Commons to study phone tap claims

Author: Press Association

The Tory MP John Whittingdale also indicated he would recommend the culture,
media and sport committee reopen an inquiry into the issue when it held
urgent discussions today.

He spoke out after The Guardian claimed News Group Newspapers, which publishes
titles including the News of the World, had paid out more than £1 million to
settle cases that threatened to reveal evidence of its journalists’ alleged
involvement in telephone hacking.

MPs from all three parties including former Deputy Prime Minister John
Prescott and Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell were among the targets of the
alleged phone taps, The Guardian said.

It quoted sources saying police officers found evidence of News Group staff
using private investigators who had hacked into “thousands” of mobile phones.

Mr Whittingdale told The Press Association: “My view is that this has raised
very serious questions about the evidence given to us.

“There are a number of questions I would like to put to News International on
the basis of what The Guardian has reported.”

The committee would examine the matter “as a matter of urgency” at a scheduled
meeting later today, he said.

“It may well be that we decide that we decide that we wish to have somebody
from News International to appear before us.”

He said he had seen no “direct evidence” that assurances previously given to
the committee by the publisher on the matter had been untrue.

But he added: “If that is the case it does beg the question why News
International have apparently paid huge sums of money in settlement of
actions in the courts.

“That is a question I would wish to put to News International.”

Mr Prescott said he wanted answers from the police over the claims they knew
his phone was tapped by private investigators working for journalists.

“I find it staggering that there could be a list known to the police of people
who had their phone tapped.

“I’m named as one of them, for such a criminal act not to be reported to me,
and for action not to be taken against the people who have done it, reflects
very badly on the police, and I want to know their answer.”

The Guardian said Andy Coulson, Conservative leader David Cameron’s director
of communications, was deputy editor and then editor of the News of the
World when journalists were using the private investigators.

Mr Coulson resigned from the News of the World after royal editor Clive
Goodman was sentenced to four months in prison in January 2007 for plotting
to hack into telephone messages belonging to royal aides.

The Guardian said the £1 million paid out by News Group to secure secrecy
concerned three out-of-court settlements in cases that would have shown the
alleged methods being used.

One of the settlements, totalling £700,000 in legal costs and damages,
involved legal action brought by Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the
Professional Footballers Association, the newspaper said.

In the Goodman trial, Mr Taylor was revealed as one of the public figures
whose phone messages were illegally intercepted by private investigator
Glenn Mulcaire.

Mr Coulson said last night: “This story relates to an alleged payment made
after I left the News of the World two and half years ago.

“I have no knowledge whatsoever of any settlement with Gordon Taylor.

“The Mulcaire case was investigated thoroughly by the police and by the Press
Complaints Commission. I took full responsibility at the time for what
happened on my watch but without my knowledge and resigned.”

Labour sought to use the allegations to question Mr Coulson’s role with the
Conservatives.

Former Cabinet minister Geoff Hoon said: “It is hard to see how in these
circumstances Andy Coulson can continue as David Cameron’s communications
chief while such a cloud hangs over his reputation.

“David Cameron must make clear what action he intends to take on this matter.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “At the very least
Andy Coulson was responsible for a newspaper that was out of control and at
worst he was personally implicated.

“Either way, a future prime minister cannot have someone who is involved in
these sort of underhand tactics. The exact parallel is with Damian McBride.

“If it is more than a thousand (phone taps) it seems most unlikely to me to
have been just one journalist. There needs to be a full investigation.”

A spokeswoman for News International, the parent company of News Group
Newspapers, said: “News International feels it is inappropriate to comment
at this time.”

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