Guardian loses PCC phone-hacking case

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The Independent Online

The Press Complaints Commission, the watchdog for the newspaper industry, has rejected claims by The Guardian that a widespread and ongoing culture of phone-hacking existed at the News of the World, Britain's biggest-selling Sunday title. After investigation, the PCC reported that it "found no evidence that phone-message hacking is ongoing" at the tabloid, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International.

The Guardian reported its claims with great fanfare on its front page and on its website over several days in July. The PCC said that "having reviewed the matter [it] could not help but conclude that The Guardian's stories did not quite live up to the dramatic billing they were initially given". The PCC had conducted a previous inquiry into methods used by the News of the World's reporters in 2007 after its royal editor, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed for illegal interception of messages.

Now the PCC has said it had "found no evidence that it was materially misled" at the 2007 inquiry, when NI executives assured the watchdog that illegal practices had stopped. That conclusion raises questions about the judgement of BBC News which, having been briefed in advance by The Guardian that the newspaper had a scoop, repeatedly gave the July story top billing on its television news bulletins and its rolling news channel.

The PCC noted that "despite the manner in which The Guardian's allegations were treated in some quarters – as if they related to current or recent activity – there is no evidence that the practice of phone-message tapping is ongoing". The PCC found that ethics in investigative journalism in the press had improved since the trial of Goodman and Mulcaire. They hacked into the mobile phone messages of members of the royal household and well-known people in sport and entertainment. The scandal cost Andy Coulson his job as editor. He is now communications director of the Conservative Party. The Guardian's July stories reported calls for the Tory leader, David Cameron, to sack him.

The claims by The Guardian prompted an inquiry by the Commons Culture Committee, which called witnesses including Mr Coulson and the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger. The committee is expected to report in about three weeks.

Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, had considered the paper's reports and announced that "no additional evidence has come to light and I consider that no further investigation is required".