Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1 Introduction


1.  In 2005-06, the Metropolitan Police investigated claims that a private investigator, Mr Glenn Mulcaire, had been employed by News International to hack into the Voicemail accounts of certain prominent people, including members of the Royal Household, to obtain information on them. This case led to the prosecution and subsequent imprisonment of Mr Mulcaire and Mr Clive Goodman, the royal correspondent for the News of the World. The charges brought against Messrs Mulcaire and Goodman cited a limited number of people whose phones were alleged to have been hacked. However, papers taken from Mr Mulcaire in the course of the investigation indicated that journalists—not necessarily all from the same newspaper—had asked him to obtain information on a number of other people: it was not always clear who the subjects of the inquiries were (a number were identified only by initials or a forename), nor whether the request involved hacking or some other means of obtaining information.

2.  In 2006 the Information Commissioner, who is responsible for overseeing the UK's data protection laws, published two reports, What price privacy? and What price privacy now? which gave details of investigations conducted by his office and the police into "a widespread and organised undercover market in confidential personal information." In one major case, known as Operation Motorman, the police and Information Commissioner's Office found evidence that 305 journalists working for a range of newspapers had used a variety of techniques to obtain personal information for their stories (more details are provided in Appendix A). Some of the information could have been obtained only illegally; other pieces of information could be obtained legally (e.g. addresses via voter registration records) but this would have been very time-consuming and the prices paid to the private investigators obtaining the evidence were too low for such onerous work.[1]

3.  In 2009 it became known that one person who considered he had been a victim of hacking by Mr Mulcaire at the instigation of a News of the World journalist had launched a civil case against that paper's owners, News International, and, it was reported, had received a large amount in damages in settlement whilst agreeing to be bound by a confidentiality clause. The successful litigant was Mr Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers Association. The media noted at the time that he was unlikely to have been of interest to the royal correspondent, so it was suspected that other News International journalists or editors might have been involved with similar activities.

4.  The names of other successful litigants gradually leaked out. Over the next few months, a growing number of alleged victims of hacking brought civil actions against News International or sought judicial reviews of the handling of the original case by the police, and demanded that the police release documents seized from Mr Mulcaire relevant to their cases.

5.  At the same time, the Guardian newspaper was continuing to investigate the relationship between Mr Mulcaire and News International journalists, focusing in particular on claims by some former journalists that practices like hacking were widespread in the News of the World. Because of the concerns raised by the new allegations, on 9 July 2009 the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police asked Assistant Commissioner John Yates, QPM, to look into the case. We deal with both the 2005-06 investigation and Mr Yates's role in 2009 later in this report.

6.  We were aware that our sister committee, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, had had a longstanding interest in the ethics of reporting and reporting methods, and were repeatedly taking evidence on this issue. Whilst the role of the media was clearly part of that Committee's remit, questions were being asked about the response of the police to the original allegations in 2005-06, and there appeared to be some confusion about the interpretation of the legislation governing hacking which had the effect of making it unclear who precisely might be considered a victim of that crime. Accordingly, early in September 2010, we launched an inquiry into 'Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications', with the following terms of reference:

  • The definition of the offences relating to unauthorised tapping or hacking in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the ease of prosecuting such offences;
  • The police response to such offences, especially the treatment of those whose communications have been intercepted; and
  • What the police are doing to control such offences.

During the course of the inquiry, it became clear that it was necessary to examine other aspects too:

  • The scope of the police inquiry in 2005-07;
  • The role of the mobile phone companies in providing security information to their customers and in relation to those whose phones may have been hacked into; and
  • The relationship between the police and the media.

Our focus has remained on the police, the prosecutors, the victims and the legislation: in this Report we do not attempt to reach any conclusions and recommendations about the actions of specific newspapers or individual journalists.

