Senior Met officer 'should face MPs over phone hacking'

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The Independent Online

One of Scotland Yard's most senior officers should reappear before a Parliamentary committee to answer criticism of his handling of the phone hacking case, MPs said yesterday.

Three members of the Commons media select committee urged Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates to testify before them to clear up concerns about his previous evidence on the scandal.

Chris Bryant, a former minister, had accused the officer of misleading MPs on the number of people who had their voicemails illegally accessed by a private investigator working for The News of the World, and the interpretation of the law on hacking. In a letter to The Independent today, Mr Yates says Mr Bryant's suggestion that he had given false information on the interpretation of the law is a "a very serious allegation that I entirely refute".

During a Commons debate on Thursday, Mr Bryant – who may have been targeted by The News of the World – heavily criticised the behaviour of the police and the paper's owner, News International (NI).

He told the Commons: "Yates misled the [Home Affairs] committee, whether deliberately or inadvertently. He used an argument that had never been relied on by the CPS or by his own officers so as to suggest that the number of victims was minuscule, whereas in fact we know and he knew the number of potential victims is and was substantial."

Mr Bryant said hacking may have occurred at the NOTW under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks, now NI's chief executive, and added he had been personally warned by a senior ally of Mr Murdoch that continuing to raise the issue "would not be forgotten".

Tom Watson, a Labour member of the Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, said: "Chris Bryant raised very serious concerns about the evidence provided to a Parliamentary inquiry by [Deeputy Assistant] Commissioner Yates.

"He should be given the opportunity to put his side of the argument at an appearance before the DCMS committee. So too should Rebekah Brooks. If Chris Bryant's claims that phone hacking exists from her time as editor of the NOTW, then like Andy Coulson, she should explain herself to the Committee."

A fellow committee member, Labour MP Jim Sheridan, said: "I think it would make perfect sense for him [Mr Yates] to come back and for him to refresh his memory about what happened." Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders said: "We were not impressed by the evidence we were given by the police and we were not impressed by the way the police dealt with the investigation." Scotland Yard and News International declined to comment.

In his letter, Mr Yates pointed out that in 2009 the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, told the DCMS committee: "To prove the criminal offence of interception the prosecution must prove that the actual message was intercepted prior to it being accessed by the intended recipient."

Mr Yates said: "I am not sure how much more unequivocal legal advice can be." He added that 18 months later, the Crown Prosecution Service had signalled an intention to take a broader view of the legislation.