The Met and the bin bags

On the morning of 8 August 2006 officers of the Metropolitan Police raided the offices and home in Surrey of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and gathered up all the materials they could find which might be relevant to their ten-month-old investigation into the illegal hacking of mobile phone voicemails. The haul — notebooks, loose papers, files, disks of various kinds, computer records — was put into bin bags, filling two or three of them. (more…)

Mark Lewis accuses Baroness Buscombe of "denial" in phone hacking scandal

Solicitor Mark Lewis has accused Press Complaints Commission chair Baroness Buscombe of being in “complete denial” over the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

In a scathing letter to Buscombe,  Lewis says:

As recently as your [2 February] appearance on the Media show you remained in complete denial. The PCC’s role as an independent regulator of the press is meaningless. You tried to explain your actions by saying “we just don;t know” what the facts are. Well they are out there now. Even the News of the World has conceded that there have been more examples of hacking. Whilst their “mea culpa” in the inside cover of yesterday’s paper was partial and largely hidden, it made a concession that demonstrated that your report of 7 November 2009 was not worth the paper it was written on.

He goes on:

I would be very surprised if you were unaware of the latest developments and the admission by the News of the World about the extent of “hacking”. Yet our silence has been breathtaking. If it assists, your report concluded that you had not been “materially misled” by them then, and then chose to mislead yourself a second time. now is the time for you and the PCC to come out and condemn the News of the World in a robust and unequivocal way.

Read the full letter below


UPDATE: Jonathan Collett of the Press Complaints Commission has contacted Index to point us to this statement released by the PCC on Friday:

Statement from the PCC’s Phone Hacking Review Committee (8/4/2011)

The PCC’s Phone Hacking Review Committee has noted today’s statement by News International.

The newspaper has now admitted its own internal investigations have not been sufficiently robust. This raises serious questions about its previous conduct in regard to this issue. Our Committee will need a detailed explanation for this, along with other answers we will be seeking from executives. We have already made clear that we require and expect full co-operation from News International.

The PCC, through this Committee, is committed to holding the News of the World properly to account regarding concerns about phone hacking. It will also work to ensure that situations such as this do not arise in the future. Our findings will be made public.

Phone hacking among journalists, even in the past, raises clear issues about journalistic ethics. The PCC will play its part in acting vigorously to deal with it, in regard to both the News of the World and the industry as a whole.

The Committee is conscious that there is an ongoing police investigation, as well as active legal proceedings. Its own review process must not interfere with them. It will not be commenting further at this stage.

Why did News International retreat on phone hacking?

James Murdoch was quoted this weekend as saying in New York that his father’s company has now put the phone hacking problem “in a box” so that everybody would not be “sucked into it”, causing the whole business to “sputter”.

Well maybe. News International has always had a cultish, us-against-the-rest character, so its mind is hard to read, but the truth surely is that the company’s lawyers have known for weeks if not months that they could not win most or perhaps any of the private cases brought by people who believe they were victims of News of the World hacking.

It may be that the decisive moment came a month or so ago, when the judicial authorities made a simple and for them almost routine decision. About 25 separate legal actions were in the works and it was no secret that papers were being prepared for more, so it was thought sensible and efficient to direct all of them towards one judge, who would then be versed in all the common factors and issues. The chosen judge was Mr Justice Vos, who had until then been hearing the preliminaries in the combined cases of Andy Gray and Steve Coogan. For News International this was surely a disaster, because in those preliminary hearings they had road tested some of their most important defences and found Vos unsympathetic to the point of dismissiveness.

Perhaps the most significant moment came during a court hearing in January, when Vos was briskly reviewing matters before ruling on a particular point of procedure. He said this:

The main point argued in Mr Gray’s case was that none of the 12 calls known to have actually been made from Mr Mulcaire’s landlines to Mr Gray’s voicemail box number was long enough to allow interception of Mr Gray’s voicemail messages. The Defendants relied in this regard on the evidence that . . . it normally takes nine seconds to access any real messages when a call is made to a voicemail direct dial number.

Here, in other words was one of the central pillars of the News International case. Glenn Mulcaire had, by whatever nefarious means, acquired all the numbers and codes required to access Andy Gray’s voicemails, but did he actually listen to them? Yes, he had called the relevant number, but the company argued that no proof had been provided of him actually hearing a message; on the contrary, what evidence there was suggested he had failed to do so. By implication, it could not be shown that Mulcaire had breached Gray’s privacy. Here is what Mr Justice Vos had to say about that:

. . .it seems to me that, in Mr Gray’s case, there is abundant evidence that Mr Gray’s voicemails were intercepted, and a strong inference that some misuse will have been made of the confidential information thereby obtained. The 12 calls that have already been proved may well not be the whole story. And at least three of them were long enough for some information to have been obtained …

He added that there was every reason to expect much more data on the telephone traffic to emerge, both from the police and the company, and that in any case he saw no reason to rely on telephone traffic data alone.

