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

7  Surveillance

270.  On 14 November 2011 it was reported that members of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee had been put under surveillance commissioned by the News of the World for a period of between three and ten days in 2009.[357] At that time the Committee was conducting its inquiry into Press standards, privacy and libel. Surveillance is not by itself illegal but, particularly if its intention was to source information that could be used to publicly discredit members of the Committee or to put pressure on them, there are circumstances where it could be construed as an attempt to interfere with the Committee's work. It was, we note, not the only time the Committee had been targeted. As the civil claims have demonstrated, former Committee members Claire Ward and Chris Bryant had their phones hacked as long ago as 2001 and 2003.

271.  We asked witnesses from News International for evidence on the issue of the potential surveillance of Committee members. Tom Crone provided an account of the surveillance carried out on Mark Lewis and his family but stated that, in relation to surveillance of Committee members, "I have no knowledge of that apart from what I have seen in media reports—which is very little".[358] In oral evidence he was asked whether he had ever ordered surveillance or commissioned private investigators to do any surveillance at all. He answered "no, I don't think I did actually".[359] The Management and Standards Committee (MSC) of News Corporation told us that it had not yet completed its inquiries into the matter, but had not found any information to suggest that all members of the Committee had been put under surveillance. It did, however, confirm that "there is information that Mr Watson was under surveillance by Mr Derek Webb between 28/9/09 and 2/10/09. The MSC's present understanding is that three employees were involved in commissioning the surveillance".[360] In the context of ongoing police investigations, the MSC declined to name the individuals involved.

272.  In oral evidence on 10 November 2011, James Murdoch stated that:

I am aware of the case of the surveillance of Mr Watson; again, under the circumstances, I apologise unreservedly for that. It is not something that I would condone, it is not something that I had knowledge of and it is not something that has a place in the way we operate.[361]

273.  We are disturbed by information that we have received that, at the time of the Committee's 2009 inquiry, a member of the Committee was put under surveillance by a private investigator commissioned by individuals at News International. We have not received sufficient evidence either to corroborate or disprove the claim that further members of the Committee were also put under surveillance at that time. We note that surveillance is in itself not a criminal offence. We also note that, as Committee members were unaware of the surveillance at the time that it allegedly took place, it cannot be said to have interfered in their work. However, surveillance could be construed as an attempt to interfere with the work of the Committee. Members may well feel inhibited in the discharge of their functions if they are concerned that their private lives will be intruded upon as a result.

357 Back

358   Ev 268 Back

359   Q 883 Back

360   Ev 263 Back

361   Q 1656 Back

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Prepared 1 May 2012