Exclusive extracts from 'Dial M for Murdoch'
Few people have done so much to force the News International phone hacking scandal into the public eye as Tom Watson, the Labour MP. Here, in exclusive extracts from a sensational new book (written with The Independent's Martin Hickman), he reveals how he and other members of the Commons select committee were targeted by a media empire that, he claims, ruthlessly discouraged unwelcome attention
Friday 20 April 2012
Watson told yesterday's launch of Dial M for Murdoch that the News of the World's former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, had "targeted" MPs who were investigating News International's activities. The tale begins in July 2009...
Unbeknown to members of the Culture Committee, the NOTW established a team to investigate their private lives. For several days, as chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck would later tell Tom Watson, reporters searched for any secret lovers or extra-marital affairs that could be used as leverage against the MPs.
Thurlbeck said: "All I know is that, when the DCMS [Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee] was formed or rather when it got onto all the hacking stuff, there was an edict came down from the editor and it was find out every single thing you can about every single member: who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use.
"Each reporter was given two members and there were six reporters that went on for around 10 days. I don't know who looked at you. It fell by the wayside; I think even Ian Edmondson [the news editor] realised there was something quite horrible about doing this."
Separately, a NOTW figure tasked with talking to Watson and other committee members to glean their question plan let them know that Rebekah Brooks believed Watson and [fellow MP Paul Farrelly] were the inquiry's "ringleaders". Watson was privately told by Downing Street insiders that Wapping was using its connections to persuade senior politicians to urge him to hold back.
Gordon Brown called Watson to tell him that Rupert Murdoch had phoned Tony Blair to tell him to call Watson off.
The book claims that Mr Blair has denied this, with Gordon Brown saying he cannot remember the phone call to Watson. Mr Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell remembered intimidation, however...
Speaking three years later, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former communications director, recalled the "bullying culture": "I recall Rebekah Wade telling me that so far as she was concerned, with Tom Watson it's personal, and we won't stop till we get him...."
As the committee continued its work, News International had another assignment for a surveillance expert who had worked for the NOTW since 2003, Derek Webb, whose firm was called Silent Shadow.
The former policeman had legally watched dozens of pop stars, footballers and royals. In 2005 he had followed Angelina Jolie, Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay and the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke (whose responsibilities included the police); in 2006 George Michael and the comedian Rik Mayall; and in 2007, the Duke of Westminster. Typically, his work would involve tailing a target for five days and noting down where they had gone and who they had met.
From 28 September until 2 October 2009, at the last Labour Party conference before the general election, Webb was ordered to follow the every move of Tom Watson. He had difficulty tracking the MP down. Ironically, on the first night, 28 September, Webb would have been more successful had he phoned the NOTW's political editor, Ian Kirby, who had spent the night drinking with Watson, the Sunday Mirror's Vincent Moss and the Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire in the bar of Brighton's Grand Hotel, where they sang songs round the piano until the early hours.
Tight security because of the presence of the Cabinet made following Watson difficult, but Webb billed the paper £1,125 for seven and a half shifts. Before and after following Watson (who was unaware of the surveillance) he tailed Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary.
The MPs had no knowledge of what NI was doing behind their backs. In January 2010 the committee decided that it wanted to hear from Rebekah Brooks, who was by then chief executive of NI...
The MPs decided they should hear from Brooks herself and asked her to give evidence. In a letter to John Whittingdale on 4 January 2010, she contemptuously dismissed the invitation to answer questions about the "supposed incongruity" between the treatment of Clive Goodman and Matt Driscoll, the "For Neville" email and misbehaviour by News International journalists, which, she said, related to the News of the World, not to other News International newspapers "any more than they do to any other national newspapers".
She asked whether the committee intended to call chief executives of other newspaper groups, said that the News of the World's editor had outlined the measures to end improper behaviour and that as chief executive she would "ensure the proper journalistic standards continue to be applied across all our titles"...
Although the committee wanted Brooks to give evidence, its members, whose private lives News International had pored over, capitulated and decided not to summon her. On the day the committee met to discuss the issue, two Labour MPs close to Tony Blair, Janet Anderson and Rosemary McKenna, were absent. The gay Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price – who in September unexpectedly announced that he would leave Parliament at the next general election to take up a Fulbright scholarship in the US – claimed that the committee's members had been warned that if they had called Brooks, their private lives would be raked over.
Mr Price said later: "I was told by a senior Conservative member of the committee, who I knew was in direct contact with executives at News International, that if we went for her, they would go for us – effectively they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish [us]."
The mystery phone call that led to a hidden trove of email evidence
In 2008, Max Mosley, the former head of motorsport's world governing body, and the son of the 1930s British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, won a landmark privacy case against the 'News of the World'. A story had been published in the Sunday tabloid, written by Neville Thurlbeck, falsely accused him of taking part in a "sick Nazi orgy" which had been secretly photographed. The story appeared with pictures of Mr Mosley indulging in what was claimed to be a five-hour sadomasochistic sex session with prostitutes.
'Dial M for Murdoch' explains how Max Mosley's extraordinary next move – and a phone call from a stranger to Tom Watson – blew open the criminal wrongdoing at News International...
