The Home Affairs Select Committee has today released its report on the “Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile telephone communications“. The Report is seriously critical of News International, the police and various other bodies and makes a number of recommendations as to future investigations and the powers of the Information Commissioner.
The Committee “deplored” the response of News International to the original investigation but also the reaction of the police to this response
“It is almost impossible to escape the conclusion voiced by Mr Clarke that
they were deliberately trying to thwart a criminal investigation. We are astounded at the length of time it has taken for News International to cooperate with the police but we are appalled that this is advanced as a reason for failing to mount a robust investigation. The failure of lawbreakers to cooperate with the police is a common state of affairs. Indeed, it might be argued that a failure to cooperate might offer good reason to intensify the investigations rather than being a reason for abandoning them” (Conclusion, para 6, and para 52).
The Committee saw “no real will” on the part of the police to tackle and overcome the obstacles.
The Committee noted that the police strategy for informing victims “broke down completely and very early in the process” (Conclusion, para 25 and para 117). It found the failures of care of the mobile phone companies “astonishing” (Conlcusion, para 27 and para 118).
In relation to the 2009 “review”, it agreed with John Yates’s own assessment that this was “very poor”, that he did not ask the right questions and that he was guilty of a “serious misjudgement” (para 81).
A number of serious concerns were expressed about the evidence of police officers. In relation to Mr Andy Hayman and his contacts with News International it was said
We do not expressly accuse Mr Hayman of lying to us in his evidence, but it is difficult to escape the suspicion that he deliberately prevaricated in order to mislead us. This is very serious. (Conclusion, para 11 and Report para 67).
As to the engagement of Neil Wallis to give PR advice to the police the Committee concluded
We are appalled at what we have learnt about the letting of the media support
contract to Mr Wallis. We are particularly shocked by the approach taken by Mr
Fedorcio: he said he could not remember who had suggested seeking a quote from Mr Wallis; he appears to have carried out no due diligence in any generally recognised sense of that term; he failed to answer when asked whether he knew that AC Yates was a friend of Mr Wallis; he entirely inappropriately asked Mr Yates to sound out Mr Wallis although he knew that Mr Yates had recently looked at the hacking investigation of 2005-06; and he attempted to deflect all blame on to Mr Yates when he himself was responsible for letting the contract. (Conclusion, para 17 and para 86)
The Committee made some general recommendations for the future. In particular, that more resources be devoted to the police investigation and the grant of additional powers to the Information Commissioner to deal with breaches of data protection, including phone hacking and blagging.
In commenting on the report, the Committee Chair Right Hon Keith Vaz MP said:
“There has been a catalogue of failures by the Metropolitan Police, and deliberate attempts by News International to thwart the various investigations. Police and prosecutors have been arguing over the interpretation of the law.
The new inquiry requires additional resources and if these are not forthcoming, it will take years to inform all the potential victims. The victims of hacking should have come first and I am shocked that this has not happened.”