One of the minor oddities in all the accumulated evidence about phone hacking is a remark made at the Old Bailey on 26 January 2007, when Glenn Mulcaire was sentenced to six months in jail. Almost casually, it seemed, Mr Justice Gross observed that the private investigator had had other collaborators at the News of the World besides the royal editor, Clive Goodman.
That is not a controversial proposition now: News International admitted as much in January this year, and the ‘for Neville‘ email, public since 2009, points strongly to the same conclusion. But the judge’s words stand to this day as the earliest formal, public suggestion that Goodman was not the only journalist on the paper to have hacked phones.
It came at the end of a day-long sentencing hearing for Mulcaire and Goodman, as the judge rejected pleas that the defendants should avoid jail. He was addressing Mulcaire, and he said: ‘As to counts 16 to 20, you had not dealt with Goodman but with others at News International.‘
Counts 16 to 20 were charges which Mulcaire faced separately from Goodman, and to which, like the other charges, he had pleaded guilty. They related to the hacking of the voicemails of Max Clifford, Simon Hughes MP, Elle Macpherson, Andrew Skylett (a football agent) and Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers‘ Association.
Considering that the judge was stating as fact and on the record something which News International would stubbornly deny for the next four years, you might think this quote would have become the linchpin of the case against the company. Indeed you might think that it would immediately have prompted further investigations.
The problem with the quote, though, was that it didn’t seem to come with any evidence attached, and so it has been possible to dismiss it as a mistake or an overstatement. In July 2009, when Tom Crone, the News of the World’s legal chief, gave evidence to the media select committee, he was asked about the judge’s remark. He replied:
“I was in court actually and I remember him saying that and my immediate reaction — obviously nothing I could voice — was ‘Why is he saying that?’. Because the prosecution did not open it, saying there was such a connection.”
And he was right. The transcript showed that nowhere in the Crown’s case against Mulcaire was the suggestion made that he had hacked phones in collaboration with anyone other than Goodman.
So the judge’s remarks have existed in a kind of limbo ever since. They are referred to occasionally in the media select committee — most recently by Tom Watson MP, questioning Crone again this month — but never with great conviction. I have often wondered, idly, what lay behind those apparently throwaway words.
The answer, it turns out, is not that difficult to find — it is right there in the transcript of the sentencing hearing in 2007, but not as part of the prosecution case. Instead it is counsel for Mulcaire, Neil Saunders, who raises the matter. He is talking the judge through those five separate counts, making a complicated point about the length of some of the calls his client made to access voicemails. The passage reads:
Mr Saunders: The first one was Mr Clifford, four (inaudible) seven. Skylett is 22. Fourteen are under eight seconds. This information would have been passed on, not to Mr Goodman — I stress the point — but to the same organisation.
Mr Justice Gross: 16 to 20. [This is probably a question. The judge is making sure he understands which counts are being referred to.]
Mr Saunders: Yes. Any material would have gone to them.
Mr Justice Gross: Yes.
There it is. It’s very brief — fleeting enough to be missed at the time — and the phrasing is a little obscure, but there is no mistaking what is meant. So when the judge said that Mulcaire dealt with others besides Goodman at News International he was not straying off course or making things up; he was referring to matters that had been properly established in open court.
Much more significantly, this came originally from Mulcaire himself. Saunders was acting under instruction, stating in court something that must have come from his client. In other words, as early as January 2007 Glenn Mulcaire voluntarily placed on the record, through his lawyer, the fact that when he was hacking Clifford, Hughes, Macpherson, Skylett and Taylor, he did not liaise with Goodman but with other people at the News of the World.
I was not aware of this and I do not know who was. The police, the Crown Prosecution Service and News International were all represented in court that day. While they sat there listening to the judge sentence these two men for phone hacking, did they fail to hear this important, first-hand evidence that others on the paper had committed the same crime? Or did they choose not to hear it?
**You can read a similar blog post on Jack of Kent (David Allen Green)
This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off Blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.