Police to reopen phone hacking investigation as more witnesses emerge
Sunday newspaper's former head of news may hold the key to the Tory spin doctor's future
Thursday 09 September 2010
The police are to reopen their investigation into the News of the World phone-hacking next week and plan to interview former journalists from the newspaper for the first time to discover who else was involved in hacking the voicemails of public figures.
The pressure on David Cameron's spin doctor Andy Coulson will be intensified by the fact that detectives are preparing to speak with Greg Miskiw, a former head of news and so far the only senior executive at the newspaper to be conclusively linked to Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for tapping phones on behalf of the Sunday tabloid.
The Scotland Yard inquiry will first interview Sean Hoare, a former journalist at the newspaper who came forward last week to claim that Mr Coulson ordered him to tap phones. They will then open a fresh "line of inquiry" to establish whether the practice of phone-hacking was sanctioned by senior executives including Mr Coulson. As part of that inquiry officers will speak to the former editor and also have Mr Miskiw and Ross Hall, a junior reporter at the paper, on their radar. None of them has been interviewed before.
Mr Miskiw's involvement with Mr Mulcaire was highlighted by the Culture and Media Select Committee last year when his signature was found to be on a contract agreeing to pay the private investigator £7,000 in relation to a story about the PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor. Mr Taylor won £700,000 in legal costs and damages from the newspaper. But the former News of the World executive was never questioned by police, a decision criticised by MPs on the Culture Committee. A report published in February described the decision as "a wrong one" and that Scotland Yard's reasons for failing to do so were "inadequate". The committee added that it was "inconceivable" that no one else at the newspaper beyond the royal correspondent Clive Goodman knew about the phone-hacking.
Police sources confirmed that the decision not to speak to Mr Miskiw during the original inquiry – launched in 2006 – amounted to a "gap" in their investigation. The contract with Mr Mulcaire, who used the pseudonym Paul Williams, was signed on 4 February 2005 for "pictures/information" about Mr Taylor. The Commons committee said the "key" document coincided with the first accessing of voicemail accounts of members of the royal household by Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman.
During testimony to MPs, Stuart Kuttner, managing editor of the NOTW, insisted that the contract was drawn up by Mr Miskiw, who was based in the paper's Manchester office, without his knowledge. Mr Coulson also said his head of news did not talk to him about the arrangement "in any way".
The select committee report expressed bemusement at the failure in 2006 of the police and prosecutors to investigate the contract and an email containing transcripts of hacked voicemails.
The MPs said: "These matters merited thorough police investigation and the first steps to be taken seem to us to have been obvious. The Metropolitan Police's reasons for not doing so seem to us to be inadequate."
Mr Miskiw failed to provide testimony to the select committee. He told The Independent that he had contacted MPs to "explain his position". A search of the Commons library reveals a doctor's note saying he was unwell and could not testify.
The executive, who left the News of the World in 2005 after a "long and distinguished career", was involved in some of the paper's biggest scoops. Police will want to investigate whether his relationship with Mr Mulcaire undermines the assertion by both the News of the World and Mr Coulson that the phone-hacking was carried out at the behest of one "rogue reporter".
Such claims have already been rubbished by Mr Mulcaire himself, who wrote in a book synopsis that he received up to 20 calls a year from senior executives at the News of the World.
Officers will also speak with Ross Hall, a junior reporter who was responsible for transcribing stolen voice messages on behalf of another reporter. The decision to speak with him came after he revealed that he would co-operate. He is understood to have transcribed more than 30 of Mr Taylor's messages but not to have been aware that what he did was illegal. He sent the transcripts in an email marked "for Neville". The Neville in question is the paper's chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck. Police also failed to interview Mr Thurlbeck during the original investigation. This too was criticised by the culture committee, and John Yates told MPs that, in hindsight, this was an error.
Paul McMullan, a former features executive and a member of the newspaper's investigations team, was reported last night as saying the use of private investigators to get information by breaking the law was routine. He told The Guardian he had commissioned investigators hundreds of times and that senior executives, including Mr Coulson, were aware of what was happening.
