Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective convicted of phone hacking while working for the News of the World, must reveal the names of journalists on the paper who commissioned him to intercept illegally the voicemails of public figures, a judge ruled yesterday.
In a ruling that raises the prospect of new executives at Rupert Murdoch's top-selling title being implicated in the hacking scandal, Mr Mulcaire was told by the High Court that he cannot claim that he risks incriminating himself by giving evidence about his relationship with the NOTW and must now answer questions about which journalists he worked with.
The comedian Steve Coogan and football pundit Andy Gray, who are suing the Sunday paper for allegedly hacking into their mobile phone messages, won their claim that Mr Mulcaire should also be compelled to disclose where he obtained PIN codes and direct-dial voicemail numbers, which allowed him to access the messages of high-profile individuals.
Mr Justice Geoffrey Vos, sitting at the High Court in London, said the private detective must answer whether he intercepted five of his victims – the publicist Max Clifford, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, football agent Sky Andrew, model Elle Macpherson and head of the footballers' union Gordon Taylor – on the instructions of News Group Newspapers (NGN), the holding company of the NOTW, and whether that information was passed to the newspaper.
Lawyers said the ruling was an "important" step in answering the longstanding question of how many journalists at the paper had knowledge of the illegal activities of Mr Mulcaire, who was on a £100,000-a-year contract to supply "research and information services" to the NOTW.
It emerged this week that 14 individuals have now begun court proceedings against the tabloid for alleged breach of confidence and privacy over phone hacking, with further cases likely to emerge as the Metropolitan Police contacts people who were previously told they did not feature on Mr Mulcaire's records but now do.
The court heard that in the case of Mr Gray, who was sacked last month from his job as a pundit for Mr Murdoch's Sky Sports, there was "abundant evidence" that the former footballer's voicemails were intercepted by Mr Mulcaire. Mr Justice Vos added that there was a "strong inference that some misuse will have been made of the confidential information thereby obtained". The judge noted that information disclosed by NGN had been meagre and did not include as yet any telephone or electronic records such as emails, which might show whether journalists were making use of information from Mr Gray's voicemails.
Mr Justice Vos ruled that one question asked on behalf of the commentator and Mr Coogan – seeking to establish whether there was a pool of victims beyond those whom the private investigator has already admitted to targeting – amounted to a "fishing expedition" and should not be answered. But the court heard that all other requests for information – including the identity of 16 names blanked out on a "target list" drawn up by Mr Mulcaire – should be complied with.
Mr Justice Vos said: "It is alleged that [Mr Mulcaire and the NOTW] were intercepting telephone voicemail messages on an industrial scale. It must be remembered that it is alleged in each case that Mr Mulcaire conspired with NGN to intercept the claimants' messages. The general practice that Mr Mulcaire adopted in taking instructions from and reporting to journalists in admitted cases will be relevant to the existence of the conspiracy alleged."
Mr Mulcaire was granted permission to appeal against the ruling that he cannot claim protection from self-incrimination.
Why is Glenn Mulcaire important in this case?
Police who raided his home in 2006 found documents containing 4,332 names, 2,978 mobile phone numbers and 91 PIN codes. He was jailed after admitting hacking the phones of eight individuals. Questions have been asked whether he hacked other phones and, if so, if it was on the instructions of the News of the World.
What is the ruling's significance?
If the Court of Appeal upholds yesterday's judgment, Mr Mulcaire will have to name any NoW journalists who commissioned him to hack phones. For the first time, he will also have to reveal how he obtained the information, such as PIN codes, that allowed him to hack into the phones.
Does this affect the police investigation?
Not directly. Steve Coogan and Andy Gray are bringing civil claims for damages against Mr Mulcaire and the NoW. Operation Weeting, the new police inquiry opened last month, will seek to establish whether there are fresh criminal charges that can be brought in relation to phone hacking. Mr Mulcaire has been asked for information in cases in which he has already been convicted and therefore cannot face new charges.