Phone hacking probe being hit by celebrity demands

Martin Hickman
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:03

Scotland Yard's ability to investigate criminality in the phone hacking scandal has been "substantially affected" by requests for documents from victims and inquiries from celebrities asking if they were targets, the High Court heard yesterday.

A lawyer for the Yard said a new request by victims' solicitors to examine the entire archive of notes seized from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, pictured right, would cost £180,000 and take 30 man weeks to facilitate.

At least 45 officers, substantially more than the number dedicated to other high-profile inquiries, are working on Operation Weeting, which was set up in the wake of two previous inquiries to investigate hacking at the NOTW following the discovery of new evidence in January. Three current or former senior NOTW journalists have been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to eavesdrop on phone messages.

Jason Beer QC, for the Yard, told a pre-trial hearing for civil damages claims being brought by more than 30 alleged victims of Mr Mulcaire that as well as investigating whether offences had been committed while the private investigator was working for the Sunday newspaper, police were also having to cope with large numbers of public figures seeking documentation or confirmation that their phone messages may also have been hacked.

Mr Beer said: "The priorities [for Weeting] were obviously the investigation and detection of crime but those priorities have been substantially affected by these claims and servicing the daily requests from claimants' solicitors in relation to disclosure issues and from direct requests from members of the public, celebrities and celebrities' agents to see if their client is in the [Mulcaire] papers."

The Yard has some 11,000 documents, including nine notebooks in which Mr Mulcaire allegedly listed the names of his targets and their voicemail details, seized when he was arrested at his Surrey home in August 2006. To bring a civil claim against the NOTW, alleged victims need a court order requiring police to surrender documents relevant to their case.

Jeremy Reed, for the claimants, said it remained to be established how many reporters on the title were carrying out hacking themselves, noting that call records for two phone lines at the NOTW suggested that up to 348,000 calls might have been made to voicemail numbers in the period from September 2005 to August 2006.

The hearing at the High Court was adjourned until Monday.