Ian Burrell: Cameron wasn't the only one with questionable links to Murdoch

  • @iburrell

The political dimension of the News of the World hacking scandal has largely focused on the relationship between David Cameron and the newspaper's disgraced editor Andy Coulson, who the Prime Minister chose to employ at Downing Street.

But a book published this week explores the relationship that the Sunday tabloid enjoyed with New Labour and the influential role it played in shaping criminal justice policy during Tony Blair's time as Prime Minister.

Crime Policy and the Media by the former BBC Home Affairs Correspondent turned academic Jon Silverman gives a sobering insight into the way the opinions of frontline professionals can be ignored in the face of tabloid campaigns and politicians who are anxious to win public approval.

It is also a reminder of the swagger and confidence of the News of the World under Coulson's tenure, shortly after it had been named Newspaper of the Year and at a time when its phone-hacking culture was at its peak. Silverman highlights an episode in June 2006 when the Labour Home Secretary, John Reid, met with senior journalists from the News of the World, which was running a campaign to have sex offenders removed from bail hostels. The campaign was being strongly opposed by the National Probation Directorate (NPD).

Mr Reid elected to implement the ban that the newspaper had been arguing for. "This decision was taken on a Friday afternoon, following a meeting with representatives of the News of the World at the Home Office, and trumpeted on the front page of the newspaper two days later."

In its report, the News of the World quoted Reid as saying: "I have [also] asked the minister to study specifically the News of the World's 'Sarah's Law' proposals on controlled access to information".

Silverman writes: The Home Secretary was allowing the impression to be given to the country's largest newspaper readership that policy on a significant and emotive issue of public protection was in lockstep with that of a tabloid campaign." He reports that the News of the World had told the Home Secretary that it had obtained details of the locations of bail hostels and was prepared to publish them unless he took action to remove sex offenders. A senior NPD official told the author: "There was no appetite on the political side to stand up to the paper."

At the time, the Home Office dismissed criticism made by Terry Grange, the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys and the spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers on child protection. "This government has accepted the principle that they are prepared to be blackmailed," he told the BBC.

Grange later told a newspaper: "The reality, as I perceive it, is that the only people with any real strategic intent and understanding on where they want to go, and the will to be ruthless in getting there, is the News of the World."

The book also highlights a scathing public attack made by Reid on the Parole Board in 2006 following two high-profile murders. Details of the speech were leaked to the press. Sir David Latham, the current chair of the Parole Board, told Silverman: "To take the line he took didn't help us nor did it make for good decision-making, which is not about soundbites." Silverman spoke to six former Home Secretaries for the book but Reid declined to be interviewed.

The "Sarah's Law" campaign was started by the newspaper under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks and was continued by her predecessors. The campaign was successful in that it was introduced in pilot areas in 2008 and subsequently extended to cover the whole country. More recently it has emerged that during the Coulson era, Sara Payne, the mother of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne, whose death prompted the campaign, was the victim of hacking by the newspaper's reporters.