Two years after he had been turned over by the News of the World, Max Mosley was about to strike again. During the summer of 2010, from Monaco, he had been taking an ever closer interest in the phone hacking story and had become determined to ensure the police would not be able to cover up the Screws' seedy past.
He had started talking to Nick Davies at The Guardian and had also acquired a highly confidential source, Mr X, who had told him that Scotland Yard was holding extensive evidence about hacking at the NOTW. Mosley decided the best way to intensify the pressure was through cases in the civil courts which, through disclosure, would unlock the secrets of Mulcaire's files. But there was a problem: money. Under English law, litigants could be liable for costs, which could be crippling, and were often a severe deterrent to potential litigants.
Mosley agreed to underwrite the risk for several claimants, in both the emerging civil privacy cases against the News of the World and in the judicial review against Scotland Yard being coordinated by Tamsin Allen at Bindmans. If the cases were lost, his costs could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, but Mosley was a multimillionaire.
He had decided he would risk half his fortune, if necessary, to fight Rupert Murdoch; ordinarily that half would have gone to one of his two sons, Alexander, but he was a regular drug user and had died of cocaine intoxication in May 2009. By early 2008 Alexander had temporarily managed to come off drugs but the News of the World's exposure of his father's sado-masochism had devastated him and was, his father believed, a contributory factor in his death. On 12 September, five days before Mosley returned to London at the end of his presidency of the FIA, Allen began judicial review against the Met at the High Court on behalf of Chris Bryant, Brian Paddick and Brendan Montague; they were joined a week later by John Prescott.
Sitting in his London mews house in Kensington in 2011, Mosley said: "I saw it as a much bigger thing than giving the News of the World a bit of their own back, or privacy generally, because I feel the Murdoch empire is a really sinister presence undermining the whole of our democracy. They are capable of suborning the police, Parliament and the government." He suspected the police had been reluctant to inform the victims "because they knew damn well there would be writs flying down to the High Court and their friends in Wapping would be upset".
In a memo to the Home Affairs Committee that was sent in October 2010, the lawyer Mark Lewis suggested several reasons why the police might not have properly investigated hacking in 2006, including a lack of resources, high-priority terrorism cases – and the closeness of the relationship between senior officers and News of the World executives. With the benefit of legal privilege over parliamentary affairs, he speculated whether the two officers who had said there were few victims, Andy Hayman and John Yates – both of whose own phones had been hacked – had been fearful of press coverage.
Lewis wrote: at the relevant time, Mr Hayman had reason to fear that he was a target of Glenn Mulcaire and the News of the World. It became public knowledge that throughout the period of the investigation into voicemail hacking, Mr Hayman was involved in a controversial relationship with a woman who worked for the Independent Police Complaints Commission and was claiming expenses which were subsequently regarded as unusually high. The same, of course, is also true of John Yates who, we now know, at the time when he responded to The Guardian's stories about Gordon Taylor's settlement with News Group, was involved in a controversial relationship with a woman who worked for the Met press bureau.
Lewis offered no evidence that the officers' behaviour towards the News of the World had been unduly influenced by fear, and Yates and Hayman both later denied that their conduct had been compromised by their relationships. With pressure building on the Met, News International became ever more determined to marginalise those making its life uncomfortable.
On 27 December , high up in the peaks of the Yorkshire and Derbyshire border, a phone call transformed Watson's mood. Over previous weeks, a new source had been tantalisingly close to revealing important information. The source, who had very detailed knowledge of the information technology architecture of News Corp around the world, contradicted Watson's belief that data had been lost irrevocably.
As they talked for over an hour, Watson frantically wrote notes on small pieces of paper in his pockets, taking the names of the senior IT people and those that had recently left. He probed the contact while trying not to betray his increasing sense of euphoria.
Back in 2005 when Mulcaire and Goodman were conspiring to hack phones, the company bosses felt they were untouchable. They had politicians and police in their pockets, and they had no "predators"; Watson's logic was that with that level of power you would feel invulnerable – and if you thought yourself invulnerable, you would become complacent and make mistakes. He already knew that Brooks was complacent with her digital fingerprints because of the text message about him which she had sent in April 2009 to someone close to the Prime Minister. If others shared her arrogance, there would be a rich source of information on that second server that the police could use to crack the case. He did not know at that point that data had been or was being destroyed. But just as he had been losing hope, this new discovery reinvigorated him.
How lawyer stumbled on Soham scandal
Under conditions of secrecy in a windowless room at Scotland Yard, victims could inspect the notes about them, though they were not allowed to photograph or copy them. As the actress Leslie Ash and her husband Lee Chapman read Glenn Mulcaire's references to them [early in 2011], they accidentally discovered the "News of the World" had targeted Leslie Chapman – who was not Leslie Ash using her husband's surname, but the father of one of the two children killed at Soham in 2002.
The abduction and murders of 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, at the hands of school caretaker Ian Huntley, horrified the public.
Charlotte Harris, the couple's lawyer, recalled: "Leslie Chapman's papers were in front of us and the police were saying of the address: 'Yeah, well it's Fulham,' but it wasn't a Fulham postcode and I was looking at it, and being so familiar with Glenn Mulcaire's handwriting, I said: 'It doesn't say "Fulham", it says "Soham".'"
Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman is published in hardback by Allen Lane (£20). To buy from the Independent bookshop, call 08430 600 030
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