MPs were "warned off" pursuing the phone-hacking scandal in Parliament as part of a cover-up, a Labour frontbencher claimed last night during an incendiary speech in which he accused the country's biggest police force of misleading a Commons committee, and its biggest newspaper group of engaging in the "dark arts" of tapping, hacking and blagging.
Damning the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police and Rupert Murdoch's News International, Chris Bryant claimed his friends had been told by an ally of Mr Murdoch that their raising the issue "would not be forgotten". Suggesting there was a "full-blown, copper-bottomed scandal", he said neither the police nor the newspapers had properly investigated the criminality and that attempts had been made to suppress the full scale of the wrongdoing. To a near-empty Commons chamber, Mr Bryant:
* Accused News International of carrying out illegal activities ranging from tapping phones to blagging phone records to conning health records out of doctors' surgeries;
* Stated he believed phone hacking had taken place at the News of the World from 2002, three years before it was formally acknowledged by police to have begun;
* Added that the alleged hacking had taken place under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks, the current head of News International and Mr Murdoch's most senior UK newspaper executive;
* Claimed one of Britain's most senior police officers misled a parliamentary inquiry by saying there had been only "eight to 12 victims";
* Questioned the Met's "narrow, false" interpretation of the law on intercepting messages;
* Disclosed eight MPs had been told they may have been victims.
Mr Bryant, a former Europe minister, said it had been communicated to MPs that they should not pursue the scandal – which allegedly involved the hacking of the former prime minister Gordon Brown, the former deputy prime minister John Prescott and dozens of other public figures.
Scotland Yard launched a new inquiry into the hacking carried out for the NOTW in January, after civil litigants found the scandal had spread far beyond the paper's jailed royal editor, Clive Goodman.
"Almost as bad as the original illegal activity... has been the cover-up," Mr Bryant complained. "Other members and former members of this House have said they were warned off pushing this issue in the House and in select committees. When I raised the question of parliamentary privilege last September, my friends were told by a senior figure allied to Rupert Murdoch and a former executive of News International to warn me that this would not be forgotten." He listed all the covert tactics used to obtain or wheedle out information about private lives: all were part of the "dark arts" practised by News International.
The Met's acting deputy commissioner, John Yates, had either inadvertently or deliberately given wrong information to the Commons Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee when he claimed that only eight to 12 people had their phones illegally tapped by journalists. "He used an argument that had never been relied upon by the Crown Prosecution Service or his own officers to suggest that the number of victims was minuscule. In fact he knew, and we know, that the number of potential victims is and was substantial. What was lacking was not possible avenues of investigation but, in my view, the will to pursue them."
The "narrow" interpretation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, that it was not a crime to eavesdrop messages already listened to by their intended recipient, "was misleading not on a minor point, but on the most substantial point of all".
But what astounded and infuriated him the most, he said, was that the scale of the scandal had only been wrung out of the Met by the civil litigants suing the NOTW once the Met had "failed to or refused to join up the dots of evidence" it already had.
Mr Bryant, a former Europe minister, spoke in the Commons hours after seeing evidence about him in material seized from Mulcaire's home in 2006. He is seeking a judicial review of the Met's handling of the phone hacking case, along with Lord Prescott, Brian Paddick, the former Scotland Yard Commander, and Brendan Montague, a freelance journalist.
News International last night declined to comment on Mr Bryant's claims. A company source said that no evidence had been presented that phone hacking was carried out on its titles beyond the NOTW or that the activity took place as early as 2002. Scotland Yard said Mr Yates believed the claims against him were wrong. A spokesman said: "It is disappointing that Chris Bryant has chosen to repeat these allegations."
His Commons speech: What Chris Bryant said on...
The 'dark arts' "This debate is about phone hacking – a term that covers a multitude of sins: tapping a phone call or line; hacking into a phone's operating systems so as to be able to access emails, texts, messages... There are, of course, other dark arts: ringing an office and pretending to deliver a parcel to someone's home address and thereby fraudulently getting the home address; ringing a phone call centre and pretending to be a client so as to be able to get a personal identification number... blagging a doctor's receptionist into giving out highly personal information about an appointment, or medication or other treatment... All of these dark arts were part of the systematic modus operandi of the News of the World for a sustained period."
News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks (née Wade) "I believe the practice started earlier than 2003 – in 2002, under the editorship of Rebekah Wade. I believe that evidence will very soon prove that to be the case."
The original Scotland Yard hacking investigation: "One day, there will have to be a full investigation as to why the Met's original investigation was so cursory. Was it laziness that meant people simply couldn't be bothered to wade through the material gathered from Glenn Mulcaire in 2006? Was it because of the closeness of senior officers to the newspaper? Was it just too ready an acceptance of News International's word? Or did the News of the World actually have something on some of the people involved in the investigation?"
The mass of missed evidence "What still astounds and frankly infuriates me is that in many cases, the Met already had all the information they needed: reams and reams of notes taken by Mr Mulcaire, with 91 personal identification numbers; copious invoices; pages devoted to individual targets with thousands of linked phone numbers, many of them garnered illicitly; and quite often the name of a commissioning journalist or executive... In other words, the Met had many of the dots. They just failed to or refused to join them up."
The targeting of MPs "The allegation that there were only a 'handful' of hacking victims is countered by the fact that I could name... at least eight members of the House of Commons who have been informed directly by the Metropolitan Police that they were not only a person of interest to Mr Mulcaire, but there may have been interception of their messages."
The relationship between the 'NOTW' and the Metropolitan Police "There are very serious issues here. On the face of it at least the relationship between the Metropolitan Police and the News of the World is remarkably, and I would argue dangerously, close."