A leading MP yesterday called for the Metropolitan Police to expand its investigation into computer hacking on behalf of newspapers following the revelation by The Independent that Gordon Brown's emails were targeted while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has been a key campaigner on the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, said the modest size of the Scotland Yard team investigating electronic eavesdropping was "bizarre" given the increasing evidence that the email accounts of senior politicians were accessed by private investigators acting for Fleet Street titles. Operation Tuleta, the Yard's investigation launched last summer into allegations of computer hacking involving the NOTW and other papers, is staffed by around eight police officers. By contrast, Operation Weeting, the parallel inquiry into phone hacking, has a staff of about 120.
Mr Watson said: "These new revelations could be more damaging to our democracy than the phone-hacking scandal. It seems bizarre that the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, would only have such a small team investigating such serious allegations that go to the heart of the political system."
The Met announced in December that it believed it had identified all 803 victims of phone hacking on behalf of the NOTW but lawyers involved with bringing civil damages claims have said there is evidence that computer hacking was carried out on a similar scale. So far, Tuleta has seized some 17 computers and is understood to be looking at about 750,000 emails.
The Independent revealed yesterday that electronic messages sent and received by Mr Brown and one of his advisers, Derek Draper, were targeted by private investigators between 2005 and 2007, when the former Prime Minister was enjoying a fractious relationship with Tony Blair as his Chancellor.
Mr Brown is the second Labour cabinet minister to be named in connection with computer hacking following the disclosure that the former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has held discussions with officers about the potential accessing of his computers.
The prospect of another large-scale investigation into allegations of wrongdoing involving newspapers is unlikely to be greeted with relish by the Yard. Mr Hogan-Howe's predecessor, Sir Paul Stephenson, said that, while he accepted the need for Operation Weeting, he would prefer it if the officers involved were "investigating robberies".
Although senior officers have pledged to ensure the Met rectifies the errors of itsoriginal phone-hacking investigation by ploughing resources into Weeting, it is understood the force is concerned the inquiry should not turn into an open-ended commitment. The inquiry is wading through a mountain of evidence and has so far led to 16 arrests, but no charges have so far been laid.
Operation Tuleta was launched in July to examine claims private investigators were commissioned to access the computers of former Army intelligence officers who had served in Northern Ireland. A 52-year-old man from Milton Keynes became the first person to be arrested in connection with it in November. The Yard last night declined to comment in detail. A spokesman said: "The resourcing of these investigations is kept under constant review."Reuse content