The former Labour Deputy Leader and police judicial review claimant Lord Prescott yesterday used a House of Lords debate about the proposed News Corporation/BSkyB merger to allege that the phone hacking investigation had spread beyond the “News of the World” to other newspapers owned by Mr Rupert Murdoch’s companies. He said
“Is the Minister aware that the investigation into the Murdoch press on phone hacking has now been extended to the Sunday Times. The argument that it was simply one paper and one rogue reporter is no longer true-a number of papers owned by the Murdoch press and a number of their employees have been involved in withholding evidence and illegal practices.
The Minister described this is a very serious point which could not be addressed at that moment. Lord Prescott’s intervention is reported in the “Guardian”.
In the House of Commons debate on the same topic Tom Watson MP said
“I now believe that evidence exists showing that journalists currently employed on The Times and The Sunday Times were involved in phone hacking, and that damaging revelations were printed in The Sun from information possibly collected by illegal hacking. We are told that the BBC has been bullied into delaying the broadcast of an edition of “Panorama” showing more sinister forms of illegal surveillance”.
This was later denied by News International which suggested that he had no evidence to support his allegations which were said to be “unsubstantiated”. It suggested that he should send them any evidence which he had so that they could “take immediate action.”
Telephone hacking was also raised in the House of Lords on Tuesday when former Conservative Minister Lord Fowler asked the government whether “they will set up an inquiry into telephone hacking in the United Kingdom and how it can be combated”. Lord Wallace, for the Government, replied
“individuals and businesses are responsible for protecting their own data and communications. Mobile phone operators already offer ways of protecting access to voicemail. In addition, the police will investigate unlawful activity and work with the CPS to bring prosecutions where appropriate. The Metropolitan Police are conducting a new investigation of evidence relating to the News of the World and the CPS is conducting a comprehensive assessment of all material in the possession of the MPS. A number of inquiries are, therefore, under way”.
The point was pursued in a number of supplementary questions, including one from Lord Prescott. Lord Pannick QC also intervened, asking:
“does not this whole episode demonstrate the need to replace the PCC with a statutory body with effective powers of enforcement against the press?”
The Minister confined himself to the comment that this had not been recommended by the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.
So far, it is generally accepted that there has been only one private detective involved in this affair. I don’t believe that this is the case; as to whether or not another one will turn up, I don’t know. But I find it hard to accept that if other newspapers are involved they would all use the services of the same person.