by Steven Heffer
In July 2011 Rebekah Brooks announced to staff, on the closure of The News of The World “In a year you will understand why we made this decision”.
This week’s evidence to the Inquiry has been astonishing – and is living up to her prophecy.
Sue Akers, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, heading up Operation Weeting and related investigations said that The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship tabloid, had established a “network of corrupted officials” and “created a culture of illegal payments”. She confirmed there had been multiple payments by The Sun to public officials of many thousands of pounds. She gave the lie to recent tabloid protests that her team were investigating the odd drink or meal with public officials. What she revealed was a systematic regime of regular payments, made in a way designed to hide the identity of these illegal payments.
Lord Prescott gave evidence of his frustrated attempts to get News Group and the Police to reveal evidence that his and his colleagues’ phones were hacked, at a time when he had been serving as the Deputy Prime Minister. Prescott said there had been “a conspiracy of silence”. Police knew from the outset that he was a hacking victim but they told him the opposite.
Having identified hundreds of hacking targets in the seized files of private detective Glenn Mulcaire, police later claimed they were unaware of them. The police failed to obtain important financial evidence or computers from News International. They had “tipped off” Rebekah Brooks, then Sun editor, about the scope of their investigation.
An email from NI lawyer, Tom Crone, revealed that both Brooks and Andy Coulson were warned as early as 2006 of evidence of widespread hacking at the News of the World, at a time when the News of the World was under criminal investigation for hacking phones in the Royal household. Brooks was told records suggested that NI had paid over £1million to Glenn Mulcaire. Both Brooks and Coulson had repeatedly denied any knowledge of widespread phone hacking.
Former Crimewatch Presenter, Jacqui Hames, broke down as she accused Brooks (then News of the World editor) of covering up the real reason why her family were targeted. When her husband, a Senior Detective, re-opened a notorious murder enquiry, the suspects were able to intimidate his wife and family with the help of an executive at The News of the World. Hames, an experienced and long-serving former police officer, was visibly upset and said that the events had left her “distressed, anxious and needing counselling” and “contributed to the breakdown of my marriage”.
DCS Keith Surtees explained how his attempts to execute a warrant at Wapping were frustrated by News International staff leading to suspicion that others in NI may have been part of a conspiracy.
According to the evidence given this week, lies appear to have been told to victims, to Government Ministers, to Parliament, to the Judges and to the public.
A decision made in Sept 2006 not to widen the police investigation came under scrutiny during evidence given by ex anti-terror head Peter Clarke. It seems that police thought the fact that the Deputy PMs telephone may have been compromised did not merit further action and that (although it was suggested victims would be informed) this did not happen. Mr Clarke’s line manager, Andy Hayman was briefed. When pressed, Mr Clarke could not explain why Presott had not been informed. He thought “all victims were going to be informed”.
Leveson described the unfortunate catalogue of events as “potentially extremely damaging” to the Met and said it “needs to be explained”.
We heard from John Yates of his close friendship with Neil Wallis (NoW Deputy Editor) and numerous regular lunches at smart London restaurants and attendance at football matches, shortly after he had been tasked with “establishing the facts” about phone hacking. He could only, however, manage a short meeting, marked “30 mins only” with Nick Davies of the Guardian.
Andy Hayman echoed the evidence of Yates with confirmation of numerous dinners and champagne drinking with NI staff. His evidence majored on the threats from terrorism, making the hacking investigation a low priority, but his explanation of why (after being put on the NI payroll following his retirement) he wrote an article disputing The Guardian’s claims on phone hacking lacked credibility.
In a week when the Sun on Sunday was launched, James Murdoch resigned from NI, not to mention “Horsegate”, the Leveson Inquiry has heard some truly staggering further evidence justifying Brooks’ comments last July.
Steven Heffer is chair of Lawyers for Media Standards and head of the defamation and reputation management team at Collyer Bristow LLP