7.  We had invited Mr Yates to give oral evidence to us on 7 September 2010 as the head of the Metropolitan Police's Specialist Operations Unit on the two main areas dealt with by his unit: Royal and diplomatic protection and Counter-terrorism. We took the opportunity of asking him about the 2005-06 investigation and subsequent developments. This evidence has already been published.[2] We later took oral evidence again from Mr Yates, Mr Chris Bryant MP, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Information Commissioner, representatives of three mobile phone companies (Telefonica O2, Vodafone, and the Orange UK and T-Mobile UK joint venture, Everything Everywhere), Lord Blair of Boughton QPM,[3] Mr Peter Clarke CVO, OBE, QPM, and Mr Andy Hayman CBE, QPM, (the two senior police officers who oversaw the 2005-06 investigation) and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, QPM, who is in charge of the current investigation. In our final session, we took evidence from Sir Paul Stephenson, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Mr Dick Fedorcio, the Director of Public Affairs and Internal Communication at the Metropolitan Police Service, Lord MacDonald of River Glaven QC and Mr Mark Lewis, solicitor. We received several pieces of written evidence, all of which have been published on our website and are printed with this Report, and we have corresponded on a number of occasions with our oral witnesses, and with Ms Rebekah Brooks, then Chief Executive Officer of News International, Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, the National Policing Improvement Agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary (the last four on the question of rules governing the payment of police by the media and others). We would like to express our gratitude to all who have given evidence to us, and in particular to those who have repeatedly responded to our further questions as our inquiry developed.


8.  Since we opened our inquiry, the following events have occurred. On 12 November 2010, after interviewing the former reporter the late Mr Sean Hoare and others, the Metropolitan Police said that it had uncovered further material about hacking and passed the file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service ('CPS') to consider whether there was strong enough evidence to bring criminal charges. The Head of the CPS Special Crime Division, Mr Simon Clements, decided on 10 December 2010 that there was no admissible evidence to support further criminal charges, as the witnesses interviewed had refused to comment, denied any knowledge of wrongdoing or had provided unhelpful statements.

9.  On 5 January 2011, however, the News of the World suspended Mr Ian Edmondson from his post as assistant editor (news) following allegations that he was implicated in the hacking of Sienna Miller's phone—Ms Miller's lawyers had found notes among the documents released by the police indicating that Mr Mulcaire might have hacked into her phone on instructions from Mr Edmondson. Following the suspension, the Metropolitan Police wrote to News International requesting any new material it might have. Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin opened a new inquiry, led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers and codenamed 'Operation Weeting'.

10.  The media continued to pursue the story of the extent of 'hacking' by people employed by News International in the period from about 2003-06, and (subsequently) both before and after this period. On 5 April 2011, Mr Edmondson and Mr Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter for News of the World, were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications (contrary to Section1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977) and unlawful interception of voicemail messages (contrary to Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000). They were later released without charge on police bail until September 2011. Further arrests (including that of a royal reporter with the Press Association) have been made since then. The new police inquiry under DAC Sue Akers continues.

11.  The story took a new turn when the media reported allegations that Mr Mulcaire may have hacked into the phone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year old murdered in 2002, and the phones of her family and friends. It was also alleged that the phones of the families of the Soham murder victims had been hacked into in 2002 and that the same had happened to the phones of victims of the 7th July bombings in London in 2005. An emergency debate in the House of Commons on 6 July 2011 showed strong support for a public inquiry into the phone hacking at the News of the World and the conduct of the Metropolitan Police between 2006 and 2011.[4] The Prime Minister indicated that the Government agreed in principle to a public inquiry in two stages that would consider the conduct of the media generally and the history of the police investigations from 2005 onwards. Subsequently, the terms of reference have been announced, as has the fact that Lord Justice Leveson is to head the inquiry. It had initially been suggested that a public inquiry or judge-led inquiry could start work only once police investigations and any consequent prosecutions had been brought to a conclusion. MPs had argued strongly that the Inquiry should be established straight away so that the judge leading it could immediately secure any evidence that might otherwise be destroyed (although this would be a criminal offence), and so that a start could be made on issues not pertinent to ongoing investigations and prosecution. There was a clear understanding on all sides that nothing should be done that might prejudice the current police investigations. The timing and timescale of the inquiry remain to be determined. We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister consulted us on the terms of reference for this inquiry.


12.  It may be useful here to provide a brief indication of which of our witnesses (police officers and prosecutors) were involved in the various police inquiries and when. At the time of the first investigation, Mr Peter Clarke was Deputy Assistant Commissioner with the Specialist Operations Directorate (which had been formed from the merger of the Counter-Terrorist Command and the Royal and Diplomatic Protection group). Mr Clarke was the most senior officer with day-to-day responsibility for the 2005-06 police investigation into hacking. Mr Andy Hayman was at that time Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, and Mr Clarke's superior officer. Lord Blair of Boughton, then Sir Ian Blair, was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police between 2005 and 2008. Mr Hayman resigned from the service in December 2007 and Mr Clarke retired in February 2008, so neither was still in post at the time when further allegations appeared to be emerging in the press in 2009. Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, QC, then Sir Ken Macdonald, was Director of Public Prosecutions between 2003 and 2008.

