News International and Phone-hacking - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

6  The original investigation by the Metropolitan Police

247.  Our investigation into whether or not we had been misled during previous inquiries into phone hacking and press standards started in March 2011. On 10 March, Chris Bryant MP had an adjournment debate in the House of Commons, in which he stated that Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates of the Metropolitan Police had misled both this Committee and the Home Affairs Committee when he gave evidence to them in 2009.[338] On 14 March, Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates wrote to the Committee offering to appear in order to clear his name. Accordingly, he gave evidence on 24 March 2011.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)

248.  Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates first gave evidence to the Committee on phone-hacking on 2 September 2009. In evidence, Mr Yates offered several reasons for the police decision to halt its inquiry into allegations of phone-hacking at the News of the World, including that:

  • News of the World lawyers said that the paper had no evidence implicating other employees, and there were insufficient grounds for a court order requiring disclosure of documents;
  • News of the World staff would have been likely to answer "no comment" when questioned by the police; and
  • the police had concentrated on offences where they felt most sure of convictions, since they were obliged to make prudent use of resources.[339]

249.  In 2009, Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates also told the Committee about the challenges which were, in his opinion, presented by Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). He stated that the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service was that, in order to embark on a prosecution under RIPA, it was necessary to prove that a hacker had listened to a voicemail message before it was heard by the intended recipient i.e. that it was still "in the course of transmission" for the purposes of Section 1. Such proof was elusive and could only be found through mobile phone companies, which kept the necessary records only for limited periods. In 2009, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) endorsed Mr Yates's account of the advice given to police about the interpretation of the law.[340]

250.  The Committee consequently recommended amending RIPA to remove what appeared to it to be an unjustifiable distinction between voice messages which had or had not been listened to with respect to the ability to prosecute voicemail interception under the Act.[341]

251.  By 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) appeared to have changed its mind. In a written submission to us and the Home Affairs Committee, dated October 2010, the DPP stated that "the prosecution [in the case of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire] did not in its charges or presentation of the facts attach any legal significance to the distinction between messages which had been listened to and messages that had not", and therefore concluded that the interpretation of RIPA had not been a relevant factor in the trial.[342] In oral evidence on 24 March 2011, we asked Mr Yates for his response to the DPP's newly stated position and he told us that the advice given by the CPS on the narrow interpretation had been "unequivocally given" in 2006.[343] We observe that, in a memorandum to the Home Affairs Committee in October 2010, the Director of Public Prosecutions noted that this interpretation had yet, however, to be tested in the courts.[344]

252.  Subsequently, on 1 April 2011, in a lengthy letter to the Committee, the DPP elaborated on the position of the CPS, stating that at no stage was a "definitive view" given that "the narrow interpretation [of RIPA] was the only possible interpretation". Advice had also been given to the police that the offences were also prosecutable under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.[345]

253.  Since the advice from the Crown Prosecution Service to the Metropolitan Police about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was given orally and recollections apparently cannot be reconciled, we cannot determine the extent to which the 2006-07 police investigation did, indeed, follow CPS advice to rely on a narrow interpretation of the Act. The subsequent conflict on this matter between former Assistant Deputy Commissioner Yates and the Director of Public Prosecutions, however, and any misunderstanding previously, was hardly conducive to public confidence in either.

254.  Events since 2007 provided ample opportunity for the Metropolitan Police to review its approach to the extensive evidence it already held, and for the Crown Prosecution Service to adopt a more questioning approach to the advice and evidence it had received from the police. The last such opportunity, before the start of Operation Weeting, came in the autumn of 2010 following further allegations of wider wrongdoing by the New York Times, but was again missed by both organisations.

255.  Neither former Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates nor the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer were personally involved in the key events that occurred in 2006-07. Given the extraordinary revelations in the media and in civil court cases in the years that followed, however, they both bear culpability for failing to ensure that the evidence held by the Metropolitan Police was properly investigated in the years afterwards, given all the opportunities to do so, and that the sufficiency of the evidence was not reviewed by the CPS.

256.  On 10 July 2011, through the pages of the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, John Yates apologised for the inadequacy of the approach since his involvement. His initial decision, after the most cursory review, not to re-open the police investigation was, he said, a "pretty crap one".[346]

257.  Former Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates has since paid a personal price, by resigning, over the previous failures of the Metropolitan Police over phone hacking and its perceived over-familiarity with News International. We welcome his apology last year and subsequently at the Leveson inquiry.


258.  There is no dispute that the people who were, or were likely to have been, victims of phone hacking at any time were entitled to be informed of that fact. Following the 2006-07 investigation, only 28 people were informed that their phones had been hacked.[347]

259.  In July 2009, former Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates told our predecessor Committee that the police's approach to contacting victims had lacked thoroughness and that from July 2009 he had instituted a "very, very tight strategy around analysing whether something could have fallen through the net".[348] He went on to say that only "a handful of [additional] people" were involved.[349] He later told us that the eventual number of additional victims who were contacted as a result of the supposedly more vigorous investigation in 2009 was just eight.[350]

