MPs rattled by phone hacking crisis! – PART 2: Privileges Committee urged to ask ‘News International’s’ Andy Hayman to appear

Sacked printers had to face Murdoch’s allies, the Thatcher government and mass ranks of riot police every day for a year. It was in this year-long struggle that News International forged its special relationship with the capitalist state
Sacked printers had to face Murdoch’s allies, the Thatcher government and mass ranks of riot police every day for a year. It was in this year-long struggle that News International forged its special relationship with the capitalist state

TOM Watson, (West Bromwich East Labour MP, told the House of Commons: ‘Anyone can have their phone tapped by the newspapers, and they do.

He was speaking in the debate on the phone hacking scandal and in favour of the motion to refer the matter to the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

He added: ‘The House does not forget them as we debate the narrow issue of the abuse of MPs’ privilege.

‘So that Members can decide on the merits of the motion, I should tell them that, since the urgent question on Monday, one MP has told me that their phone company has confirmed that they have been the victim of blagging. The police have been informed.

‘Another MP was so worried that, on the advice of his lawyers, he sent his mobile PDA device to forensic technicians, who confirmed that it was almost certainly hacked.

‘I know of at least three former senior Ministers who have not yet gone public with their serious concerns that their phones were hacked.

‘The evidence of endemic abuse is growing by the day.

‘This morning, I talked to the lawyer Charlotte Harris, who informed me that she had been in contact with former News International reporter Sean Hoare, as part of her inquiries for clients who are the victims of phone hacking.

‘He stands by his statements, and he will help the police. He also knows of others who were involved.

‘Something very dark lurks in the evidence files of the Mulcaire case, and dark and mysterious forces are keeping it that way.

‘If the Standards and Privileges Committee is to get to the truth, I recommend that it interview the Culture, Media and Sport Committee refuseniks-the people associated with News International who flatly rejected our invitations to give evidence to our inquiry.

‘They include Greg Miskiw, a former assistant news editor, who said that he was too ill to attend, and was not pursued.

‘They also include Glenn Mulcaire. We were told through an intermediary that he would not give evidence, and he was not pursued.

‘Clive Goodman was also asked to give evidence, but he said that he was unavailable. He was not pursued.

‘The chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks (previously Rebekah Wade), was pursued on three separate occasions before we gave up.’

Alan Keen, Labour MP for Feltham and Heston, said: ‘I think it was before my honourable Friend was a member of the Select Committee that we got a very direct answer from the then Rebekah Wade, who was a senior executive of News International in this country.

‘She was asked whether it paid the police for information, and her answer was yes. Does my honourable Friend think that that issue should be part of this inquiry?’

Tom Watson said: ‘I think it should, and I will come to that point in a moment.

‘Andy Hayman, as head of the Met police’s special operations unit, was in charge of the Mulcaire inquiry.

‘If the Committee wants to get to the bottom of which MPs were on the target list, and of who was told and who was not, News International’s Andy Hayman is their man.

‘I strongly recommend that the Committee ask him to appear.

‘We can delegate power but not responsibility.

‘I doubt that Rupert Murdoch knows about these incidents, but he is responsible for appointing to positions of great power people who should know about them.

‘For that reason, he too should explain his actions to the Committee.

‘It is he who appointed Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International. He first appointed her, and he then appointed Andy Coulson as editor of the News of the World.

‘This morning, we have seen a strong argument for an inquiry made by former reporter Paul McMullan, who has become the seventh named News of the World employee to admit that they either knew about or took part in phone hacking.

‘When Rebekah Brooks was editor, McMullan says: “They were just doing what was expected of them. People were obsessed with getting celebs’ phone numbers… Everyone was surprised that Clive Goodman was the only one who went down.’’

‘If Members want justification for supporting the motion, they need look no further than Rupert Murdoch’s Rebekah Brooks, who, as my honourable Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston said, admitted to Parliament that she paid police officers in the Met for stories.

‘The Select Committee found that, “As far as we are aware, this practice is illegal for both parties, and there is no public interest defence that a jury could legitimately take into account.’’

‘When Rupert Murdoch appointed Rebekah Brooks, he did so with that knowledge.

‘There is one more tiny little shame that we all share. The truth is that, in this House we are all, in our own way, scared of the Rebekah Brookses of this world.

‘If we fear agreeing this motion, let us think about this: it is almost laughable that we sit here in Parliament, the central institution of our sacred democracy-among us are some of the most powerful people in the land – yet we are scared of the power that Rebekah Brooks wields without a jot of responsibility or accountability.

‘The barons of the media, with their red-topped assassins, are the biggest beasts in the modern jungle.

‘They have no predators; they are untouchable.

‘They laugh at the law; they sneer at Parliament.

‘They have the power to hurt us, and they do, with gusto and precision, with joy and criminality.

‘Prime Ministers quail before them, and that is how they like it.

