Screws tighten on 'News of the World' in damning MPs' report

The tabloid, the police and the PCC will be slammed on Wednesday, says Matthew Bell

Sunday 21 February 2010 01:00 GMT

One minute past midnight is an unusual time for parliamentary business. It is a furtive hour, reserved for burying bad news. But the publication this Wednesday of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee's report into press standards, privacy and libel will, according to a source close to the committee, make uncomfortable reading at any time.

Concluding a year-long inquiry by 11 MPs into, among other issues, The News of the World's phone-hacking scandal, its findings are expected to have damaging implications for News International, the Conservative party, the Metropolitan Police, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the Crown Prosecution Service and the Information Commissioner.

"The report finds against them and for The Guardian," confirms the source, referring to the newspaper's claim that unlawful practice had been "endemic" at the NoW, contrary to News International's defence that it was limited to a "rogue reporter".

The report is expected to raise further questions for Andy Coulson, David Cameron's director of communications, who stepped down as editor of the NoW over the scandal. "I wouldn't be surprised if he quits by the end of the week," said the source. Coulson has always maintained he was unaware of any criminal activities among his staff. Senior Conservatives are anxious that the report could overshadow next weekend's spring conference.

This weekend marks a hiatus in the ongoing legal battle between the paper and publicist Max Clifford, one of five confirmed phone-hacking victims, after Mr Justice Vos ordered the newspaper and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to release evidence that would, it is claimed, reveal the illegal practice was widespread. A court hearing was due last week but has stalled because Clifford has entered talks with Rebekah Brooks (née Wade), the chief executive of News International and a former editor of the NoW.

"The big difference between then and now is Rebekah," said Clifford on Friday. "I've had a good relationship with her for 20 years, we get on very well." It was wrong, however, to suggest his case was settled, he added, referring to a Guardian report last week, which raised the possibility he may still opt for disclosure.

Even if Clifford decides to settle, the information could be made public as an unnamed person intends to make an application for third party disclosure if Clifford does not. "Getting the order two weeks ago was the main victory," he said last night. "Now it is a matter of completing it."

Other claimants could also come forward to apply for the disclosure order to be completed. In addition to Clifford, there are four victims of phone hacking including Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers Association, who reached a £700,000 settlement with the NoW. The other three are model Elle Macpherson, the Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes, and the football agent Sky Andrews. Macpherson is believed to have ruled herself out of pursuing a claim, but the other two have not.

Wednesday's report is expected to heap condemnation on the Metropolitan Police, the Information Commissioner and the PCC for failing to fully investigate accusations of widespread criminal activity. Singled out for criticism will be the Met's Assistant Commissioner, John Yates. This follows a Freedom of Information request last month which revealed the police knew the NoW was in possession of 91 voicemail pin codes.

Mark Lewis, a solicitor who represented Gordon Taylor and gave evidence to the select committee, wrote last week to ask for the Met's investigation to be re-opened, led by someone other than Yates. The Met has said there is no need to re-open the inquiry, as no new evidence has come to light, but Lewis argues this evidence is new, and was not disclosed by Yates in his evidence to the committee in July.

Lewis may also take personal action against the Met for misleading him, and could launch a separate libel action against the PCC after the chairman, Lady Buscombe, wrote a letter that appeared to contradict Lewis's evidence to the committee.

The report is expected to reserve its criticism for Buscombe's predecessor, Sir Christopher Meyer, who was chairman during the initial investigation. Sir Christopher is, however, taking it in his stride. "I shall read it with interest," he said this weekend, "but I'm not going to comment before I have read it. In fact, I am not going to comment when I have read it." Asked if he would do things differently if he had his time again he said: "The point is you don't get your time again." No doubt, come Wednesday, there will be some who wish they did.

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