Press standards, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 1889-1899)



  Q1889 Chairman: Can I welcome you to the second part of this session. When the Guardian published their first story, you were asked to conduct a review and you concluded that no new information had been obtained and there was no reason for you to reopen the investigation. You concluded that review in a remarkably short space of time. Can you assure us of how thorough that review was?

  Mr Yates: Would it be possible, Chair, just to make a few opening remarks in the first instance?

  Q1890  Chairman: Yes.

  Mr Yates: I am grateful for the opportunity to come here to provide some clarity, I hope, from a police perspective on a number of issues that have arisen since the Guardian story was published in July of this year. I think it is worth emphasising from the outset that the Guardian article talked about three entirely separate issues both in time and context. You have heard about Operation Motorman, and the related crunch investigation, Glade, was our investigation and there was the civil action in 2007. As I said previously, there is essentially nothing new in the story other than to place in the public domain additional material which had already been considered by both the police investigation into Goodman and Mulcaire and by the CPS and the prosecution team. There was certainly no new evidence and, in spite of a huge amount of publicity and our request of the Guardian and others to submit to us any additional evidence, nothing has been forthcoming since. You will also be aware as I think you have had a letter from DPP Keir Starmer who separately conducted his own review into the prosecution strategy in the Goodman and Mulcaire case, and for further reassurance he asked leading counsel, David Perry, to consider whether there was additional material that ought to have been subject to further investigation, particularly the Neville email, and he has written to you on 30 July and he makes it quite clear that he neither thought it appropriate to reopen the case from the prosecution perspective nor, importantly, to invite the police to reopen our investigation. Just turning to our investigative strategy in the case, you have had a very full note from us which I do not intend to go through of course, but I would just highlight some of the issues in terms of our investigative strategy in this case. It was based on the premise of to prosecute the most substantive offence. You have heard from the previous witness that, based on our advice, section 1 of RIPA, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, thus intercepting or hacking, I will call it, voicemail messages, using that power was envisaged to be the simplest, most clear method to present to the court the most cogent evidence and it is of course the one they had the greatest sentencing powers with, so that was the principal strategy around that. There was then of course the technical evidence. We wished to ensure, in order to secure the confidence and support of victims, that their voicemails would not be played in court and we wanted to secure technical data, the best data possible, to ensure that we could prove the case and not by the revelation of private conversations. Then there is the case law, and this is rarely used. This was the first prosecution of its type in terms of voicemail messages, so success was clearly dependent upon having overwhelming and unambiguous evidence in this case. There were then numerous technical challenges around the way that the various phone service providers operate, and they all operate in a different way, and their basis was not to provide data which had integrity in terms of evidential process and they have business reasons around the way they use their data, so we had to find a way which would get the data out that had integrity to ensure there could not be found ways round it through a court process. The victims were the next issue. One of the key aspects of the case was to ensure we had sufficient victims and a breadth of victims to reflect the overall criminality in the case and to ensure that the court had adequate sentencing powers around those issues, and then there are the suspects. In 2006 and again more recently, we have been invited to say whether there were more suspects in this case, and I would hate to think that anyone thought that we were avoiding any aspect around other editors or other people who may be related to this case. I found a letter only this morning in terms of these matters where we clearly set out to the solicitors acting for the News of the World, and this was in September 2006, a range of issues that we wanted them to disclose to us, and we finished the letter by saying, "The investigation is attempting to identify all persons that may be involved, including fellow conspirators". One of the bullet points we looked for was: "Who does Mr Mulcaire work for? Has he completed work for other editors and journalists at the News of the World? Can we have a copy of any other records for work completed by Mulcaire for these editors and journalists, including the subjects on which you might have provided information?" There was a very clear strategy set out from the start to ensure that we covered all those bases if there was evidence in the case. Our job, as ever, is to follow the evidence and to make considered decisions based upon our experience which ensures limited resources are used both wisely and effectively and, supported by senior counsel, including the DPP, the collective belief is that there were then and there remain now insufficient grounds or evidence to arrest or interview anyone else and, as I have said already, no additional evidence has come to light since. What has been achieved, lastly? An individual's right to privacy against the media's right to publish in the public interest will always remain a matter for debate and they can often clash, but this investigation into an interception of this nature was the first of its kind in the UK. The prosecution brought absolute clarity that accessing people's voicemails without their permission is a criminal offence for which you will go to prison. In terms of the wider public protection, it has also served to highlight some of the security vulnerabilities around the way people use their voicemail and, with the collaborative approach with the phone companies, there is now much greater awareness about how people should use the proper security measures they have within their phones to ensure that this cannot happen again. I hope that is helpful.

