Exclusive: Rupert Murdoch accused of targeting Labour staff in dirty tricks campaign

News International settles hacking claims with officials close to Blair government
  • @iburrell

News International is accused of having engaged in systematic political dirty tricks against the former Labour government by hacking the phones of party workers inside key offices.

The publisher has recently settled a hacking claim with Amanda Ramsay, who was targeted at a time she worked in the office of Labour whip Graham Stringer MP. The agreement follows other settlements with other Labour party workers Hilary Perrin, the former regional organiser for London, and Joan Hammell, who was targeted while working as a special adviser to John Prescott.

Ms Ramsay said she believes she was targeted by the News of the World because her job meant that she frequently had discussions with and socialised with Labour ministers. Her private data, including the address and phone number of her parents, was found by police in notebooks listing the personal information of hacking victims of the Sunday tabloid, which was closed by Rupert Murdoch in 2011.

Ms Ramsay, who is hoping to stand as a Labour MP for Bristol South in the next general election, would not discuss details of her settlement, but The Independent understands from separate sources outside of her legal team that the company paid her in excess of £20,000 in compensation.

The settlement comes as News International (NI) is due to attend a case management hearing at the High Court in London on Friday at which the company is expected to make a series of apologies to victims with whom it has settled civil claims over hacking.

In total, almost 250 claims have been settled. NI announced last week that a compensation scheme set up to hear claims without going to court would close on 8 April, having so far settled 60 out of 254 claims. 

Ms Ramsay told The Independent she suspected she had been hacked as part of a more systematic policy of targeting Labour party officials in order to discredit the party at a time when it was in Government. “I don’t know if it was dirty tricks or a fishing exercise for anyone in the Labour Party that had a bit of a personality,” she said. “I was working for Graham Stringer MP who was a government whip when Tony Blair was Prime Minister.”

Ms Ramsay, who now lives in Bristol, said she felt more betrayed because she was a well-known figure in Westminster media circles, having previously worked as an assistant in the offices of the political teams of The Times and the London Evening Standard.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police Operation Weeting team have shown her paperwork revealing she was targeted between 2001 and 2004. “It was eerie. There were loads of phone numbers – my home landline, my parents’ landline, the work number at the House of Commons and the London borough where I was a councillor,” she said. “That was the most scary thing, seeing that kind of personal data on a piece of paper with a stranger’s handwriting – it makes you feel really violated.”

She felt more vulnerable because her mobile went missing from her desk at the Commons at the same time, although she has no evidence that this was linked to the accessing of her voicemails. “My phone was stolen and I had loads of high-profile people in there – cabinet members and their home phone numbers. You have all these numbers because a whip has to be able to get hold of people day and night, especially if you are in government.”

An NI Group Ltd spokesman said: “We have been keen from the beginning to settle these cases with minimum delay and minimum stress for all involved.”

Vote on Puttnam Plan shows Lords backing for Leveson

The film producer Lord Puttnam has managed to send a powerful signal to the Prime Minister of the strength of support within Westminster for implementing the proposals of the Leveson inquiry for reform of the press.

The producer of Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields put forward amendments to the Defamation Bill which included plans for a new arbitration service to  hear libel cases, along lines suggested by Lord Leveson in his report. In a vote in the House of Lords last night, the amendments were carried by 272 votes to 141. The bill receives its next reading on 25 February.

Cross-party talks on the response to Leveson have struggled to find a consensus and will resume next Monday. Conservatives believe that the judge’s proposals can be met by way of a Royal Charter, without recourse to statute, and have promised to produce a draft document to that effect in the coming week.

Ian Burrell