Friday, July 10, 2009

Three inquiries launched into News of the World hacking claims.

I talked yesterday about the extraordinary claim by the Guardian newspaper that the News of the World had paid out over a million pounds to silence the fact that they have been illegally bugging the mobile phones of up to 2-3,000 celebrities and politicians, including the deputy Prime Minister. It seems utterly extraordinary to me that someone can be found to have bugged the Deputy Prime Minister and that the police didn't even bother to inform him of what they had found out.

The police are still insisting that no further action is necessary over this, which strikes me as very odd, but - despite the police reticence to look into this further - three further investigations have been launched since the Guardian have revealed what they discovered.

The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announced he was intending to launch an urgent review of the evidence relating to phone hacking gathered in the investigation of the News of the World reporter Clive Goodman, who was jailed for obtaining information illegally.

A powerful Commons select committee said it would be calling senior managers from News International to give evidence as early as next week to clarify what they knew about malpractice by journalists at the News of the World. Andy Coulson, the former editor of the paper and now the Conservative party's director of communications, will be asked to appear. He has always denied he knew reporters working for him had hacked into the mobile phones of politicians and celebrities.

The Press Complaints Commission also announced it was conducting an inquiry.

And the BBC are reporting that some of the people bugged are seeking legal advice and may very well sue now that they have discovered what the News of the World have been up to.

Public figures whose mobile phones were allegedly hacked into by investigators hired by the News of the World are said to be considering suing the newspaper.

It is understood lawyers have been contacted by various celebrities and politicians seeking advice.

And, as expected, David Cameron is coming under increasing pressure as he has hired the man who was the editor of the News of the World at the time of this illegal activity to be the Conservative party's director of communications.
At Westminster, senior Labour figures continued to call for Coulson to resign and the prime minister said that there were "serious questions" to answer.
As I say, it's strikes me as extraordinary that the police investigated this matter and didn't feel the need to inform any of these people that their privacy had been breached to such a degree, especially as one of these people was the Deputy Prime Minister.

However, hundreds of other public figures may also have been targeted. Some said they were seeking legal advice. Among them were the celebrity publicist Max Clifford and TV presenter Vanessa Feltz. Lawyers told the Guardian that News International could face expensive legal actions if it was proved that its reporters were engaged in behaviour that breached privacy.

The Met's assistant commissioner John Yates said Scotland Yard would not be reopening its files because no new evidence had come to light and the original inquiry had concluded phone tapping had occurred in only a minority of cases.

That decision was criticised later when John Prescott, one of those whose phone was allegedly hacked, told the BBC's Newsnight "serious questions had to be answered" despite Yates's statement. "Frankly he has come out, he has defined in a very narrow way what he is going to look at, and then gives a report that everything is OK," he said.

Legal experts said the Yard's decision would not affect the ability of alleged hacking victims to sue for breach of privacy.

The Met's attitude to this case simply baffles me. However, the News of the World have taken on some people with very deep pockets, and they will not hesitate to use their wealth to sue them for this breach of their privacy, even if the Met seem reluctant to take on the Murdoch group.

And, oddly enough, David Cameron appeared to be admitting that Coulson might have been involved in all this from the way he sought to defend him:
Cameron told reporters: "It's wrong for newspapers to breach people's privacy with no justification. That is why Andy Coulson resigned as editor two and a half years ago. Of course I knew about that resignation before offering him the job. But I believe in giving people a second chance. As director of communications for the Conservatives he does an excellent job in a proper, upright way."
People are usually given second chances after what they have done has been properly exposed and understood. Cameron is talking about giving Coulson a second chance when he couldn't possibly have known of the scale on which this bugging was taking place, as the Guardian only revealed this story yesterday.

And News International have spoken out, although it is interesting to note that they make no denial:
News International broke its silence last night, but did not address the specific allegations made by the Guardian, saying: "News International is prevented by confidentiality obligations from discussing allegations made in the Guardian newspaper." It said its journalists had complied with relevant legislation and codes of conduct since February 2007, after the Goodman case and Coulson's resignation.
In other words, they are hiding behind the same gagging clauses which they paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to ensure that the people they bugged couldn't tell anyone about what they had done. The Guardian have released a statement:

"We note that News International has not contested any part of the Guardian coverage – including the central assertion that the company had paid a record £1m to ensure secrecy over damages paid to victims of illegal phone-hacking."

This is not going to go away. It's the most outrageous case of media intrusion that most of us have ever heard of. And the fact that News International are not even denying it makes it certain that someone, somewhere, will issue a writ over this. The Guardian are to be applauded for uncovering this.


Max Clifford reacts to this.

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