Hackers illegally tapped a mobile phone belonging to Tessa Jowell at least 28 times while she was a serving cabinet minister, it emerged last night.
Until now, Ms Jowell, the former Culture Secretary, has not spoken publicly about the phone-tapping scandal.
The scale of the hacking of a serving Cabinet minister’s telephone was uncovered by detectives who had been looking into the tapping of Prince Harry’s mobile phone.
The offence was traced to a private detective hired by a reporter from the News of the World, which was edited then by Andy Coulson, who now works in Downing Street as David Cameron’s chief spin doctor.
Further revelations yesterday placed pressure on Mr Coulson – and raised questions about Mr Cameron’s judgement in appointing him as Downing Street’s £140,000-a-year Director of Communications.
Lawyers say that they are working for “dozens” of celebrities, politicians and journalists who would like to sue the News of the World after being told that they may also have had their voicemail messages illegally intercepted.
Ms Jowell told The Independent yesterday: “I know I was tapped 28 times by May 2006 because the police told me. I had a call when I was on holiday in August 2006 from the Met to say that I had been tapped, but they asked me to do nothing except increase the security on my phone.
“Later, they came back to me and said I wouldn’t be need to be a witness in this case. I also had a call from Vodafone about improving security.”
Ms Jowell spoke out as political pressure increased for an investigation to be reopened into the scandal. A police investigation four years ago led to the royal editor of the News of the World, Clive Goodman, and a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, being jailed for hacking into telephones used by Prince Harry, Prince William, and members of the Palace staff.
Files seized by the police when they raided Mulcaire’s home contained 4,332 names, 2,978 mobile numbers and 91 PIN numbers used to access mobile phone voicemail messages, but most of the potential victims of his activities were not warned of the risk that they had been tapped – unlike Ms Jowell. The police say that “at least” 11 people had their voicemails hacked by Mulcaire, eight of whom were named in the indictment. They have not given a figure for the precise total.
Labour jumped on the scandal, which was revived by fresh allegations published in the New York Times suggesting that phone-tapping by News of the World journalists was much more widespread than previously claimed, and that Mr Coulson knew it was going on – something he denies.
The former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced that he will exercise his right as a former minister to go back to the Home Office to review the files on the case.
He also said that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, should consider taking any investigation out of the hands of the Metropolitan Police – accused of having too cosy a relationship with the tabloid paper, something it denies – and handing it over to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
And the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, said he will seek a judicial review to find out whether reports that his phone was tapped are true. Last year, the deputy head of Scotland Yard, John Yates, said a careful examination by senior detectives had throw up “no evidence” that Lord Prescott’s was a victim of phone tapping.
Conservative MPs are reluctant to speak publicly about a case involving a man who is constantly at David Cameron’s right hand, but one senior figure in the party said that the new revelations were causing unease across the party, particularly as to whether the Prime Minister had been wise to keep Mr Coulson on his staff. “I’m not saying anything more about it this week,” he said. “But next week – perhaps.”
Other Tory sources accused Labour politicians of trying to whip up interest in the scandal in the hope of forcing Mr Coulson to resign or be sacked. No 10 says his position is secure.
The Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders has called for a formal inquiry headed by a judge. “It is about justice for people who were allegedly hacked," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme yesterday.
In an open letter to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson yesterday, the former Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson warned that there is “much anger and concern” over the apparent failure to pass on warnings to all the potential victims that their phones may have been tapped. “Your conduct of this matter is being scrutinised all over the world. So far, it is bringing shame on our country,” he claimed.
The revival of the scandal raises questions about David Cameron’s judgement in appointing Andy Coulson as Downing Street’s £140,000 a year Director of Communications.
Mr Coulson resigned as Editor of the News of the World, in 2007, though he has consistently denied that he knew about Mr Goodman’s activities or that he sanctioned illegal phone tapping by any of his staff.
Executives from Rupert Murdoch’s company, News International, have always claimed that the Goodman case was a one-off and that their reporters are not encouraged or allowed to indulge in illegal phone tapping.
But earlier this year, another News of the World reporter was suspended pending an investigation into phone tapping. The steady trickle of evidence that politicians, sports personalities and other prominent figures were tapped also throws doubt on the claim that Mr Goodman was a lone bad apple. His role on the newspaper was to cover the Royal family. There is no reason that he should have hired a private detective to snoop on Ms Jowell or anyone else not connected with the royals.
Mr Johnson said yesterday: “As Home Secretary I was concerned to ensure the Metropolitan Police conducted a rigorous and thorough investigation into all of the facts and allegations relating to the News of the World phone tapping case. The allegations were extremely serious and involved people from many walks of public life including democratically elected politicians.
“Because I felt uncomfortable with the progress being made in the investigation I considered calling in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to take over the investigation. However, following reassuring conversations with senior Officers in Scotland Yard I decided not to. In the light of the further serious allegations that have surfaced recently there may now be a case for the Home Secretary to ask the HMIC to investigate.
“Convention allows former Ministers to review papers relating to their tenure in office. It is therefore my intention to go back to the Home Office to review the files relating to the phone tapping allegations. I will then give whatever help I can to the current Home Secretary to ensure she has a complete picture of all the facts.”
Chris Bryant, a former Foreign Office, became convinced around 2003 that his telephone had been tapped because tabloid newspapers obtained private information about him, such as the home telephone numbers of relatives, which could be obtained from any published source. Years later, he learnt that the police had found his details when they raided Mr Mulcaire’s office.
He is now involved in a joint action against the police with Brian Paddick, Scotland Yard’s former deputy assistant commissioner, and the freelance writer Brendan Montague, whose details were also found in Mr Mulcaire’s possession.
