Lord Prescott wins hacking probe review

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The Independent Online

Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott will have his complaints about the Metropolitan Police's handling of the News of the World phone-hacking case fully aired in court following a ruling in his favour today.

He and three others, who believe they were victims of the scandal and claim there were human rights breaches in their cases, were given the go-ahead for a judicial review by a judge in the High Court.

A date will now have to be set for a full trial of the issues raised in actions by Lord Prescott, Labour MP Chris Bryant, former Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick and journalist Brendan Montague.

Lord Prescott welcomed the decision by Mr Justice Foskett, saying: "I look forward to receiving full and proper explanations and information as the case progresses."

Mr Bryant said: "Many may still have no idea their phone was hacked by the News of the World and it's a shame we have to go to court to force the Met to do what they could and should have done five years ago."

In his detailed decision, Mr Justice Foskett, sitting in London, announced: "Unless the claims are resolved by agreement in the meantime, the judge hearing the substantive application will decide whether, on the more detailed evidence and arguments available then, the claims are well-founded."

His ruling overturned a previous decision made in early February by another High Court judge who considered their cases on paper and concluded they were "unarguable".

But Mr Justice Foskett said the factual situation had changed "very significantly" since then.

Although he gave the green light to a judicial review against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the judge said he was issuing a "clear warning that the merits of this case need to be kept under review".

He said: "In putting forward his evidence in response to the individual claims the defendant will be aware of the duty of candour expected of every public authority in this kind of case.

"Each of the claimants will also be under a duty to review the merits of his case when that evidence has been deployed..."

Mr Justice Foskett emphasised that his task on the applications was "simply to decide whether the case is 'arguable' - to which might be added the words 'with some real or reasonable prospects of success"'.

It was "entirely open to the judge who hears the substantive case in due course to dismiss the case if, after full argument and consideration of the issues, the case is not made out".

At a High Court hearing on May 12, Hugh Tomlinson QC, on behalf of all four, told the judge that their cases concerned the "lawfulness" of the way the police dealt with the phone-hacking case in 2006 "when police officers became aware of what was going on".

He said they were seeking declarations in relation to claims that the police "failed to inform them they were victims", failed to respond adequately to their requests for information and failed to carry out an effective investigation at the time.

He said: "The reason why these particular claimants have brought this particular action is because they want to ensure the precise limits of the duties of the Metropolitan Police are made clear by the courts, so that victims of this kind of unlawful act know where they stand and are properly informed."

Contesting the applications, James Lewis QC, for the commissioner, had argued that "these matters are effectively academic".

There was now a "comprehensive" investigation being carried out and what the claimants sought was "an impossible task for the court" - and would not be a sensible use of court time and resources.

The judge said today that he did not accept "that it can be said at this stage of the proceedings that the claims are academic".

A new police investigation into the phone-hacking case was announced on January 26 after "significant new information" was provided by News International to the police "relating to allegations of phone-hacking at the News of the World in 2005/2006".

Within a week of the previous rejection of their applications, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, the officer in charge of the fresh investigation - Operation Weeting - issued a press statement "acknowledging that some individuals had been identified who had previously been advised that little or no information was held on them and announced that those individuals would now be contacted".

It emerged that three of the claimants - Lord Prescott, Mr Bryant and Mr Paddick - "figured in this new material", said the judge.

In relation to Lord Prescott there was material indicating that his adviser may have had her messages intercepted.

He said that during the hearing, counsel for the commissioner acknowledged what he described as "some operational shortcomings" in the original investigation, "albeit set against the background of a period when there were major terrorist alerts and when police resources were stretched".

The judge added: "Doubtless that will be something that will be addressed in the further evidence that will be submitted before the substantive hearing takes place."