Scotland Yard promised a robust inquiry into new tabloid phone hacking revelations amid a day of dramatic new developments in the saga.
Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin pledged to leave “no stone unturned” as detectives restarted a “swift and robust” inquiry into the actions of staff at the News of the World.
He vigorously defended keeping the case closed for four years saying it was reopened in the light of “highly significant” new information passed to police by the newspaper.
Detectives must consider where the dossier of information will lead them under the full glare of the media spotlight as alleged victims of the controversy continue to emerge.
The move came as a steady flow of potentially incendiary developments piled further pressure on the newspaper and police, including:
- Former Labour cabinet minister Tessa Jowell said she has contacted police after her mobile phone company alerted her to an apparent attempt to access her voicemail last week.
- Actress Leslie Ash and her ex-footballer partner Lee Chapman are preparing legal action over fears their mobile phone messages were intercepted while she battled a life-threatening infection.
- Court documents reportedly showed designer Kelly Hoppen, the former stepmother of actress Sienna Miller, suspects her phone was targeted as recently as last Spring.
- Government whip Lord Wallace of Saltaire said the press faces a “crisis of trust” matching that faced by politicians in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal.
The new police inquiry is the most significant development in the controversy since the News of the World’s royal editor was imprisoned almost exactly four years ago in 2007.
Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed at the Old Bailey after they admitted intercepting messages by using industry codes to access voicemails.
The Met acted after detectives were handed information uncovered earlier this week during an internal inquiry, including a trawl of emails held on company servers, at the newspaper.
Ian Edmondson, the newspaper’s head of news, was sacked two days ago after evidence emerged that he was linked to the hacking of mobile phones belonging to high profile individuals.
He had been named in documents lodged on behalf of Miss Miller as part of a civil case brought by her legal representatives at the High Court after they obtained police papers.
The police inquiry will be led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, an expert in organised crime who helped Helen Mirren research her role as a senior woman detective in the TV drama Prime Suspect.
Akers takes the case from Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates who has been left to focus on his central role of protecting Britain from the threat of terrorism.
Speaking at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) last night, Godwin said the inquiry would “restore confidence” among alleged victims of the scandal who feel police should have acted more quickly.
He said police are “not afraid” of answering questions about their decision to keep the inquiry closed for so long but only after the criminal investigation has concluded.
Godwin rebuffed calls to hand the case to an outside force, saying the Met has some of the “most skilled investigators” in Britain who should now be left to get on with the job.
Scotland Yard said although there have been some apparently fresh revelations about phone hacking in the media over the past two years, none of the information was new to police.
Yates said he did not act earlier because he was being asked to investigate “rumour, innuendo and gossip” as well as facts that could not be developed into evidence.
He said: “This is the first significant new evidence that may have a chance of being admissible. We have set up a new team to deal with that and we need to let them get on with it.”
A team of lawyers, led by Alison Levitt QC, will evaluate any evidence found in the new inquiry while continuing to review the mountain of information already gathered by police.
Last week, Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, resigned, claiming the ongoing controversy was poisoning his work.
In the Lords, Tory ex-Cabinet minister Lord Fowler called on the Government to carry out a full-scale investigation to find out how the public can be protected from phone hacking.
The former journalist and chairman of the House of Lords communications committee, said the move should follow criminal proceedings as the News of the World had been “directly conspiring against the public”.
Labour former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott, a possible victim of hacking, said the Met, newspaper editors, Press Complaints Commission and Crown Prosecution Service had all blamed hacking on a “single rogue operator”.
He said: “After a number of inquires they still came to that conclusion. That is unacceptable. These acts were committed to undermine the human rights of the individual.”
Jowell said she was concerned about whether her friends and family had also been targeted.
She told ITV News that the police were unable to tell her about previous hacking of her voicemail.
“The police hold whatever information they were able to retrieve as a result of their inquiries but, without a court order, they can’t give out information to me and obviously what I’m concerned about is how, which of my friends, my family, were also hacked into at the same time,” she said.
“But that is information at the moment that I don’t have.”
Jowell said her phone provider had advised her to contact the police after discovering the attempt to access her voicemail.
“They said ‘Refer this to the police because unauthorised access of your voicemail is a criminal offence’,” she said.
“So I reported it to the police and I saw the police at the beginning of the week and they are now investigating with the mobile phone company.”
She added that she did not know whether it was “an entirely innocent mistake by somebody or it may be something more sinister”.