260.  In January 2010, the Metropolitan Police revealed in court that documents seized from Glenn Mulcaire in 2006 contained the mobile phone voicemail PIN numbers of 91 individuals.[351] In a letter to us John Yates said that this information was the result of fresh scrutiny of the evidence, but he stressed the difficulty of knowing whether the PINs had actually been used—in other words, whether hacking had taken place. He told us that:

where information exists to suggest some form of interception of an individual's phone was or may have been attempted by Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, the MPS has been diligent and taken all proper steps to ensure those individuals have been informed.[352]

261.  By March 2011, the position of News International regarding its one 'rogue reporter' defence had certainly changed following the civil cases against the News of the World. Given these developments, we were concerned that the notification process was still slow and incomplete. We asked John Yates whether all the victims would be informed and he said "it is not as straightforward as it sounds. We run the risk of getting into the semantics of what constitutes a victim".[353] However, he did accept that "it would be difficult to think of a lawful purpose" for the possession of 91 voicemail PIN numbers.[354] Subsequent revelations—including admissions in the civil cases and events such as the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone—underline the continued complacency of John Yates and the Metropolitan Police four years after the criminal convictions.

262.  Also concerning is evidence that, faced with an avalanche of civil claims, the Metropolitan Police's approach became less, rather than more, co-operative towards disclosure following the Gordon Taylor case. In particular, while stating that they had no 'new evidence' to justify further criminal prosecutions, they began to further redact disclosures to civil litigants from Glenn Mulcaire's notebooks. This forced claimants to apply for court orders to disclose unredacted evidence, which would—in particular—identify journalists for whom Mr Mulcaire was working, through his practice of writing names in the top left hand corner of his notes.

263.  Time and again during the civil litigation, claimants were told—falsely—by the Metropolitan Police that it held no evidence that they had either been targeted or their phones hacked.

264.  Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Chris Bryant MP, former Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick and others subsequently launched proceedings to secure a judicial review of the police's decision not to inform them that their mobile phones had been targeted. As a result, in February 2012 the Metropolitan Police formally apologised and admitted it was wrong not to have done so.

265.  Since January 2011, under Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, Operation Weeting has notified 619 likely victims of phone hacking (as of 24 April 2012)[355] and her approach only underlines criticism about the police's handling of the affair on the watch of John Yates and his predecessor Andy Hayman.

266.  By former Acting Deputy Commissioner Yates's own account, before 2009 the Metropolitan Police had fallen short in discharging its duty to inform those who might have been victims of hacking. From 2009 onwards it was, therefore, under an even greater obligation to carry out this task in a prompt and inclusive fashion. The evidence given to us by John Yates suggests a retreat from an undertaking that people would be informed where there was a suspicion that they had been hacked or otherwise had their privacy breached, towards a more limited policy. Where anyone's voicemail PIN had been found in Glenn Mulcaire's records, the suspicion of breach of privacy should have been self-evident and that person ought to have been informed without delay.

267.  Our predecessor Committee's 2010 Report expressed dissatisfaction with the justifications given by the Metropolitan Police for terminating its investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World in 2007. Since then, News International has abandoned its contention that Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire acted alone and the Metropolitan Police has opened a new investigation. This has already led to the arrest of a number of other journalists on the basis of evidence which appears to have been largely available to the police at the time of its original investigation. These events vindicate our previous conclusion that available lines of inquiry in 2006-07 should have been far more vigorously pursued. Each subsequent revelation of additional victims or evidence which may implicate other journalists beyond the original one 'rogue reporter' strengthens the impression that the police at that time had no interest or willingness to uncover the full extent of the phone-hacking which had taken place.

268.  Since we took evidence from Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates in March 2011, both he and Sir Paul Stephenson, then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, resigned in July 2011 as a result of the phone-hacking scandal and the employment of Neil Wallis, the former Deputy Editor of the News of the World, as a public relations consultant. The Home Affairs Select Committee has done a substantial amount of work on the original investigation by the Metropolitan Police into allegations of phone-hacking at the News of the World.[356] In addition, there is a police investigation—Operation Elveden—into corrupt payments made by the press to the police which has now led to several arrests.

269.  The public inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson on the culture, practices and ethics of the press is also currently tasked with examining the relationship between the press and the police. His inquiry has been wide-ranging and thorough and we hope his report will be robust as to the lessons to be learned by the failures of the Metropolitan Police in the phone-hacking affair, and the effect the scandal has had on its reputation.

338   HC Deb, 10 March 2011, c1170 Back

339   Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II, Ev 358 Back

340   Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II, Ev 457 Back

341   Press standards, privacy and libel, para 466 Back

342   Memorandum submitted by Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions to the Home Affairs Committee, October 2010: published in Home Affairs Committee, Ev 126 Back

343   Q9 Back

344   For a fuller explanation of this see Standards and Privileges Committee, Privilege: Hacking of Members' Mobile Phones, Fourteenth Report of Session 2010-12, Appendix Back

345   Ev 163 Back

346   'Police Chief: I failed victims of hacking', The Sunday Telegraph, 10 July 2011, pp1-2 Back

347   Ev 165 Back

348   Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II,Ev 360 Back

349   Ibid Back

350   Ev 165 Back

351   "91 victims and rising: Met Police admits scale of phone hacking", The Guardian, 15 April 2011  Back

352   Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II, Ev 360 Back

353   Q 109 Back

354   Q 47 Back

355   Number advised to the Committee by the Metropolitan Police on 27 April 2012 Back

356   Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications, Thirteenth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 907 Back

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Prepared 1 May 2012