. . . the documents from Mr Mulcaire’s own handwritten notes are more than enough to satisfy me that interception of Mr Gray’s voicemails was something that Mr Mulcaire was undertaking regularly.

Vos was equally sceptical about the company’s argument that it could not be proved that Mulcaire, if he really did hack Gray’s messages, was doing it for the News of the World.

. . . since Mr Mulcaire was contracted to NGN, I disagree. Moreover, Mr Mulcaire’s own notes and the reference to “Greg” therein supports that case, even though it remains to be proved that “Greg” was Greg Miskiw, a NotW journalist.

(NGN, by the way, is News Group Newspapers, the arm of News International which operates the News of the World and the Sun.)

If, at the turn of the year, Murdoch’s people thought they could fight their cases against people in Andy Gray’s position with a reasonably chance of success, this sort of rubbishing from a leading judge must have brought them up short. Then, when they learned that all the cases would be heard by the same judge, the outlook must have been transformed. A chance of success became a serious risk of expensive and serial humiliation.

And worse still was the prospect that Glenn Mulcaire would lose the case he is due to bring to court, perhaps as early as next month (and not before Vos), in which he was set to argue that he should not be obliged to reveal whom he dealt with on these matters at the News of the World on the ground that he risked incriminating himself. With Vos already kicking them around, they apparently decided not to wait.

That said, it should be noted that the company’s statement contains some vaguely defiant language suggesting they are not giving up entirely. On the one hand, this is natural: they want to drive hard bargains on compensation and send a signal that they won’t pay out in frivolous, unfounded claims. On the other hand, they may yet take some cases to court to try and define the limits of their liability, because there are a lot of loose ends here. A final note: while Andy Gray is said to be on the list for a compensation offer, Steve Coogan is not. What does this mean? Only that Coogan’s case is less well advanced than Gray’s. His lawyers are gathering information, and Vos appears to believe that they will make it stack up.

Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University London. He tweets at @BrianCathcart ENDS

News International: Now for that public inquiry

News International’s apology over phone hacking, welcome and overdue as it is, cannot “draw a line” under phone hacking.

This gesture, and the settlement of some of the private claims for breach of privacy by hacking victims, must not bring to a halt the process of exposing the facts, because so far we have only seen a small fraction of those facts. The litigants and their lawyers have transformed our understanding of what happened by their relentless demands for documents from the police and the company, but we need that process to continue.

As the former Tory Cabinet minister, Lord Fowler, has said, only a public inquiry will get to the bottom of this. That’s what it will take to address the full breadth of issues at stake, from the role of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to the relationships between News International and government, and from the sinister silence of the rest of the tabloid press to the conduct of senior company executives right up to Rupert Murdoch himself. Who was doing this? Who knew? When? Was there a cover-up? What was the role of the phone companies? Who was implicated? We need an exhaustive investigation.

What we are dealing with here, after all, appears to have been a sustained assault on the privacy of dozens and possibly hundreds of people, from royalty to Cabinet ministers, and from film actors and sportsmen to journalists and ordinary private citizens. We still have no idea of its full extent — whether, for example, other newspapers were engaged in the same practices. All this has important national security implications and raises big questions about how Britain is governed. And as with Watergate, the crime may have been bad, but the sequel was worse.

So far as News International executives are concerned, they must not be allowed to escape appropriate public scrutiny. In admitting, by implication at least, that Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were not the only News of the World employees engaged in illegally accessing people’s voicemails, they formally put to rest the “single rogue reporter” defence they sustained from 2007 until this January. But they must now be forced to explain themselves properly, not just in a brief, slick corporate statement, but one by one in an inquiry witness box, under cross-examination from leading barristers.

How, for example, do they now justify the company’s oft-repeated claim that, back in 2006-7, it thoroughly investigated the affair, that it deployed a top firm of white-collar fraud experts on the task, that it interrogated its own reporters and sifted through thousands of emails, and that the failure of these Herculean efforts proved its innocence?

Colin Myler, the paper’s editor, told the Press Complaints Commission in 2007 and the House of Commons Select Committee on the media in 2009 that he personally had led the investigation. Les Hinton, now the CEO of the Wall Street Journal, twice assured MPs that this investigation had been thorough. Tom Crone, head of legal affairs at News Group Newspapers, and Stuart Kuttner, former managing editor of the News of the World, helped to make the same case.

It doesn’t end there. James Murdoch, now deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation, approved a secret £700,000 payout to Gordon Taylor which prevented the public from learning important information about hacking, and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International who refused to testify before MPs, should also account for her role. Are all these people really fit to hold senior positions in a leading public company? We should find out.

And in the background now is Andy Coulson, former editor of the paper and former media adviser to David Cameron. He told MPs he knew nothing of phone hacking, and repeated the assertion under oath in a court of law. It is now acknowledged that his ignorance was not limited to what his royal editor was up to. So just how extensive was it?

We need an inquiry. Indeed if we don’t have one, if we let it lie on the strength of a few million in compensation, we are accepting that there is no kind of trouble that Rupert Murdoch and his company can’t buy their way out of.


Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University. He tweets at @BrianCathcart