  Q1891  Chairman: Yes, that is helpful. The evidence which the Guardian produced and indeed gave to this Committee actually came from you originally. It is evidence that was handed over to the court from the police investigation—

  Mr Yates: Yes, it was unused material.

  Q1892  Chairman:— which reached the Guardian. The key one, which you will be familiar with, is the email and "this is the transcript for Neville". Why did you not think that it was sufficiently important to interview Neville?

  Mr Yates: Well, again we took advice on this and it did form part of the original case and formed part of, what we call, the sensitive, unused material. There are a number of factors around it, some practical issues. Firstly, the email itself was dated, I think, 29 July 2005 and we took possession of it in August 2006, so it was already a minimum of 14 months old, that email, that is the minimum and we do not know when it was actually compiled or sent. We know from the phone company records that they are not kept for that period of time, so there was no data available behind that email. There was nothing to say that Neville, whoever Neville may be, had seen the document and, even if the person, Neville, had read the email, that is not an offence. It is no offence of conspiracy, it is no offence of phone-hacking, it is no offence of any sort at all.

  Q1893  Chairman: Sorry to interrupt, but you say there is nothing to say whether Neville had read the email, but you could have asked him.

  Mr Yates: Well, if I can finish, there is no clear evidence as to who Neville was or who is Neville. It is supposition to suggest Neville Thurlbeck or indeed any other Neville within the News of the World or any other Neville in the journalist community. Mulcaire's computers were seized and examined. There is nothing in relation to Neville or Neville Thurlbeck in those computers and, supported by counsel latterly and by the DPP, they both are of the view, as we are, that there are no reasonable grounds to suspect that Neville has committed any offence whatsoever and no reasonable grounds to go and interview him.

  Q1894  Chairman: Well, it does seem an extraordinary coincidence though that somebody working for the News of the World sends an email, saying, "This is the transcript for Neville" when the chief reporter of the News of the World is called Neville and you think that this is not sufficient to ask Neville Thurlbeck whether he is the Neville referred to in the email.

  Mr Yates: Well, there is no evidence of an offence being committed, which is what I said first. There is no evidence. Reading that document is no evidence of an offence. There is no evidence that there are any other links between Neville, whoever he may be, and Mulcaire. As I say, we looked at his computers, so it is not as if we ignored this, but we looked at all of his computers, looked for the links in terms of any contact and there is no contact. As I say, both our view and the advice of leading counsel and the CPS was that there were insufficient grounds to certainly arrest or question; it would not take us any further.

  Q1895  Chairman: The judge in the trial actually states that Glenn Mulcaire was working for others in the News of the World besides Clive Goodman.

  Mr Yates: Yes.

  Q1896  Chairman: But, despite the fact that that was the clear conclusion of the court, you—

  Mr Yates: It is not quite like that. He said "worked with others". Well, of course he worked with others because that is his job. He is a private investigator and he works with journalists. He is going to be working with a number of other people.

  Q1897  Chairman: Let me give you an example. You knew that Mulcaire was illegally accessing the phone messages of a number of other individuals besides the people working in the Royal Household. Did you not seek to establish who on the News of the World might have been commissioning those intercepts?

  Mr Yates: Well, we sought the information that I have read out of the letter which I can probably redact with sense and give to the Committee to see, so we did seek those issues from them and they said that there was no information there. Now, to go further, we have got to have very strong grounds to further suggest that they are misleading us and there were no grounds on that. With all investigations, you have to set parameters as to what you are trying to prove and as to what is the proper use of resources to prove that. You would be the first to criticise us if we went off fishing somewhere because it seemed like a good idea, but we have got to actually have evidence to follow and to go through, so we are limited. There was a prosecution strategy, it was not just a police strategy, it was a prosecution team strategy, which said, "These are the eight people we're going to concentrate on. That reflects the full extent of the criminality and that gives the court the greatest sentencing powers if there is a plea of guilty or if they are found guilty", and that is the way the decisions were taken in 2006.

  Q1898  Chairman: One of the reasons given by the DPP to us is that, in order to prove a criminal offence, you have to demonstrate that the phone message was intercepted and listened to before the intended recipient had himself opened and listened to it, and that was the criminal act. That is correct?

  Mr Yates: Yes, the analogy is the envelope and the opened letter. It is not an offence to read the opened letter, but it is an offence to open the letter and read it, and that is the analogy.

  Q1899  Chairman: However, let us say that somebody is accessing my voice messages and, therefore, if they get to that voice message before I have got round to listening to it, they are committing a criminal offence?

  Mr Yates: Yes.

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