Deep public concern over the phone hacking scandal is revealed in a ComRes poll for The Independent published today. Nine out of 10 people believe it is wrong for journalists to hack into the messages of celebrities and politicians, while two out of three people think the affair shows the newspaper industry should no longer regulate itself.
The deep public anxiety will add to the pressure on the Metropolitan Police, Crown Prosecution Service and Rupert Murdoch's News International to discover the extent of the practice. There is growing evidence that it was more widespread than The News of the World originally claimed.
The survey also brings bad news for David Cameron. Two out of three people (66 per cent) believe he showed poor judgement when he employed Andy Coulson as Downing Street's director of communications last year, even though he had resigned as editor of the NOTW over the hacking scandal in 2007.
One in four people (24 per cent) do not think he displayed poor judgement. Mr Coulson announced last month he was to leave his Downing Street post, admitting the controversy was preventing him from doing his job properly.
Concern about Mr Cameron's decision to keep Mr Coulson on his team when he became Prime Minister extends to Conservative Party supporters. A majority (57 per cent) believe he showed poor judgement in doing so, compared to 63 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters and 76 per cent of Labour supporters.
The poll also shows that Labour has opened a nine-point lead over the Conservatives, the highest since ComRes began polling for The Independent in 2006. The opposition party is on 43 per cent (up three points since the last ComRes survey for The Independent on 16 January), with the Conservatives on 34 per cent (down two points), the Liberal Democrats on 10 per cent (no change) and other parties on 13 per cent (down one point).
If these figures were repeated at a general election fought under the current electoral system, Labour would win a majority of 110 and the Liberal Democrats would be reduced to 16 seats. Labour is now ahead of the Tories among all age groups under 55.
Asked whether it is acceptable for journalists to hack into celebrities' voicemail messages, 94 per cent of people said no, while 5 per cent said yes and 1 per cent did not know. The findings were almost identical when the same question was asked about politicians' messages: 92 per cent did not think hacking was acceptable, while 7 per cent did and 1 per cent did not know.
Some 67 per cent believe the hacking allegations show that the newspaper industry should no longer regulate itself, while 24 per cent disagree with this statement. This finding is a setback for the Press Complaints Commission, the industry's self-regulatory body, which has been criticised by some MPs for not intervening over the hacking controversy.
Yesterday Bob Crow, the left-wing leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said police had been asked to investigate whether his phone had been hacked. He said: "RMT has had suspicions that journalists may have had access to private information about my movements and my union's activities that date back to 2000."
ComRes telephoned 1,002 British adults from 28–30 January 2011. Full data can be found at www.comres.co.uk.