Information held by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire could have put people in witness protection programmes at risk, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.
Brian Paddick, the former Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said a printout from Mulcaire’s computer suggested he held information on people who had been placed under witness protection by the police.
This would have included individuals like Robert Thompson and John Venables, convicted of the murder of toddler James Bulger in 1993, who were assigned new identities for their own safety after being released from prison.
He added: “People are only put into the witness protection programme when their lives are potentially at risk or in serious danger… For this to be in the hands of Mulcaire and potentially the News of the World is clearly worrying.”
Paddick, himself a phone hacking victim, said his name had appeared in Mulcaire’s notebook and on his computer as a “project”. Despite this, police told him there was no evidence to suggest his phone had been illegally accessed. Last month a judicial review into the notification of hacking victims, resulting from a claim brought by Paddick and Lord John Prescott among others, found the police had acted unlawfully.
Paddick said he had the “utmost respect” for DAC Sue Akers, currently heading investigations into the press and police, but believes an external investigation into the Met should be carried out by a team with no link to the force.
He added: “I’m not saying at all that there shouldn’t be at every level good, healthy communications between the press and police. We have to draw a line when it comes to police officers being paid for information. I do not accept – I might be old fashioned – that if a story is in the public interest you can pay a public official to disclose information.”
Lord John Prescott, also a victim of phone hacking, said he believed the police had acted under a “conspiracy of silence”.
The former deputy prime minister said he had approached the police and News International several times from 2006 in order to discover whether his privacy had been breached and to what extent. Rather than accessing his voicemail, Mulcaire had hacked into the phone of Joan Hammell, Prescott’s chief of staff. In 2009, Met assistant commissioner John Yates issued a statement stating the investigation had not uncovered any evidence to suggest Prescott’s phone had been “tapped”. It is now known that Mulcaire intercepted 45 messages between Prescott to Hammell.
Prescott told Lord Justice Leveson his name was on a piece of paper recovered from Mulcaire’s notes and appeared twice in tax invoices between the private investigator and News of the World.
He said: “The evidence was there [that I had been hacked]. How much evidence do you want to have unless you don’t want to look for it?”
He added: “I thought the most important thing was the role of the police and they hadn’t fulfilled their responsibilities.”
Prescott was also asked about the relationship between politicians and proprietors in his experience as deputy leader.
He replied: “Murdoch operated with all governments. I’m not the best person to ask about relationships with the press because mine has never been good. I’ll give you my opinion. With regards to the Murdoch press, I always thought it was wrong that politicians at the highest level were too close to Murdoch… There is always a price. It’s not exactly corruption and I’m not accusing them of that [but] I thought it gave a corrupting influence that they had too much influence and power.”