Former Home Secretary Lord Reid has today denied claims he was briefed on phone hacking in 2006.
The inquiry heard in March this year he was “aware of the investigation” around the time private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and News of the World reporter Clive Goodman were charged with hacking.
Reid said the evidence, given by Peter Clarke – a former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police – was incorrect. Clarke told the inquiry he discussed the case with the Home Secretary and the Met had sent a briefing paper to the Home Office.
Reid said he had asked the Home Office to search records and had examined his personal diaries and there was no evidence to back the claim. He told the inquiry he did not know about Operation Caryatid – the original phone hacking investigation – until hearing about the Goodman and Mulcaire arrests on the news.
He said: “I don’t think you want to know my reaction. It went beyond surprise. I called my office, the rapid reaction team that dealt with the media, I said what the hell is going on? They said they didn’t know.”
He said his team then spoke to a Permenant Secretary and he eventually called the Met Commissioner.
Reid said he was only aware of the briefing paper after Clarke’s evidence to the inquiry and said it had been sent to the Home Office’s Terrorism and Protection Unit – meaning he would not have seen it.
He added: “[Clarke] has assumed, he knew there was a note sent to the Home Office, he assumed the questions I asked him were on the basis of that note rather than what I knew from the media and the conversation I had with the Commissioner.”
Reid said in 2006 the hacking scandal was a “very tiny dot at the far edge of a very crowded radar screen” in the Home Office – at the time dealing with over 70 terrorist threats.
He denied having an improper relationship with News International, when asked about favourable coverage in the Sun and News of the World and whether he struck a deal with the company to provide “privileged access” to Home Office announcements.
He said the question – posed by a core participant in the inquiry – was “highly selective” and said the Sun had run a campaign against him, calling him the “the Ali G of the Labour Party”.
He added: “I hope what I have said today puts this conspiracy theory to rest… Forgive me for being blunt. Part of my submission was newspapers select the facts to suit their prejudices. If I had chosen an illustration of that type of selection it would be this very question.”
He called his relationship with the Sun “somewhat fractious” and said Rebekah Brooks rang him to say the Murdoch press would back Gordon Brown for Labour leader instead of him.
He added: “She said ‘you’re aware we can’t support you’ and I said ‘we’re well aware of it’. She made some comment that it would be better for everyone if the position was clearer.
“It could have been a polite warning. But it is true that four days later the ‘Home Secretary has lost his brain’ campaign started in the Sun and continued for quite some time, even into May when I had declared I wouldn’t be a candidate.”