‘That, indeed, has become how they insist upon it, and we are powerless in the face of them. We are afraid.

‘If we oppose this motion, it is to our shame.

‘That is the tawdry secret that dare not speak its name.

‘The most powerful people in the land – Prime Ministers, Ministers, and MPs of every party – are guilty in their own way of perpetuating a media culture that allows the character of the decent to be traduced out of casual malice, for money, for spite, for sport or for any reason that the media like.

‘If we reject the motion, we will be guilty of letting that happen.

‘We allow it because we allow narrow party advantage to dominate our thinking, above the long-term health of our democracy.

‘And yet, I sense that we are at the beginning of the endgame.

‘Things will get better because, in many senses, they cannot get worse.

‘The little guys, the reporters on the ground who joined a newspaper to seek the truth, have ended up working in a living hell.

‘If we want to, we in this House have the power to change that.

‘We can make a start by getting to the bottom of the phone hacking scandal.

‘Whatever lies in those Mulcaire files is key, and the Standards and Privileges Committee can start the process by establishing the facts.

‘This is not the time to rehearse the questions that must be answered, but no one who believes in the law, truth or democracy can doubt that they desperately urgently need to be asked.’

Kieth Vaz , the Leicester East Labour MP and former minister, said: ‘On Tuesday this week, the Home Affairs Select Committee took evidence from Assistant Commissioner Yates, and we raised the concerns that had been expressed on Monday by my honourable Friend, the Member for Rhondda.

‘We also considered the excellent report fashioned by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.

‘Clearly, the speeches delivered here today – some have been most eloquent, especially that of my honourable Friend the Member for West Bromwich East – relate to incidents concerning the News of the World.

‘Assistant Commissioner Yates told us that he has to continue with his investigations, which are operational matters.

‘However, in the exchanges during the giving of his evidence, it was clear that members of the Committee were concerned about the state of the law relating to unauthorised hacking and tapping of mobile communications.

‘That is why on Tuesday the Committee established an inquiry into the law, into the extent to which the police are able to police that law, and into the way in which the police inform people that they have been victims of that crime.’

Newcastle-Under Lyme Labour MP Paul Farrelly said ‘First, regarding the police, the former Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman has repeatedly told the news that as far as the Met was concerned, it left no stone unturned and interviewed everyone who was relevant at the time.

‘I am afraid that that is simply not true.

‘The police interviewed only Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman, despite evidence in their hands that implicated others in the activity, which has clearly affected the confidence with which MPs can go about their business.

‘Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman also maintained their right to silence, before entering a guilty plea, so no cross-examination was made.

‘Our report was highly critical of the extent of the police investigation.

‘Frankly, had Mr Hayman been in charge of the Watergate inquiry, President Nixon would have safely served a full term.

‘His line is one that his successor, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain, as new people emerge out of the woodwork, day in, day out, in the press.

‘Our report was very critical of the evasive display by Mr Yates in giving evidence for the police, and I hope that if the motion is passed, the Standards and Privileges Committee will not allow the police to get away with such evasiveness.

‘As the honourable Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark has pointed out, nor is the Crown Prosecution Service blameless in the affair.

‘When we asked it to justify how the investigation and prosecution had been carried out previously, it repeated verbatim, to a great extent, the police statements, which were highly misleading.

‘Secondly, I want to address the claim that our Committee – this has been repeated in the news in the past few days, often for libel balance – found no evidence that the then editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, knew about the hacking.

‘That has been taken to mean that we effectively cleared Mr Coulson of knowing what his staff and Mr Mulcaire were up to.

‘Nothing could be further from the truth – this it not a political point but a matter of fact.

‘Frankly, we were incredulous that such a hands-on editor would not have had the slightest inkling about what his staff and private investigators employed by the paper were up to.

‘That activity has clearly interfered with the activities of Members of Parliament.

‘Faced with Mr Coulson’s denial, however, we simply could go no further.

‘As my honourable Friend the Member for West Bromwich East has said, others simply declined to be interviewed.

‘To the list that he has had, I would add Mr Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter of the News of the World, who offered only to give evidence in private, which we considered unsatisfactory.

‘Would compulsion have been productive? No, because it would have delayed the publication of a report.

‘That is also an issue for the Standards and Privileges Committee to consider.

‘Another reporter who was implicated was on a round-the-world trip at the time.’

Farrelly concluded: ‘What is happening is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that the police have not fully notified people whose telephone PINs were retrieved during the investigation, and who clearly include many Members of Parliament; it is unacceptable for the police to say that there are just a “handful of victims’’, given that the number is growing by the day; and it is unacceptable for the police to say that they conducted a full and rigorous inquiry.

‘They did not, the News of the World did not, and the Press Complaints Commission did not.

‘It is time that the position was rectified, and a referral of the issue to the Committee on Standards and Privileges will go a long way towards doing that.’