Rebekah Brooks’ phone was hacked twice a week by colleagues at the News of the World while she was editing The Sun, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.
Scotland Yard invited her to join their 2006 prosecution of a journalist and private detective working for the Sunday tabloid as a potential victim of illegal interception of voicemails.
But Brooks – who was herself a former editor of the News of the World, The Sun’s sister paper, and became chief executive of parent company News International in 2009 – did not take up the offer.
In fact she passed on information about the hacking investigation she gleaned from the police to the News of the World’s lawyers, the inquiry heard.
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the press standards inquiry, said today: “Rebekah Wade, as she then was, was one of the most accessed since 2005, twice a week.”
Tom Crone, the News of the World’s head of legal, summarised the information Brooks received from police in an email headed “strictly private and confidential” to the paper’s then editor, Andy Coulson, on 15 September 2006.
The memo concluded: “They’re going to contact RW (Rebekah Wade, Ms Brooks’s maiden name) today to see if she wishes to take it further.”
Jay said: “This relates to a formal complaint that Rebekah Wade might make in her capacity as victim. It is not the more sinister interpretation, whether she wishes to take the investigation into News International further.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Philip Williams, who led the Metropolitan Police’s original investigation into phone-hacking, agreed, saying: “This is purely: ‘You’re a potential victim, would you like to join our prosecution?'”
The investigation resulted in News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire being jailed in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting voicemail messages left on royal aides’ phones.
‘Some grounds’ to suggest hacking was widespread
Scotland Yard was widely criticised for limiting the scope of the probe despite evidence from Mulcaire’s notebooks that there could be many more hacking victims.
Det Chief Supt Williams agreed that there were “some grounds” to suggest that the practice of phone hacking could be more widespread. But he strongly rejected a suggestion that then-deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke restricted the investigation because of an “unhealthy” close relationship between the police and News International.
The detective said: “I don’t think it was a factor at all. Ultimately, the decision was Mr Clarke’s. I have worked with him since 2004. He is the most professional man that I have ever worked for. I have total confidence in his integrity.”
He added: “We were all acutely aware of the very difficult decisions that ultimately he would have to make, and the rationale for it, and I do agree with it.
“No-one in my team had any contact with any of the newspapers, and I can assure you at no time in that investigation was it ever an issue.”
The inquiry heard that News International was “obstructive” of police when Goodman and Mulcaire were arrested on August 8 2006.
Det Chief Supt Williams said in a witness statement: “Now that the nature of our investigation was overt, I was not surprised at the lengths that News of the World went to within the law to make sure that we only ever received what they were obliged to provide.”
Scotland Yard detectives speculated that Goodman might not have been the only journalist involved in phone hacking, the inquiry heard. But they did not have firm evidence of this when Mr Clarke decided to limit the scope of the investigation in September or October 2006.
Det Chief Supt Williams said: “We had some grounds to suspect that this could be wider, and that indeed if we undertook certain research we may find something.
“What I didn’t know and what I was not clear about is what we would find and actually what it would amount to.”
The original phone-hacking inquiry was carried out by the Metropolitan Police’s SO13 anti-terrorism branch. Officers were concerned that illegally accessing voicemail messages could be used by terrorists to threaten national security, the inquiry heard.
Det Chief Supt Williams wrote in a memo during the 2006 investigation: “I suspect that the media may well be aware of this vulnerability, and there may well be a host of people using this vulnerability for journalistic purposes.
“The Goodman connection is potentially an example of this. “But the more sinister side would be the knowledge could be equally utilised by criminals, whether that be in the general sense for terrorism or to threaten national security.
“Therefore I believe that this matter has a significant public interest to it, particularly in terms of safety and security, the ultimate risk being a threat to life.”
The detectives concentrated on getting technical evidence that phones had been hacked to avoid members of the royal family having to give evidence in any trial, the inquiry heard.
Det Chief Supt Williams said: “What I didn’t want happening, and I documented it in here or in my decision logs, is the issue getting played out in court of who called who, why they were calling these people and what the contents of those messages may well have been because they may have been embarrassing for any reason to my potential victims.”
Hacking police feared NoW could ‘offer some form of violence’
Police were obstructed, photographed and feared they might be attacked when they searched the News of the World for phone-hacking evidence, the Leveson Inquiry heard.
Scotland Yard officers went to the Sunday tabloid’s offices in Wapping, east London, when they arrested journalist Clive Goodman on 8 August 2006 on suspicion of intercepting voicemail messages left on royal aides’ phones.
Detective Chief Superintendent Keith Surtees, investigating officer for the hacking inquiry, said the search was never fully completed because of the lack of co-operation from the paper’s publisher, News International.
His officers were concerned that News of the World staff could “offer some form of violence” against the small police team in the Wapping offices, although in the event this did not happen, he said.
There was “real difficulty” carrying out the search, with only four officers allowed into the building. My officers were confronted with photographers who were summonsed from other parts of News International and were taking photographs of the officers.
“A number of news editors challenged the officers around the legality of their entry into News International. They were asked to go to a conference room until lawyers could arrive to challenge the legality.”
Surtees said the officer leading the search described it as a “tense stand-off”, adding: “Our officers were effectively surrounded and photographed and not assisted in any way, shape or form … The search did not go to the extent I wanted it to.”
Asked why police did not return to the News of the World at another time, the detective said: “I think the moment had been lost with regards to the information we sought.”
Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked him: “Implicit in that answer, Mr Surtees, is that News International might have hidden or destroyed incriminating information. Is that what you’re suggesting?”
The policeman replied: “Yes.”
‘Lines of investigation could have been pursued’
Surtees said the O2 mobile phone network told him in May 2006 that it had informed two of its customers, publicist Max Clifford and an unnamed man referred to as “HJK”, their voicemails had been hacked.
The detective said at this point he began to suspect that the illegal activity went beyond Goodman, the News of the World’s royal editor.
He suggested to his managers that a separate investigation team could look into the wider hacking of phones belonging to people outside of the royal household, but this idea was not taken up.
Surtees said he would have liked police to have widened the scope of the hacking inquiry, but he accepted that the large number of serious terrorist plots under investigation at the time meant that Scotland Yard was extremely stretched.
He told the inquiry: “I clearly am alive to the fact that we have got lines of investigation that had not been pursued in this case.
“The lines of investigation could have been pursued, and as a detective I would have liked to have pursued them.
“If (then-deputy assistant commissioner) Peter Clarke had made a decision based on resource and my experience at that particular time was that there was lots of resource, then I would have taken that elsewhere.
“That was absolutely not my position when the decision was communicated down to me.”