Their solicitor, Tamsin Allen, partner at Bindmans, said: “The purpose of this claim is to hold the Metropolitan Police to account for the failings in the investigation of the phone-hacking scandal and its decision not to tell victims about what had happened to them. Our clients and all the other victims expect a full explanation as to why a public authority should have withheld information and possibly misled the public.”
Mr Bryant said: “I would say to any politician, actor, actress, celebrity, footballer or anyone else who has been of interest to the media to write to the Met and ask them what they have got, because for all they know they could have been tapped.”
Mr Paddick said: “My solicitor sent a letter to The Metropolitan Police asking them if I had been subject to phone tapping. Initially they wrote back and said I had not been. Then they wrote back and said that my name was on a list that they found when they raided the offices of Glenn Mulcaire but there is no evidence that my phone was tapped.
“I interpret that to mean that my name was on the list and they did not investigate it any further. I think that the Met had a duty to inform me that my name was on that list so that I could take action to protect my privacy but it appears that the Met were selective in terms of who they told.”
Mark Lewis, who represented Gordon Taylor of the Professional Players Association in his settled claim against the News of the World, said he is now acting for an undisclosed number of journalists, celebrities and MPs also suing or preparing to sue the News of the World over the phone hacking allegations. Some of them are also pursuing claims against the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire.
He told the Independent: “What we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. Claims that start just disappear. We still don’t know the full extent of phone hacking. People are entitled to and do take the money. Claims are in the pipeline. People who are victims do not know. The Metropolitan Police who have the information do not volunteer it, and try and come out with arguments as to why you someone is not a victim even though the message that they had left was listened into.”
He added: “The Press Complaints Commission has been consistent. Throughout it has taken no action. Excuse after excuse is offered but they have shown their true colours. The only way to get redress is through the Court.”
Charlotte Harris, who represented Max Clifford in his claim against the News of World, accused the Metropolitan Police of being "mealy mouthed" about what they had told public figures about the hacking.
"It now seems that some of their non-disclosure was rather self-serving and random. It was left to the Met to say which MPs were vulnerable to a security risk and which ones weren't. But I think they should investigate all the numbers involving Members of Parliament. I didn't jump on the police conspiracy band wagon because I wanted to believe them. It seems I may have been too sympathetic."
Ms Harris is now acting for 25 celebrities, MPs journalists and other clients. They include Sky Andrew, former MP Lembit Opik, and a woman who was the victim of a sexual attack.
How the case unfolded
January 2006: Scotland Yard uncovers evidence that News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman hired a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, to eavesdrop on royal aides' voicemails.
9 April 2006: A voicemail message from Prince William to Prince Harry appears word for word in the NOTW.
8 August 2006: Police raid the News of the World offices and Mulcaire's home.
August 2006: Police warn Tessa Jowell her phone had been tapped 28 times.
26 January 2007: Goodman and Mulcaire sentenced to jail. Andy Coulson resigns.
May 2007: Coulson hired by opposition leader David Cameron as chief spin doctor.
May 2010: Coulson appointed director of communications in Downing Street
The dapper and long-standing royal editor of the News of the World was jailed for four months in 2007 after Scotland Yard found he and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, had hacked into the voicemails of Princes William and Harry. Goodman later received a settlement from News Group Newspapers after taking the company to an employment tribunal. Goodman now covers royal stories for the Daily Star Sunday.
The long-haired former professional footballer-turned-private eye was jailed for six months for his role in hacking into the princes' messages. The court heard that Mulcaire had also hacked the phones of high-profile figures, including the model Elle Macpherson, the publicist Max Clifford, the football agent Sky Andrew and the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, Gordon Taylor. This week, The New York Times released an audio clip of Mulcaire briefing a reporter (not from the News of the World) on how to intercept voice-mail messages.
A former showbiz reporter on The Sun, Coulson became editor of the News of the World in 2003. He resigned after Goodman and Mulcaire were jailed but denied any knowledge of their activities. Less than six months later, he was appointed communications director of the Conservative Party.
The hefty former News of the World reporter has come forward to tell The New York Times that Coulson "actively encouraged" him to hack phones. Hoare was a former friend of Coulson's who worked with him at The Sun. He was fired from the News of the World after developing drink and drug problems, but said his reason for speaking out about phone hacking at the newspaper was because he did not wish to see Goodman take all of the blame.
In an interview yesterday on Radio 4, Hoare reiterated his assertion that Coulson, as his editor, asked him to hack phones. "The main purpose of it was that we would get verification on a story so that we could go to a PR and say. 'Look, we know this'," he said. One of Hoare's assignments at the News of the World was to have colonic irrigation in order to report on the life of celebrities. According to diary stories, Hoare complained to colleagues that a real A-lister would have spent the time taking drugs. "Then you've been leading the life of a star all your fucking life, son," he was told. When he was hired by The Sun, Hoare was described as "the best showbiz hack on The People", where his scoops included "Spice Island: Posh and Becks plan to buy £6m isle...just off the coast of Essex."
Claim to have been hacked, considering action
Vanessa Feltz, radio and TV presenter
Brian Paddick, former Metropolitan Police chief
Nicola Phillips, former assistant to Max Clifford
George Galloway, politician
Lembit Opik, former MP
John Prescott, politician
Chris Bryant, politician
Brendan Montague, journalist
Definitely hacked, already secured payout
Gordon Taylor, PFA chief
Max Clifford, publicist
Definitely hacked, not known to be seeking payout
Elle Macpherson, model
Simon Hughes, politician
Sky Andrew, agent
Helen Asprey, Royal Aide
Patrick Harverson, Royal Aide
Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, Royal Aide