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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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".
He went on to say that only "a handful of [additional] people"
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.
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.
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 usedin
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.
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".
However, he did accept that "it would be difficult to think
of a lawful purpose" for the possession of 91 voicemail PIN
revelationsincluding admissions in the civil cases and
events such as the hacking of Milly Dowler's phoneunderline
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 wouldin
particularidentify 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 toldfalselyby 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)
and her approach only underlines criticism about the police's
handling of the affair on the watch of John Yates and his predecessor
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.
In addition, there is a police investigationOperation Elvedeninto
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
Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II, Ev 358 Back
Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II, Ev 457 Back
Press standards, privacy and libel, para 466 Back
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
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
Ev 163 Back
'Police Chief: I failed victims of hacking', The Sunday Telegraph,
10 July 2011, pp1-2 Back
Ev 165 Back
Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II,Ev
Ev 165 Back
"91 victims and rising: Met Police admits scale of phone
hacking", The Guardian, 15 April 2011 Back
Press standards, privacy and libel, Volume II, Ev 360 Back
Q 109 Back
Q 47 Back
Number advised to the Committee by the Metropolitan Police on
27 April 2012 Back
Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications,
Thirteenth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 907 Back