 on 6 January 2011. It originally stated that the Metropolitan police and the Crown Prosecution Service were dropping any further investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World when Andy Coulson was its editor. In fact, the CPS has said: “It is possible that further allegations will be made and the CPS remains willing to consider any evidence submitted to us by the police”. It is only the current investigation that has been dropped. This has now been corrected.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: