Not for the first time, Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates stood before MPs yesterday to answer questions on how forensic the Metropolitan Police had been in their investigations into phone hacking by journalists from News International, publishers of the News of the World. His responses showed Scotland Yard's handling of the case has been woefully inadequate. Mr Yates repeatedly hid behind the fact that there is an ongoing inquiry to deflect the probing of MPs who were angry that he previously assured them there were very few cases of hacking by reporters from Rupert Murdoch's Sunday tabloid.
Reluctantly, the officer who reviewed the original investigation in 2009 two years after completion, conceded that information had emerged which had "radically changed" the police's attitude to the case. On his previous appearance before the Select Committee on Culture, Media & Sport, Mr Yates was clear there was no evidence to warrant a revived inquiry. Scotland Yard is now devoting "huge resources" to the matter, he said, in order to rectify its earlier shortcomings.
The Met was dragged into this new inquiry, as fresh evidence of hacking was uncovered by MPs, other media organisations including this newspaper, and by News International itself. As he admitted his force had endured a "challenging" time in the face of criticism, Mr Yates said he hoped that the current investigation, was "putting that right".
The gulf between the Met's lukewarm attitude towards the phone hacking scandal and the importance of the issue to British society was thrown into stark relief by evidence disclosed at the end of yesterday's hearing. Tom Watson MP revealed that disgraced private investigator Glenn Mulcaire may have been hired by the News of the World to hack the phones of relatives of two girls killed at Soham by school caretaker Ian Huntley.
At a time when the public was praying for a speedy resolution to the police investigation of the murders, tabloid reporters may have been illegally snooping. Cambridgeshire Police, who brought Huntley to justice, will be alarmed at the news. It is to be hoped that their colleagues at the Met are similarly distressed.