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Phone hacking saga threatens freedom of the Press

The message came out of the blue: a detective from Operation Weeting was trying to get hold of me. Operation Weeting? That's the name of the new inquiry set up by the Metropolitan Police into the long-running phone hacking scandal.

My stomach lurched and I realised straightaway that it could mean only one thing. I now know that my name, address, home and mobile phone numbers appear in handwritten notes seized by the police in 2006 from a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, who worked for the News of the World.

Yes, I did say 2006. Detectives have had Mulcaire's notes containing thousands of names and phone numbers for five years, yet most of us are only discovering now that we are 'potential victims'.

Recently the Met's acting deputy commissioner John Yates admitted in a letter to the Conservative MP John Whittingdale, chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, fewer than 1% of us were contacted during the original investigation.

Phone hacking is a criminal offence. In August 2006, the News of the World's royal editor Clive Goodman was arrested on suspicion of hacking the mobiles of members of the Royal household and accessing voicemail messages.

In January 2007, he pleaded guilty to phone interception charges and went to prison for four months; at the same time Mulcaire, who was on a retainer from the paper, was imprisoned for six months.

Last month, officers from Operation Weeting arrested the News of the World's chief reporter and former assistant editor on suspicion of conspiring to intercept mobile phone messages; both have been released on bail. The paper's parent company, News International, publicly apologised to eight victims of phone hacking including the former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and actor Sienna Miller. It is chiefly thanks to Miller's persistence in returning to the courts that the extent of the practice has finally begun to emerge and she's been offered £100,000 to settle her lawsuit.

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Even before the revelation that so few people had received warnings from the police that the security of their mobiles might have been compromised, politicians had begun to sound the alarm and demand an inquiry.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has gone so far as to call for a public inquiry. His statement was regarded as a high-risk move for a leader whose party is out of power and needs friends in the media. But I suspect that he's ahead of the game and has grasped the fact that the repercussions of this scandal are likely to be wider than most people have yet realised.

I write crime novels, but I never imagined a plot as seedy as this one. The idea that I was targeted by a private investigator who obtained my home address and phone numbers makes me feel sick and angry.

The realisation that the police could have warned me to take steps to protect my mobile five years ago, and sat on the information all this time, is beyond belief.

I don't yet know for certain whether my phone was hacked. I have a meeting with the police this month and I've had to contact O2, the mobile operator I was using at the time, with a series of technical questions. I assume thousands of other people are going through the same process.

Where will it all end? I passionately believe that a free Press is a cornerstone of democracy and I hate to see it at risk because of this sick obsession with celebrity.


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