The News of the World phone-hacking scandal took a fresh twist yesterday as it emerged that Britain's second most senior law officer is to examine concerns of collusion between the newspaper and police.
Vera Baird, the Solicitor General, revealed that she will "satisfy" herself whether or not criminals have been convicted with the help of illegal phone-tap evidence obtained by the News of the World.
Tom Watson, a Labour member of the culture, media and sport committee, used parliamentary privilege to raise the extraordinary issue in the House of Commons last Thursday.
It follows a report by the committee last month which criticised Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner John Yates for failing to provide the MPs with more detailed evidence over the extent of hacking into private messages by former News International employees.
John Whittingdale, the Tory chairman of the committee, wrote to Mr Yates to reprimand him that it was "regrettable and improper" that the Metropolitan Police provided more evidence in a freedom of information request than he revealed during his appearance before the committee last year.
While no evidence has been brought to light that there has been collusion between the News of the World and the police, MPs are concerned that Mr Yates's reticence before the committee suggested a close relationship between the two organisations.
In questions in the Commons on Thursday, Mr Watson asked Ms Baird: "Will my honourable and learned Friend satisfy herself that the Crown Prosecution Service has not successfully prosecuted cases on the basis of police files that were compiled using evidence illegally obtained by News of the World phone hacking?"
The Solicitor General replied: "Yes – I am not sure that any connection has been made, but I am very well aware of the issue, and it is an issue well raised."
Whitehall sources said that there would not, at this stage, be a full-blown investigation into any concerns, but that the issue would be examined. A more detailed investigation would take place if substantial evidence was put forward, sources said.
Mr Watson, a former minister and Labour MP for West Bromwich East, said last night: "We know that evidence at the culture, media and sport select committee inquiry shows that Scotland Yard are sitting on a great deal of evidence that isn't currently in the public domain. I am sure they and the chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, would wish to be reassured that illegal evidence-gathering has not been used in criminal trials."
A spokesman for the Met said it would not be commenting on the parliamentary exchange. A News International spokesman declined to comment.
The row has refused to die down, with pressure continuing on Andy Coulson, David Cameron's director of communications who resigned as editor of the News of the World when his journalist, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed over illegal phone-hacking.
Mr Coulson has always said he knew nothing about the unlawful activity, while the newspaper has portrayed Goodman and Mulcaire as rogue operators. The culture committee report last month was also scathing about the newspaper's executives' "collective amnesia" and "deliberate obfuscation" over the issue.
Earlier this month The Independent on Sunday revealed that the Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik has instructed lawyers to look into possible illegal hacking of his mobile phone.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies