Rupert Murdoch's former chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, is at the centre of a new inquiry into whether a senior Scotland Yard officer gave her inside information about the progress of the original failed phone-hacking investigation, The Independent understands.
Two days before the launch of Mr Murdoch's new Sun on Sunday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission was examining the nature of an apparent link between the senior Metropolitan Police officer and an executive at News International.
The unnamed senior officer worked in 2006 on the original phone-hacking inquiry, which failed to follow-up evidence of widespread wrongdoing at NI's now-closed Sunday tabloid, the News of the World. The NI executive was not named by investigators but is understood to be Ms Brooks, who resigned as chief executive last July in the wake of revulsion at the NOTW's hacking of the mobile phone of the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler. there is no suggestion that Ms Brooks is implicated in the investigation, other than as a witness. The Independent has been unable to reach Ms Brooks to confirm or deny the allegations. There is no suggestion at this stage that the officer was paid. Ms Brooks is being treated as a witness and a statement is expected to be taken.
Next week, the Leveson Inquiry into press standards will start to examine the entangled relationship between News International and London's police force, whose senior officers enjoyed close relationships with NI executives.
Fresh evidence emerged yesterday of the extensive cover-up mounted by News International's executives to frustrate civil court cases against the company that suspected phone-hacking victims have brought forward.
Court papers show that NI began planning a mass deletion of emails in November 2009, three years after the Met raided the newspaper's royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.
It accelerated months after the revelation that News International had authorised a £700,000 hush payment to a phone-hacking victim, Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association.
In November 2009, NI agreed a policy to "eliminate in a consistent manner across NI (subject to compliance with legal and regulatory requirements) emails that could be unhelpful in the context of future litigation in which an NI company is a defendant".
In an email dated 4 August 2010 – as the civil court actions mounted – a "senior executive" at NI emailed to explain "everyone needs to know that anything before January 2010 will not be kept".
The papers were released this week by a High Court judge, Mr Justice Vos, following the settlement of a civil case brought against NI by the singer Charlotte Church. That settlement saw off the last of the current round of "test cases" against NI – which would have resulted in NI's cover-up being picked over in the High Court next week.
Tomorrow Mr Murdoch will launch The Sun on Sunday, the NOTW's replacement, despite the recent arrests of 10 senior Sun staffers on suspicion of corruption. The staff deny the allegations.
The IPCC began its latest investigation after receiving a referral from Operation Elveden, the Met inquiry into the corruption of public officials. It had received the information from the Management Standards Committee, which is checking back through records at Wapping for evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of News Corp, NI's US-based parent company.
The information is believed to have been passed to the NI executive after Goodman and Mulcaire were arrested in August 2006. The IPCC will be seeking to establish whether the information was "legitimately" in the public domain, whether the officer committed a crime, or if he should face a charge of misconduct.
"At this stage there is no evidence to suggest any inappropriate payment, of any sort, having been made to the senior MPS officer," the IPCC said.
The officer has not been suspended from work within the Met's specialist operations section, which deals with counter-terrorism and protection for royalty and other public figures, but that is being kept under review. A Scotland Yard spokesman said the officer was not a member of operations Elveden, Weeting or Tuleta, which are respectively investigating inappropriate payments to officers, phone hacking and computer hacking. Two days after her resignation last July, Ms Brooks was arrested by the Met on suspicion of phone hacking. She has denied the allegations.
Ms Brooks' spokesman was unavailable for comment last night.
*Two men, aged 50 and 51, were arrested yesterday by officers from Scotland Yard's Operation Tuleta, the inquiry into computer hacking. The arrests in Hertfordshire and Surrey were not directly linked to any news organisation or the activities of journalists, police said.
Police officers to appear before Leveson
Two senior Scotland Yard officers who resigned over the phone- hacking scandal will give evidence to the Leveson inquiry into press ethics next week.
The former Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, and Assistant Commissioner John Yates will feature on Thursday as the inquiry begins a new phase this week looking at relations between police and the press. The pair quit amid criticism of the way the force dealt with original allegations of hacking and failed to unearth the scale of wrongdoing.
Mr Yates is expected to give evidence by video-link from Bahrain where he is helping to overhaul policing following its brutal crackdown against anti-regime protesters last year.