by Tom Watson
I’m not a lawyer but the phone hacking scandal has meant I’ve had to act like one.
If you told me a year ago that I would have read Archbold, the criminal lawyer’s bible, inside out, I would have laughed. I’m the digi-guy. I read Clay Shirky, not boring legal text books. But then Tom Crone, the slick in-house lawyer for News International, tried to remove me from the culture, media and sport select committee. It was an act of aggression that finally convinced me that I had no choice but to get to the bottom of this murky affair, once and for all. Phone hacking took over from the future of the Internet as a policy preoccupation. I look forward to the day when I can return to Shirky.
When I read the section of Archbold on perverting the course of public justice, the whole hacking saga came into focus.
“The offence may be committed where acts are done with the intention of concealing the fact that a crime has been committed, although no proceedings in respect of it are pending or have commenced”,
says Archbold in the 2009 Edition, page 2631.
This week, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, confirmed that he would examine all new evidence in the News of the World phone hacking saga.
I’ve made the case that he should be investigating a potential attempt to pervert the course of public justice. As fragments of evidence have been forced out of news international and the metropolitan police service by civil litigants and Parliamentary enquiries, the case for a deep investigation by an outside force is now, I think, insurmountable.
Recent civil actions against the News of the World (NOTW), and court orders against the metropolitan police service (MPS), have revealed evidence which confirms that, it was not just one “rogue” NOTW reporter, Clive Goodman, who arranged for voicemails to be accessed, or “hacked” illegally. At least three other employees of NOTW, all of them senior to Goodman, also instructed Mr Glenn Mulcaire to commit this serious criminal offence.
When they arrested Mulcaire, the police searched his office and seized his papers. As we now know, his papers included in each case details of the NOTW’s target as well as the identity of the NOTW journalist giving the instruction. Even a cursory examination of these papers will therefore have allowed the police to identify any NOTW journalist who instructed Mulcaire.
Since then, evidence in civil litigation has identified three senior members of the NOTW staff who allegedly gave instructions to Mulcaire to hack illegally into voice mails. These were the NOTW news editor Ian Edmondson, NOTW chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former NOTW news editor Greg Miskiw.
Although MPS officers visited the NOTW offices and searched Goodman’s desk and computer, taking away material, they did not search desks or computers used by Edmondson or Thurlbeck, nor those of any NOTW journalist except Goodman. Inexplicably, no attempt has ever been made to question Edmondson, Miskiw, or Thurlbeck.
Yet it must have been apparent to the MPS on the face of the papers seized from Mulcaire that instructions to hack phones came not just from Goodman but from Edmondson, Miskiw and Thurlbeck.
These three men were thus prima facie leading participants in the very conspiracy of which Goodman and Mulcaire were convicted. Here was criminality so serious that Goodman, a first offender with no criminal record, went to prison. Yet the police, despite their direct knowledge from the evidence in their possession, made no attempt to question, arrest or search three senior NOTW journalists who were apparently guilty of the same crime as Goodman, possibly on a much larger scale.
The person in charge of the police investigation in 2006 was Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman. Mr Hayman left the police in December 2007 and has been employed by the owners of NOTW ever since.
An explanation for Mr Hayman’s failure to question Edmondson, Miskiw and Thurlbeck or search their desks and computers was offered by his successor, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, in evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in September 2009
According to Mr Yates, Mr Hayman decided that a letter to the NOTW’s solicitors was preferable to questioning Edmondson, Miskiw and Thurlbeck or searching their computers and desks. Mr Hayman’s letter drew a “robust” refusal.
Fair-minded people will ask whether it is usual for the police to content themselves with writing to lawyers acting for criminal suspects and then take no further action when the lawyers reply with a “robust legal approach” and information restricted to matters they themselves choose?
The MPS also failed to notify the vast majority of those whose names appeared as actual or potential targets for Mulcaire’s intercepts, despite, as I understand it, having given an undertaking to the CPS to do so. Furthermore, it is claimed by lawyers acting for the targets that when asked to provide copies of Mulcaire’s notes with a view to litigation against NOTW, the MPS has been uncooperative to the point of obstruction.
The impression of complicity in the concealment of crime is reinforced by the conduct of the NOTW itself. In at least two cases, NOTW has settled privacy actions brought by victims of its phone hacking for figures in the order of 100 times greater than any likely award of damages by a court. In each case, this settlement followed quickly upon a court order for disclosure and included a confidentiality clause and the sealing of court documents.
Read in the light of the latest information, the report of my select committee, paragraphs 399 to 495, reinforces the impression that evidence has not been properly investigated, and indeed has been suppressed.
It may be that all the officers concerned acted in good faith and with consummate professionalism throughout. But, if I have understood Archbold correctly, it is hard to conclude other than that the MPS as a service has not only failed properly to follow the evidence, but has taken active measures to conceal it. The possibility that the MPS could itself be guilty of perverting the course of justice and/or misfeasance in public office and/or conspiracy now requires urgent investigation by an independent police force.
I have written to the director of public prosecutions in these terms.
This scandal is big. It’s frightening. There are powerful people with a lot to lose. It requires someone more powerful than me to do the right thing. That person should be the prime minister.
Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.