13.  By July 2009, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis was Sir Paul Stephenson QPM, and Mr John Yates was Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, having replaced Mr Hayman's successor (Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick) in April 2009. Sir Paul asked Mr Yates to look into the stories emerging in the Guardian and subsequently the New York Times alleging that the hacking of mobile phones was a widespread problem not confined to those investigated and prosecuted in 2005-07. Mr Keir Starmer, QC, had succeeded Sir Ken Macdonald as Director of Public Prosecutions. The members of the Crown Prosecution Service giving advice directly to the police at this time were not the same people as had advised the police in 2006-07.

14.  In January 2010, the Metropolitan Police decided to open a new investigation. DAC Sue Akers was appointed to head the investigation, which is known as Operation Weeting. Subsequently, DAC Akers was also to head the investigation into allegations of payments by News International journalists to officers of the Metropolitan Police.

Table 1: Timeline of events
Date Events Police investigation Commissioner
January 2003Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Brooks admits to paying police officers for stories.
November 2005The News of the World publishes a story about Prince William's knee injury. This prompts a complaint to police that voicemail messages of royal officials have been intercepted. Investigation led by (then) Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke Commissioner Sir Ian Blair
August 2006Police arrest Clive Goodman (royal editor, News of the World) and Glenn Mulcaire (private detective).
January 2007 Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire convicted of conspiring to intercept communications. Goodman is sentenced to 4 months in prison, Mulcaire is sentenced to 6 months.
March 2007Les Hinton gives evidence to Culture, Media and Sport Committee. He tells the Committee that an internal investigation found no evidence of widespread hacking at News of the World.
May 2007The Press Complaints Commission, the newspaper regulation watchdog, published a report on hacking but said it found no evidence of wrongdoing at the News of the World.

Harbottle and Lewis, News International's lawyers, reviewed internal emails between Mr Coulson and executives and found no evidence they were aware of Goodman's actions.

July 2009The Guardian newspaper publishes an article which details over £1 million in payments made by News International to settle court cases which focus on journalists alleged involvement in hacking.

Scotland Yard announces that it has reviewed the evidence and no further investigation is required.

The Crown Prosecution Service announces an urgent review of material provided by the police in 2006.

Colin Myler and Andy Coulson give evidence to Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Reconsideration of original investigation led by Assistant Commissioner John Yates Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson
November 2009The Press Complaints Commission publishes a second report on News of the World. It finds no new evidence to suggest that anyone at News of the World other than Mulcaire and Goodman was involved in phone hacking.
February 2010Culture, Media and Sport Committee publishes report on Press standards, privacy and libel which suggests that it is inconceivable that senior management at the paper were unaware of widespread hacking.
September 2010New York Times publishes an article claiming that Andy Coulson was aware that his staff at News of the World were illegally hacking voicemail. It also questions whether the police were fully committed to the original investigation. The article prompts further calls for a new inquiry.
December 2010The Crown Prosecution Service announces that no further charges will be brought over the News of the World phone hacking scandal because witnesses refused to co-operate with police.
January 2011Metropolitan police open a new investigation into allegations of phone hacking. Operation Weeting, led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers Acting Comissioner Tim Godwin
June 2011300 emails retrieved from law firm Harbottle & Lewis handed to Metropolitan police by News International.
July 2011Metropolitan police announce operation Elveden to look at payments made to police by News International. Operation Elveden is subsequently taken over as an independent investigation by the Independent police Complaints Commission.

Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates resign.

Operation Elveden, led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson


1   The reports were published respectively in May and December 2006, and may be found at www.ico.gov.uk. The quotation is taken from What price privacy?, paragraph 1.7.  Back

2   Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 7 September 2011, Specialist Operations, HC 441-i Back

3   Lord Blair of Boughton gave oral evidence to us on 12 July 2011 in connection with another of our inquiries, into the 'New landscape of policing'. We took the opportunity to ask him some questions in relation to hacking. This evidence is currently available on our website and in due course will be published with our report on the New Landscape of Policing. This evidence is referred to in this Report as Evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 12 July 2011, New landscape of policing, HC 939-I. Back

4   HC Deb, 6 July 2011, col 1543 onwards Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 28 October 2011