The phone hacking investigation continues to expand in new directions. In March 2011, the Guardian had a report about the private investigator Jonathan Rees (pictured right) who had been paid £150,000 a year by the “News of the World” and was said to have obtained information from corrupt and illegal sources. On Wednesday 8 June 2011, Labour MP Tom Watson asked the Prime Minister the following question:
As the Prime Minister has previously said, the hacking inquiry should go where the evidence takes it. The Metropolitan police are in possession of paperwork detailing the dealings of criminal private investigator Jonathan Rees. It strongly suggests that, on behalf of News International, he was illegally targeting members of the royal family, senior politicians and high-level terrorist informers, yet the head of Operation Weeting has recently written to me to explain that this evidence may be outside the inquiry’s terms of reference. Prime Minister, I believe powerful forces are involved in a cover-up; please tell me what you intend to do to make sure that that does not happen.
The Prime Minister responded that the “are free to investigate the evidence and take that wherever it leads them.”
The same day, Nick Davies reported in the “Guardian” that the suspected victims of Jonathan Rees included Tony Blair, Kate Middleton , Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. It was suggested bank accounts had been penetrated by Mr Rees. A further article explained that Mr Rees obtained information using “dark arts”, setting up a “network of corrupt police, customs officials, taxmen and bank staff to gain valuable information”.
The following day in a Guardian comment piece Tom Watson argued that “the police, the government – and spineless MPs who’ve settled with News International – have failed in their democratic duty”. He called on Peter Mandelson to speak out and, on the same day, the “Guardian” reported that Lord Mandelson had been in touch with the police. According to the a BBC report:
“Two senior politicians have contacted police after a private investigator was accused in Parliament of targeting public figures for a newspaper.
Ex-ministers Lord Mandelson and Jack Straw want to know what information Scotland Yard has about Jonathan Rees, who worked for the News of the World”.
The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that it is considering a full criminal inquiry into the activities of Mr Rees.
The BBC reports that a new investigation into email hacking – a six person unit known as “Operation Tuleta” – was set up following a Panorama programme in February that accused News of the World Irish edition editor Alex Marunchak of obtaining the private e-mails of ex-British intelligence officer Ian Hurst in 2006. This operation has, apparently, contacted a number of former British Army agents that have worked in Northern Ireland, (infiltrating the Provisional IRA) in regard to computer hacking carried out on behalf of the News of the World in London and Ireland.
In the 1990s Mr Rees’ company “Southern Investigations” also worked for the “Daily Mirror”. Trinity Mirror have commented
“Many years ago some of our journalists used Southern Investigations. They were last used in 1999. Trinity Mirror’s position is clear. Our journalists work within the criminal law and the PCC code of conduct.”
There is an interesting post on these developments by Brian Cathcart on the Free Speech Blog entitled “Endgame at News International” in which he concludes
“Before the new allegations the senior management of News International was in serious trouble, and in need of more than window-dressing and cheque-writing to redeem itself. Now it is surely in free-fall. In any other company, shareholders, employees and directors, not to mention customers, would be demanding wholesale change and reform. In this company only Rupert Murdoch matters. When will he acknowledge the scale of the disaster?”
In addition to the positio of News International, there have been persistent reports that both Mr Rees and Mr Glenn Mulcaire worked for other newspapers – carrying out “blagging” and “phone hacking” for a range of journalistic customers. The next potential expansion of the police investigation is into the activities of these other newspapers. As the investigation widens in scope it is not, perhaps, surprising that a number of leading politicians have called for a more general public inquiry. We will keep our readers informed of developments.