Tom Watson on what the New York Times says Andy Coulson knew

A fresh investigation by the New York Times has produced evidence about the News International phone hacking scandal which contradicts that given to the culture, media and sport select committee, of which I am a member, last summer.

Andy Coulson – the former editor of the News of the World who is now David Cameron’s director of communications at 10 Downing Street – told the Parliamentary enquiry that he had no knowledge of phone hacking, which was limited to rogue reporters.

Les Hinton, the former chief executive of News International who now runs Dow Jones, assured Parliament that Coulson was telling the truth; and that he himself knew equally little.

The New York Times found otherwise. “The litigation (between victims of phone hacking and News International) again is beginning to expose just how far the hacking went, something that Scotland Yard did not do. In fact, an examination based on police records, court documents and interviews with investigators and reporters shows that Britain’s revered police agency failed to pursue leads suggesting that one of the country’s most powerful newspapers was routinely listening in on its citizens.”

The New York Times also suggests, for the first time, direct police collusion with a commercial media organisation, an unnamed senior investigator alleging that a Scotland Yard press officer stressed the department’s “long-term relationship with News International”.  (The press officer in question, in a statement, said that he could not recollect these events and denied attempting to suppress the investigation.)

What is more, according to the NYT, “Scotland Yard officials consulted with the Crown Prosecution Service on how broadly to investigate. But the officials didn’t discuss certain evidence with senior prosecutors, including the notes suggesting the involvement of other reporters, according to a senior prosecutor on the case. The prosecutor was stunned to discover later that the police had not shared everything. “I would have said we need to see how far this goes” and “whether we have a serious problem of criminality on this news desk,” said the former prosecutor, who declined to speak on the record.”

That a Crown prosecutor should go so far – even off the record – as to speculate that the police had not shared everything is remarkable. According to Charlotte Harris of JMW solicitors, “As lawyers representing hacking victims, we have always worked on the assumption that the prosecutors had at least seen everything, and that there was no material non-disclosure from Scotland Yard.”

The testimony given to the NYT is that the police did not share all the relevant information with the CPS. And that if they had done, the CPS would have reached different conclusions.

These are clear grounds for a judicial enquiry. If the prime minister thinks not, then he must explain why. I have written, in his absence, to his deputy in these terms this afternoon.

The process by which the five victims other than the princes were selected is equally opaque and unreliable. Was it done by the police, or were the prosecutors involved too?  We are entitled to a proper explanation. And we are entitled to an explanation of why those not notified were kept in the dark by the police. Many were Members of Parliament. The “national security” explanation of who had been notified strongly implied that all MPs had been notified. They haven’t.

The independent police complaints commission must now urgently review the investigation in detail. In particular, who was selected, which victims should be notified, on what criteria, on what authority and who else had any requisite knowledge?

By similar token, who went to seize the materials, where are these materials stored, what processes do the Met go through when answering letters and enquiries about this material?

All this remains a mystery, to which potential perpetrators remain entrusted with the keys. All relevant materials should be removed immediately and reviewed by an independent authority.

Most importantly, ALL potential victims must be notified. It is not for the police to decide who may have a case and who may not. They are not in a position to know. There are possibly hundreds, maybe even thousands, of citizens who have had their privacy illegally invaded. If the police have that information – and they do – then people are entitled to know.

There must be a proper investigation of the “investigation” of News International’s internal enquiry. The Bird and Copeland enquiry that News International apparently commissioned has not been published or offerred up for examination. The witness evidence to the select committee was vague, with no responsibility taken by anybody.

These are matters that have far reaching implications for our democracy. There is more at stake than just the damage to David Cameron when he is finally forced to relinquish Andy Coulson.

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.

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2 Responses to “Tom Watson on what the New York Times says Andy Coulson knew”

  1. Excellent article. Kudos to the Guardian for running the story. British television news editors and newspaper editors need to urgently recognise the enormity of this story.

  2. Henrik says:

    Oh yawn. For the Comrades to try to seize on an old story, which has been done to death in the past, which happened on their watch – and was fully investigated by the Met’s Labour Poodle in Chief at the time – on the unsupported word of a single source of dubious reliability is an unedifying, if hilarious spectacle. Get over it, chaps, you’re not in Government, you won’t be in Government for another ten years yet, no-one’s listening to you.

    Will you *please* go off and sort out some policies you think people might be minded to vote for and then take up a proper role as Her Majesty’s Opposition. You’re like Ken Livingstone, constantly whining that, actually, you won, really, but the media and the Tories and the Lib Dems and the Greys from Sirius *stole* it from you.

    Incidentally, for *anyone* who was in any way involved in the last shower of old pony which blighted Government for the last 13 years to say anything at all about civil liberties is just risible.

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