Scotland Yard's investigation into illegal payments made by journalists to police officers, which recently resulted in four current and former journalists at The Sun being arrested, is set to be significantly expanded.
Sue Akers, the Metropolitan Police's Detective Assistant Commissioner, told the Leveson Inquiry yesterday that Operation Elveden will shortly grow to 61 officers. Operation Weeting, the phone-hacking investigation, is currently staffed with 90 officers, but 35 are solely dealing with victims already identified.
The drafting in of extra resources reflects the growing scope of the bribery investigation which led to The Sun arrests. Ms Akers told the inquiry that in the second half of last year Elveden had been focusing mainly on journalists at the News of the World.
However evidence supplied recently by News International's own investigation, carried out through its management and standards committee, had widened the Met's focus to include other Murdoch-owned titles in the UK.
A fifth unnamed Sun journalist, understood to be abroad, is wanted for questioning by the Elveden team. So far the bribery investigation has arrested 14 people, including three police officers. Another arrest was carried out by the IPCC, the police complaints watchdog.
More journalists than officers had been arrested because journalists were protecting the sources of their information, Ms Akers said. The linked inquiry teams add up to one of the largest criminal investigations in the Met's history.
The third inquiry, Operation Tuleta, set up to investigate computer hacking, was described as still at the "scoping" stage. However, Ms Akers said the Met was preparing to launch Tuleta as a full investigation.
A further investigation team set up to look at a private detective who illegally accessed computers for cash – Operation Kalmyk – is also reporting to Ms Akers. This operation, the inquiry heard, has so far resulted in one arrest.
The Tuleta team has 20 officers which are looking at 57 claims of illegal access located in four terabytes of data storage – described to the inquiry as "a vast amount" of material. The evidence given to the inquiry by Ms Akers is the first public acknowledgement of the accelerating shift in focus by the Met from phone to computer hacking.
She described Operation Weeting as "nearer the finishing line than the starting gun" and said she was "less confident" on Tuleta being nearer the end than the beginning. The recent successes of all three inquiries were progressing on the basis of "voluntary disclosure" by News Corp's management and standards committee, she added.
However, there has been concern at Met officers being based inside NI's London headquarters and the threat their presence represents to both journalists' rights to protect their sources, and the expectation that their employers will honour that right.