Meanwhile, the former FA chief executive David Davies added his name to the list of those who say their phones were hacked.
The decision to reopen part of the inquiry marks a softening on the part of the Met who have previously resisted calls for the investigation to be revisited. Police sources confirmed that only lines of inquiry which could provide evidence of a widespread phone-hacking culture at the paper will be re-investigated. Anything which strengthens the case against Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman will be discounted as those men have already been convicted.
A source added: "People know about this and they have got to come forward if they know of people who were involved."
Timeline of events...
January 2005 Andy Coulson starts as editor of the News of the World.
November 2005 Royal aides become suspicious that someone is hacking into the mobile phones of members of the Royal Family.
January 2006 Scotland Yard uncovers evidence that the News of the World 's royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, hired a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, to eavesdrop voicemail messages by royal aides.
9 April 2006 A voicemail message from Prince William to Prince Harry appears verbatim in the paper.
August 2006 Police arrest Goodman and Mulcaire and raid the News of the World office and Mulcaire's home, finding thousands of telephone numbers and at least 91 PIN numbers. The Met informs Gordon Taylor, head of the PFA; Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem MP; Elle Macpherson, the model; Sky Andrew, the football agent; and Max Clifford, the celebrity PR, that their phones may have been hacked.
26 January 2007 Goodman and Mulcaire sentenced to prison terms. Coulson resigns as editor.
6 March 2007 News International's executive chairman Les Hinton tells a Commons committee that he thought Goodman was the only person at the paper who knew about the hacking.
May 2007 Coulson hired by the Opposition leader David Cameron.
July 2007 Goodman and Mulcaire sue the paper for wrongful dismissal. Mulcaire is paid £80,000, Goodman an undisclosed amount.
June 2008 Gordon Taylor receives £700,000 in an out-of-court settlement from News Group Newspapers.
8 July 2009 The Guardian reports that the News of the World had paid more than £1m to victims of hacking.
16 July 2009 Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, said the police investigation had threatened to be "unmanageable".
21 July 2009 Coulson tells the culture select committee Goodman was a "rogue reporter".
24 February 2010 The culture committee's report condemns "collective amnesia" and "deliberate obfuscation" by witnesses and says it is "inconceivable" Goodman was the only hacker.
May 2010 Coulson appointed Downing St director of communications.
1 September 2010 Sean Hoare and two unnamed former News of the World journalists quoted in the New York Times as saying that Coulson knew about and encouraged hacking.
6 September 2010 Home Secretary Theresa May said any police investigation was an "operational matter".
7 September 2010 Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, announces it will hold an inquiry into the affair.
Was phone-hacking widespread at the News of the World (and other newspapers)?
Three former News of the World journalists have told The New York Times it was common practice, but News International insists Clive Goodman was the sole offender. There is no evidence of phone-hacking by other newspaper, but much suspicion.
What did Andy Coulson know?
Sean Hoare, a former colleague, says his former editor condoned and encouraged hacking. Coulson has absolutely denied it, and Tory sources have suggested Hoare is a man with a grievance. David Cameron says he accepts Coulson's word.
Did the police conduct a thorough investigation?
Questions have been asked about why only two men were prosecuted, when other are known to have hacked. The Met says they focused on the case where they had the best chance of success. Their conduct has been defended by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Did they hold back for fear of offending News International?
John Yates, Assistant Met Commissioner, told MPs it is a serious offence for officers to accept payments from newspapers and that there was no improper pressure on investigators.
Did they do all they could to protect potential victims?
Some of those whose phones were hacked were warned as soon as the offenders had been arrested, but the Labour MP Chris Bryant was not. Others, such as John Prescott, suspect they were hacked and the police have not told them.
Is Coulson a fit person to be Director of Communications?
Coulson has done nothing wrong while working for David Cameron. But opponents say that even if he knew nothing about what his staff were up to, that is reason enough for him to have to go.
Will Coulson survive in his job?
That is what half the gossips in Westminster are speculating about.
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