LONDON Feb 27 British police and
officials from Rupert Murdoch's now-defunct News of the World
newspaper stalled early attempts to investigate allegations of
phone hacking by its journalists, a British judicial inquiry was
told on Monday.
Investigators for London's Metropolitan Police Service had
evidence in 2006 that "hundreds" of victims had been targeted
for possible phone hacking by the News of the World, a former
police commander said.
But officers had other priorities and insufficient resources
to pursue the matter as thoroughly as they could have, a lawyer
for the inquiry said.
The former police commander, Brian Paddick, also said that
when officers in August 2006 visited News of the World offices
in connection with the arrests of a journalist and private
investigator for illegal phone hacking, a senior editor at the
paper and three lawyers "obstructed" them. As a result, Paddick
said, initial police searches were limited.
Paddick's allegations were made in a written statement he
submitted to an inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Brian Leveson
which Britain's coalition government set up to investigate
British reporting practices and dealings between media and
police, politicians and other public officials.
Committees of Britain's House of Commons are conducting
similar inquiries. London's police service also set up teams to
investigate three specific classes of potentially illegal
journalistic activity: phone hacking, computer hacking and
questionable payments to public officials.
On Monday Murdoch responded to the inquiry testimony,
saying, in a statement: "As I've made very clear, we have vowed
to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior
wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future.
That process is well under way."
According to Paddick's statement, evidence made available to
hacking victims shows that by August 10, 2006, officers from
London's Metropolitan Police, also known as Scotland Yard, had
seized papers from private detective Glenn Mulcaire relating to
"hundreds of individuals, including Royals, MPs, sports stars,
military , police, celebrities and journalists."
Paddick said that within six days of the arrests of private
detective Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, chief royal reporter for
the News of the World, the police had complied a printed list of
418 suspected phone hacking victims based on documents seized
According to Paddick, evidence turned over to hacking
victims shows that police decided in 2006 to "warn all these
victims that they had been targeted by Mulcaire," who later
pleaded guilty to phone hacking charges and was jailed.
But Paddick said that "only a tiny fraction" of the known
victims were given early notice of hacking evidence. He said
that "800 people at least" were "kept in the dark," and some
were "actively misled" by statements made by police in 2009. He
said he did not know why police did not inform more victims.
Paddick said that on the day that Goodman and Mulcaire were
arrested and various locations were searched, the only part of
the News of the World office to be searched was Goodman's desk.
Due to a British law designed to protect journalists'
sources, police decided they would limit their initial search to
the reporter's desk and to the company's accounting department,
which might have had evidence of the company's financial
dealings with the private investigator.
However, when they arrived at the newspaper, Paddick said,
police were met by two in-house lawyers for Murdoch's publishing
company, an outside lawyer and the News of the World's Managing
This led to a "tense stand off", according to evidence
Paddick says he has seen, with police eventually abandoning
their plan to search the accounting department and leaving
Goodman's computer and "safe" in the hands of company lawyers.
For years after the initial arrests of Mulcaire and Goodman,
public spokespeople for the News of the World and Murdoch's
British publishing interests said phone hacking had been limited
to a lone "rogue reporter."
Last year, however, the company and police both acknowledged
abusive practices were more widespread and the police set up
their three inquiries, involving more than 100 officers, which
have now produced more than 30 arrests, though no criminal
At the opening of a hearing on Monday which touched off a
phase of the Leveson inquiry which is supposed to focus on
dealings between media and police, Robert Jay, chief counsel to
the inquiry, said: "The relationship between the Police and the
media, and News International in particular, was at best
inappropriately close and if not actually corrupt, very close to
"Furthermore, the nature of this relationship may explain
why the Police did not properly investigate phone-hacking in
2006 and subsequently in 2009 and 2010, preferring to finesse
the issue on those later occasions by less than frank public
statements," Jay added.
Jay also read out to the inquiry extracts of a September
2006 email, marked strictly private and confidential, from News
of the World lawyer Tom Crone to the paper's then editor, Andy
Coulson. The message recounted information which he said police
officers had "relayed" to Rebekah Brooks, then editor of The Sun
daily and later CEO of Murdoch's London print operations, about
the progress of Scotland Yard's phone hacking inquiry.
"In relation to Glenn Mulcaire the raids on his properties
produce numerous voice records of verbatim notes of his accesses
to voicemails. From these they have a list of 100 to 110
victims," the email said, according to Jay.
It added: "It terms of the News of the World ... they
suggested they are not widening the case to include other News
of the World people but would do so if they got direct evidence
News of the World journos directly accessing voicemails."
After leaving the News of the World editorship, Coulson went
on to be senior communications advisor to Britain's Conservative
opposition leader, and later Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Coulson resigned as Cameron's advisor last year after the
phone hacking scandal intensified. He was later arrested but has
not been charged.
Critics of the current array of phone hacking inquiries have
said the main investigating parties - the Leveson inquiry, the
police and News Corporation's Management and Standards Committee
- have become overzealous as they try to compensate for their
initial slowness in investigating hacking allegations.