Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Calls for new phone hacking inquiry

Pressure for a new probe into the News of the World phone-hacking case intensified today after police said they were ready to reopen their investigation.

Assistant Commissioner John Yates said the force had asked the New York Times to provide any new material it had relating to the matter, including an interview with former reporter Sean Hoare, who has claimed that Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson knew about News of the World staff eavesdropping on private messages when he was editor of the paper.

All five candidates in the Labour leadership contest also called for a fresh inquiry into unconfirmed claims that reporters listened in to the voicemail messages of a long list of prominent figures, including politicians and celebrities.

But Cabinet minister Michael Gove accused Labour of "recycling" old allegations in the hope of embarrassing Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr Coulson came under renewed pressure last week after former journalists told the New York Times that the practice of phone hacking was far more extensive than the newspaper acknowledged at the time. These claims have been rejected by the paper and Mr Coulson.

In his statement last night, Mr Yates said: "Since further allegations in relation to phone hacking first emerged in the Guardian in July 2009, the Metropolitan Police has been very clear about its position and made this public on a number of occasions.

"The newspaper produced no new evidence for us to consider reopening the case - a position endorsed separately by the Director of Public Prosecutions and leading counsel. We have always said that this position could change if new evidence was produced.

"The New York Times contacted the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) about their investigation. Our stance remains as before.

"We have repeatedly asked them for any new material that they have for us to consider. We were never made aware of the material from Sean Hoare before the article's publication.

"We have sought additional information from them and will consider this material, along with Sean Hoare's recent BBC radio interview, and will consult the Crown Prosecution Service on how best to progress it."

Mr Yates also repeated the Met's assurance that there was "no evidence" that former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott's phone was hacked.

Lord Prescott has threatened to take legal action to force police to release any documents relating to him which were seized during an investigation which in 2007 led to journalist Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire being jailed.

But Mr Yates said the Met had already provided Lord Prescott with all the information relevant to him, and by law could not supply the actual documents unless ordered to do so by a court.

The officer said: "Separately, we are aware of the current claims in the media from, amongst others, Lord Prescott about his view that his phone was hacked.

"There remains to this day no evidence that his phone was hacked by either Mulcaire or Goodman. This is a matter of public record.

"Lord Prescott also alleges that the MPS has failed to disclose material to him in a timely way.

"Lord Prescott has been provided with the information the MPS has in its possession relevant to him. However, we are not permitted to supply the actual documents except under a court direction. This is because the material was obtained for the purpose of a criminal investigation and cannot be used for another purpose - i.e. a civil action. Lord Prescott and his solicitors will be aware of this."

Asked about the phone-hacking allegations during a televised leadership debate on Sky News yesterday, all five of those hoping to succeed Gordon Brown as Labour leader called for a fresh inquiry.

Andy Burnham said: "Mr Cameron has been delivering fairly pompous lectures for some time now about restoring trust in politics and the position Andy Coulson holds is fundamental to the information that the Government puts out.

"We just can't have a situation where these questions keep swirling around this individual. They need to be cleared up once and for all."

And Ed Miliband said: "When there are questions about the integrity of the communications operation in Downing Street, the wrong thing for a Prime Minister to do is to try to sweep it under the carpet."

But Mr Gove suggested that the row had blown up because of media rivalry between the NYT and the Wall Street Journal, which like the News of the World is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation stable.

The Education Secretary told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "There seems to be a recycling of allegations we have had before... It is striking that many of the people making allegations are Labour politicians, so there is an element of the party political about it.

"The police have looked at these allegations and decided there is no case to answer."

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