The Metropolitan Police did not distinguish itself at the time of the original phone hacking investigation and, despite the plaudits for Operation Weeting, the Met is still not always sure-footed in its approach. On Friday 16 September 2011 it was disclosed that the police had moved into action against another newspaper.
This was not, as many predicted, the “Mirror” or the “Mail”, but the “Guardian”. An order was being sought under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to require journalist Amelia Hill to disclose her sources, inter alia, of the Miller Dowler phone hacking story. Although the order was not – as misreported by many – sought under the Official Secrets Act, that widely distrusted piece of legislation was relied on as one of the underlying offences being investigated.
The press rallied round the “Guardian” – with even the “Daily Telegraph” and the “Daily Mail” lining up in support. It was then said that the police were consulting the DPP. On Monday 19 September 2011 the Met issued a statement – that Operation Weeting officers were not involved in the application but it was, rather, the responsibility of MPS Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) Anti Corruption Unit.
Then, on Tuesday night (when the Guardian editor and journalist were attending the “Press we Deserve” event) came the climb down – the police issued another statement. It had “decided not to pursue, at this time, the application for production orders.” There was relief all round. The “Guardian” quoted a “Yard source” as saying
“There will be some hard reflection. This was a decision made in good faith, but with no appreciation for the wider consequences. Obviously, the last thing we want to do is to get into a big fight with the media. We do not want to interfere with journalists. In hindsight the view is that certain things that should have been done were not done, and that is regrettable”.
The police have not come out of this episode well. As the “Economist” puts it “A botched leak inquiry creates yet more trouble for the police“. And it has been reported that later today police will explain to MPs in private session why it sought the production orders. It should be an interesting session.
Meanwhile, the “Independent” reports that a police officer informed Rebekah Brooks that detectives had uncovered evidence that Clive Goodman was not the only individual on the paper involved in criminal activity. It is said that this information was then circulated to other “News of the World” executives. It is not clear why police officers were speaking to Ms Brooks who was, at the time, the editor of the “Sun”. This is another matter which the MPs might look into today.
The press continues to report the rumours of a £3 million settlement for the Dowler family – including a personal donation to charity of £1 million by Rupert Murdoch. A spokesman for News International told the BBC that the company was in “advanced negotiations with the Dowler family” but no formal announcement has yet been made. The “Independent” suggests that, for those yet to settle, this will be a “game changer” – suggesting the the £20 million settlement fund is “woefully short”.
Labour MP and phone hacking campaigner Tom Watson has suggested that the story is about to move to a new phase: computer hacking. He told the Huffington Post
“Where I think this goes next is the fact that the use of trojans and computers, hacking of computers, is much more widespread in commerce that people know about. …. There are some fairly famous and well known institutions who are obtaining information that’s been obtained illegally.”
“We need to look at some big city firms who are going to be caught out having used somewhat legitimate firms who then subcontract, and subcontract, and at the end of it are very bad people who obtain information illegally. There is a chain of subcontracting. Sort of, ask no questions, hear no lies. They might not be conscious of it, but they’re certainly not finding out how this information has been obtained”.
Finally, Reuters reports another “political hacking” story – this time former Labour minister Denis MacShane. The number of “political” victims – which includes MPs Tessa Jowell and Chris Bryant, Lord Prescott and (reportedly) David Blunkett and George Osborne – continues to grow.
The pace of development shows no sign of slowing down and it looks like there will be further important announcements over the next week.