Tabloid phone tapping: DPP calls 'urgent examination'

Prosecutors are to look again at claims of alleged phone hacking by the News of the World, it was announced tonight.

Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, said he had ordered an “urgent examination” of material provided by the police three years ago.

The annoucement came as police said they would not be mounting a new investigation into claims thousands of public figures had their phones hacked.

Starmer said he wanted to reassure himself and the public that “appropriate actions” were taken over the material.

He said he expected to make a further statement on the allegations in “coming days”.

He added: “I have no reason to consider that there was anything inappropriate in the prosecutions that were undertaken in this case.

“In the light of the fresh allegations that have been made, some preliminary inquiries have been undertaken and I have now ordered an urgent examination of the material that was supplied to the CPS by the police three years ago.

“I am taking this action to satisfy myself and assure the public that the appropriate actions were taken in relation to that material.

“Given the nature of the offences, the amount of material is, of course, extensive and complex, but it has all been located and a small team is now rapidly working through it.

“This process will need to be thorough, so it will necessarily take some time.

“I am only too aware of the need for urgency and I will issue a further statement as soon as this work has been completed.

“I anticipate being in a position to do so in coming days.”

Earlier, Scotland Yard ruled out a fresh probe into the allegations, after new claims were made in The Guardian newspaper today.

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner John Yates said police had seen no additional evidence since its last investigation, which ended with the jailing of News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman in 2007.

Yates also said detectives had found no evidence that former deputy prime minister John Prescott’s phone was tapped.

But he said police would now inform any potential victims that their phone may have been hacked where there was any suspicion.

He said: “No additional evidence has come to light since this case has concluded.

“I therefore consider that no further investigation is required.

“However, I do recognise the very real concerns, expressed today by a number of people, who believe that their privacy may have been intruded upon.

“I therefore need to ensure that we have been diligent, reasonable and sensible, and taken all proper steps to ensure that where we have evidence that people have been the subject of any form of phone tapping, or that there is any suspicion that they might have been, that they have been informed.”

Goodman was jailed for four months and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire for six months after they were found guilty of phone hacking.

The scandal led to the resignation of then News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who is now the Tories’ PR chief.

Conservative leader David Cameron has defended his director of communications as Labour MPs lined up to demand his sacking.

The cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee announced this morning that it was reopening an inquiry it held after Goodman was jailed.

The committee’s chairman, Tory MP John Whittingdale, said it would be asking former News International chief Les Hinton whether he wished to amend his previous assertion that no other journalists knew of Mr Goodman’s activities.

He said the committee may also call Mr Coulson to give evidence, among several present and former News International executives.

Those allegedly targeted by the News of the World included former deputy prime minister John Prescott, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and celebrities including actress Gwyneth Paltrow and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson.

Yates said the inquiry had not uncovered any evidence to suggest that Mr Prescott’s phone had been tapped.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) said it would investigate any suggestions of “further transgressions” since its 2007 inquiry into the use of subterfuge by journalists.

The furore broke after the Guardian reported that News Group Newspapers, which publishes the News of the World, had paid out more than £1m to settle cases that threatened to reveal evidence of its journalists’ alleged involvement in telephone hacking.

It quoted sources saying police officers found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into “thousands” of mobile phones.

Yates said Goodman and Mulcaire potentially targeted “hundreds” of people, but “a far smaller number” had their phones hacked.

Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs condemned the Conservatives’ continued employment of Mr Coulson, drawing a direct parallel with Mr McBride, Gordon Brown’s former director of strategy and communications.

He was forced to quit earlier this year after it emerged he penned emails suggesting spreading unfounded email slurs about senior Conservatives.

Cameron said: “It’s wrong for newspapers to breach people’s privacy with no justification.

“That is why Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World two-and-a-half years ago.

“Of course I knew about that resignation before offering him the job. But I believe in giving people a second chance.

“As director of communications for the Conservatives, he does an excellent job in a proper, upright way at all times.”

Tonight the Guardian urged Scotland Yard to share its evidence from the phone-tapping inquiry with the Commons Culture and Media Committee.

Responding to Yates’ comments that there will not be a new investigation, the newspaper said in a statement: “We note that News International has not contested any part of the Guardian coverage – including the central assertion that the company had paid a record £1 million to ensure secrecy over damages paid to victims of illegal phone-hacking.

“After briefly reviewing the evidence Assistant Commissioner John Yates has confirmed that Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, who went to jail for phone tapping, had hundreds of potential targets – though the police and phone companies struggled to prove how many times they had succeeded in the face of ‘very, very significant’ technical difficulties in establishing criminal proof.

“Clive Goodman was not the reporter involved in hacking into Gordon Taylor’s phone. That was carried out by other News of the World reporters, whose names are known to the police. A senior colleague of Mr Yates at Scotland Yard has told the Guardian that thousands of targets were identified by the paperwork the police obtained.

“Mr Mulcaire could doubtless confirm that he targeted John Prescott in May 2006; Tessa Jowell in March 2006 and Boris Johnson in April 2006. There is no evidence that the police ever investigated Mr Mulcaire’s success in hacking into these senior politicians’ messages.

“The most open way of dealing with the matter would be for the police to share the evidence they gathered from News International with the Commons Culture and Media Committee.”

News International, which publishes the News of the World, said it was prevented by “confidentiality obligations from discussing certain allegations” by the Guardian.

But, it added: “Since February 2007, News International has continued to work with its journalists and its industry partners to ensure that its journalists fully comply with both the relevant legislation and the rigorous requirements of the PCC’s Code of Conduct.

“At the same time, we will not shirk from vigorously defending our right and proper role to expose wrongdoing in the public interest.”

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