Scotland Yard is seeking to withhold evidence from alleged victims of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal over fears that doing so could endanger its criminal investigation.
The Metropolitan Police applied in private to the High Court last week for permission to keep back information which had been ordered disclosed in the damages claims of football agent Sky Andrew, comedian Steve Coogan and sports pundit Andy Gray.
The Yard argued that disclosing the documents – understood to be notes written by the private detective Glenn Mulcaire – risked "prejudicing" its new hacking investigation, Operation Weeting, whose tasks will include establishing whether there are grounds for bringing new prosecutions.
Scotland Yard announced the investigation in January, shortly after Rupert Murdoch's News International passed detectives "significant new evidence" about hacking at the NOTW. The Met's behind-closed-doors application for permission to withhold "some material" for up to 14 weeks in the cases of the three public figures emerged during a pre-trial hearing for Mr Andrew's privacy claim against the newspaper and Mr Mulcaire.
Mr Justice Geoffrey Vos told the the High Court in London: "The [Met] Commissioner applied for an order to withhold disclosure of some material which had previously been redacted on the grounds disclosure would be harmful to the public interest [because] it would hamper investigations currently being undertaken." The order has not yet been granted.
The hearing was told that Mr Mulcaire had named the NOTW's ex-head of news, Ian Edmondson, as the journalist who had commissioned him to eavesdrop on Mr Andrew's messages. Mr Edmondson denies any wrongdoing. Mr Mulcaire, from Sutton, Surrey, was jailed in 2007 along with the NOTW's royal editor, Clive Goodman, after the private detective admitted hacking into the phone messages of royal aides and five other people.
The court heard the Yard was concerned that legal moves by alleged victims of hacking to force the disclosure of the notebooks could imperil its investigation by putting potential evidence into the public domain and "tipping off" possible suspects. Jeremy Reed, Mr Andrew's barrister, said such concerns were "ludicrous" because of the amount of publicity about the scandal and the time which had lapsed since any offences. "It is laughable to suggest that civil disclosure in these proceedings will prejudice the police investigation," he said.
In a separate development, lawyers for Sienna Miller and Mr Andrew will launch proceedings later this week, asking News International to disclose electronic material, including emails, that could be relevant to their claims.
The key plaintiffs...
The actress will apply through her lawyers to the High Court on Friday for News International emails relevant to her phone-hacking claim and details on how the company stores its vast bank of electronic information.
The football pundit's demand for evidence from notes seized by Scotland Yard from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire could disclose which 'News of the World' journalists allegedly asked for his phone messages to be hacked.