Yard rules out inquiry as hacking row simmers on

Author: By Michael Savage, Political Correspondent

The Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates came to the
conclusion after reviewing the case yesterday. That followed claims that the
former deputy prime minister John Prescott was among the victims of a
hacking operation which resulted in the jailing of Clive Goodman, former
royal editor of the News of the World, and private investigator Glenn
Mulcaire in 2007, for unlawfully intercepting communications in an effort to
find out information about Prince William.

After being told by The Guardian that he had also been a target, Mr Prescott
called for the sacking of Andy Coulson, the director of communications for
the Conservative Party and a former editor of the News of the World who
resigned at the time of Goodman’s conviction.

A procession of senior Labour figures attempted to heap pressure on David
Cameron and his aide Mr Coulson, sniffing revenge for the damage inflicted
on the Government by the departure of its disgraced spin doctor Damian
McBride.

Gordon Brown took time out from the G8 summit in Italy to say that the
phone-bugging allegations raised “questions that are serious and will
obviously have to be answered”. Lord Mandelson said the public needed “a
proper explanation of what went on, how it was financed, who was involved,
and who authorised it”, while Alastair Campbell questioned Mr Coulson’s
position. Tom Watson, the former Cabinet Office minister who was close to Mr
McBride before his departure, also chipped in.

But Mr Yates declared last night there was no evidence that Mr Prescott’s
phone had been tapped. The Crown Prosecution Service does plan an “urgent”
review of the evidence on phone-hacking.

In spite of the police statement, News Group still faces the possibility of
paying millions in damages to victims of phone-hacking. It was claimed that
Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’
Association,had been paid £700,000 in an out-of-court “gagging”
settlement, after being a victim of the campaign. News Group refused to
comment on the allegation.

The Guardian also alleged that News Group settled claims with two other
victims, paying out £300,000, and that “two or three thousand”
others, including the actors Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow and the chef
Nigella Lawson, may have been targeted by private investigators hired by Mr
Murdoch’s journalists.

But Mr Yates said the police inquiry had been “solely concerned with
phone tapping” and that detectives were only aware of this affecting “a
much smaller pool of people”.

Lawyers urge public figures worried that they have been targeted by the
tapping to consider seeking damages. Nigel Tait, a media partner at Carter
Ruck, said: “I would encourage those affected by the activities of the
News of the World to ascertain what information is being held about them,
how it was obtained, an order for destruction of the information, recordings
etc ? and of course to seek compensation and an undertaking or injunction
against the newspaper group to prevent this happening again.”

Nick Armstrong, a media lawyer with the London law firm Charles Russell,
pointed out: “The damages paid to Gordon Taylor were presumably civil
damages for breach of privacy, the sum involved dwarfs the £60,000 previous
record privacy damages to Max Mosley.”

Mr Coulson has always claimed that he knew nothing of Goodman’s unlawful
methods, despite their wide use. Mr Cameron insisted yesterday that his
press chief’s job was safe.

The House of Commons select committee on culture, media and sport will on
Tuesday reopen its inquiry, set up after the Goodman trial, into how
journalists at the News of the World obtained their information. John
Whittingdale, the Tory MP who chairs the committee, said Mr Coulson was “almost
certain” to be called to give evidence.

In an embarrassing development for News Group, the former chairman of News
International, Les Hinton, who is now chief executive of Dow Jones and one
of Mr Murdoch’s most senior executives, is set to be summoned. Mr Hinton
assured MPs in 2007 that Goodman was acting independently of senior News of
the World staff and that his methods were not used by any other journalists.

Rebekah Wade, a former editor of The Sun and the News of the World, will also
be asked to provide evidence. Ms Wade was recently appointed chief executive
of News International.

Mr Murdoch, who has placed his son James in charge of his British media
operations, will be furious at the developments. He told Bloomberg News on
Wednesday evening that he had no knowledge of the alleged payment to Mr
Taylor, adding that “if that had happened I would know about it”.

Among the victims of News of the World stories assessing their chances of
winning damages was Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat MP whose relationship
with a male prostitute was exposed by the newspaper in 2006. He said he
would demand that the Met and the Information Commissioner ? whose office
raided and successfully prosecuted a Hampshire private investigating firm ?
hand over any details pertaining to him. “But I urge caution on
widespread attacks on journalism over this issue as there may be some cases
where it could be justified for good investigative journalism,” he
said.

Tessa Jowell, who was also named as among those who had allegedly had her
phone tapped, is said to be concerned over the allegations. Vanessa Feltz
and Max Clifford are among those already consulting their lawyers.

News International said: “It is inappropriate to comment at this time.”

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act creates a criminal offence of
intentionally intercepting a communication in the course of its transmission
on a public telecommunications system without lawful authority. The only
defences are if proper authorisation has been given or there is a strong
public interest in breaking the law to reveal a crime or serious wrongdoing.

Phone hacking: How the News of the World intercepted messages

When Clive Goodman decided to intercept voice messages left for the Royal
Household he was less in the character of a Le Carré spy than a teenage
technology geek. The News of the World‘s royal editor was able, with
the help of private detective Glenn Mulcaire, to make phone calls from his
home and office to listen to other people’s messages.

Goodman and Mulcaire made 609 calls between them to the voicemails of Jamie
Lowther-Pinkerton, the private secretary to Princes William and Harry, Helen
Asprey, the personal secretary to the Prince of Wales, and Paddy Harverson,
his communications chief.

Mulcaire also hacked into messages left for the publicist Max Clifford, the
football agent Skylet Andrew, the chairman of the Professional Footballers
Association Gordon Taylor, MP Simon Hughes and the model Elle Macpherson.

They were caught in 2006 after Prince William realised that information he’d
told only a handful of people, notably details of a knee injury, were being
made public. Members of the Royal Household also began to notice that
messages on their phones they’d yet to listen to were showing up as having
been heard.

Mobile telephone users can access voicemails without using their own handsets
and with a little bit of knowhow it was easy for the pair to intercept the
messages. When mobile users access messages remotely they type in a security
code but often it is left as a default number. Mulcaire was also able to
bluff telephone companies into changing PIN numbers.

It is possible for messages to be intercepted lawfully in some circumstances
by government-approved officials but there was no public interest defence
for the pair.

It is thought that Mr taylor must have sued under privacy rules to win his
reported £700,000 settlement from News Group, as would the two other
claimants who were awarded £300,000.

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