Last week, I received the "Operation Weeting Enquiry [sic] Questionnaire", 14 pages of questions designed to ascertain whether or not my phone was hacked by journalists at the now defunct News of the World. Five years ago, the Hackees Club, with its 28 members, seemed more exclusive than the Royal Enclosure. In the past few months, the list of the hacked has begun to read more like a PR's Rolodex. It included actors, PR agents, secretaries, footballers, TV presenters, even journalists.
That initial figure, it transpires, represented less than one per cent of those who were probably hacked. There are, apparently, 4,000 names in Glenn Mulcaire's notebook alone. Then the whole issue became a great deal more serious when it was revealed that the victims of child murder and acts of terror, war heroes, army generals and high court judges were also among those that were hacked. The only hearteningly karmic aside this week was that George Osborne – the man who persuaded Cameron to employ the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson – was also one of his victims.
The first page of the questionnaire asks for my name, date of birth, alias, nickname and accent, with helpful multiple-choice options: "American, Asian, Australian, Birmingham ..." and space for my details of up to six addresses and four mobile numbers. Was it designed for Rupert Murdoch himself? There follows a series of questions set out over nine pages, essentially asking why I have reason to believe that my phone may have been hacked.
There were Chinese-whispered stories in 2006, which seemed to have a rice grain of truth about them. Still, having lived for 10 years in Pakistan, where you're no one unless you're regularly bugged, effigy-burnt and arrested, I didn't believe that I needed to be so vigilant back here at home. My paranoia extended only to a vague fear that one of my friends might be leaking stories to the tabloids.
I do remember noticing that voicemail messages, which I had not yet listened to, were going directly to old or saved messages. I assumed, as any techno-moron would, that I had simply messed up the phone settings.
Then at some point in 2006 – neither Hugh Grant (my boyfriend at the time) nor I can remember exactly when – he was approached out of the blue by the data protection police who told him that they had arrested a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, whose notebook was filled with references to him, as well as the details of his friends and family. It looked, from Mulcaire's notebook, as though Hugh's messages had been intercepted and that the private detective concerned had been working for all the tabloid papers and not just the News of the World. The official said he would follow up the visit but he never did.
Around the same time there were reports in the broadsheets that we had both had our phones hacked. In August 2006, The Observer ran a story claiming: "According to one former tabloid reporter, the list of stories discovered by tapping celebrities' voicemails is almost endless.
"Recent examples allegedly include The Sun's revelation that Sienna Miller and Daniel Craig were an item, and the NOTW's front-page exclusive on Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan's row." Ah yes – that row. It wasn't quite as described in the paper but it had definitely happened and I think it may even have earned me the nickname Genghis.
There was also a story in The Independent on Sunday around the same time in 2006 entitled: "Grant and Khan caught in tabloids' phone-tapping net; dozens of other celebrities have been bugged too, police reveal." The names had apparently emerged as police, initially investigating the suspected interception of phone messages intended for Prince William, widened their investigation to take in dozens of "high-profile figures who had fallen victim to the practice known as 'phone screwing'."
This story was followed by – it must be said – a sarcastic little diary snippet in the Independent on Sunday, titled "Press the buttons". "A little note to the following celebrities to change their mobile phone-answering service PINs. Keira Knightley and Rupert Friend, Penny Lancaster (especially when pregnant), Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan when the press are all over you ... It's not difficult."
Thanks. Good advice, except that it made no difference. Sienna Miller changed her phone PIN hundreds of times, sometimes daily, and she even changed her mobile number three times. Each time she did, it took a private investigator just a matter of hours to crack her new code.
The theory is that the News of the World had a source at CTI, the accounts company which held the accounts information for all the major phone companies, except O2. The source there would change the PINs on behalf of private investigators or journalists at the News of the World so they could access private messages.
My own code was hardly genius: 0000. Account password – Jemima. I'm not the paranoid type. News of the World journalists didn't even require a private detective to hack into my messages. Hacks could happily hack away, feet on desks, just for a laugh, which, I'm told, regularly happened.
The papers were saying I was hacked and so I thought to myself, it must be true... I finally changed my voicemail access code to something a little more obscure – I considered my date of birth but worried I'd forget it – and I moved to Vodafone Secure, a service that offered maximum security. t was only then I found that, on a number of occasions, I was unable to access my voicemail messages.
According to my Vodafone account records, which I paid a great deal of money in legal fees to access, (money which no doubt Milly Dowler's parents and many others do not have at their disposal), I rang to make a complaint. I could not access my messages, I told the operator, as my code was no longer working. Records state "Customer upset and abrupt", for which I apologise. Lo and behold, a few days later a story appeared in the News of the World, which referred directly to a private phone conversation. All this was five years ago.
Last July, I wrote to the police, in confidence, via one of the band of lawyers who have been beating this particular drum for some time, to ascertain whether they had any evidence that my phone had been hacked.
John Prescott had done the same and had been told by police categorically that his phone had not been hacked. It had. The lawyers warned me not to expect too much. We might even need a court order to force disclosure, they said.
The new investigators turned out to be significantly more helpful than their predecessors, though they still claimed, after some research, that they had not found my name or telephone number in any of the documents but cautioned that it did not necessarily mean that there was nothing to be found.
Hugh was then interviewed by the police and invited to look at Mulcaire's notebook, in which he duly found my name alongside many others that he recognised. Certain details had been redacted, including, disappointingly, the initials of the journalists on whose behalf Mulcaire was digging, in the top left-hand corner.
I am meeting the police next week to go through Mulcaire's notebook myself and I look forward to it. Expect another rant afterwards.
The press, police and Parliament have all colluded on the issue of phone hacking. Now, it seems, they are investigating themselves.
Most notably, chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, is leading the investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World under the editorship of ... ahem ... herself.Reuse content