Stain From Tabloids Rubs Off on a Cozy Scotland Yard
- By DON VAN NATTA Jr. - July 16, 2011 - The New York Times
LONDON — For nearly four years they lay piled in a Scotland Yard evidence room, six overstuffed plastic bags gathering dust and little else.
Inside was a treasure-trove of evidence: 11,000 pages of handwritten notes listing nearly 4,000 celebrities, politicians, sports stars, police officials and crime victims whose phones may have been hacked by The News of the World, a now defunct British tabloid newspaper.
Yet from August 2006, when the items were seized, until the autumn of 2010, no one at the Metropolitan Police Service, commonly referred to as Scotland Yard, bothered to sort through all the material and catalog every page, said former and current senior police officials.
During that same time, senior Scotland Yard officials assured Parliament, judges, lawyers, potential hacking victims, the news media and the public that there was no evidence of widespread hacking by the tabloid. They steadfastly maintained that their original inquiry, which led to the conviction of one reporter and one private investigator, had put an end to what they called an isolated incident.
After the past week, that assertion has been reduced to tatters, torn apart by a spectacular avalanche of contradictory evidence, admissions by News International executives that hacking was more widespread, and a reversal by police officials who now admit to mishandling the case.
Assistant Commissioner John Yates of the Metropolitan Police Service publicly acknowledged that he had not actually gone through the evidence. “I’m not going to go down and look at bin bags,” Mr. Yates said, using the British term for trash bags.
At best, former Scotland Yard senior officers acknowledged in interviews, the police have been lazy, incompetent and too cozy with the people they should have regarded as suspects. At worst, they said, some officers might be guilty of crimes themselves.
“It’s embarrassing, and it’s tragic,” said a retired Scotland Yard veteran. “This has badly damaged the reputation of a really good investigative organization. And there is a major crisis now in the leadership of the Yard.”
The testimony and evidence that emerged last week, as well as interviews with current and former officials, indicate that the police agency and News International, the British subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the publisher of The News of the World, became so intertwined that they wound up sharing the goal of containing the investigation.
Members of Parliament said in interviews that they were troubled by a “revolving door” between the police and News International, which included a former top editor at The News of the World at the time of the hacking who went on to work as a media strategist for Scotland Yard.
On Friday, The New York Times learned that the former editor, Neil Wallis, was reporting back to News International while he was working for the police on the hacking case.
Executives and others at the company also enjoyed close social ties to Scotland Yard’s top officials. Since the hacking scandal began in 2006, Mr. Yates and others regularly dined with editors from News International papers, records show. Sir Paul Stephenson, the police commissioner, met for meals 18 times with company executives and editors during the investigation, including on eight occasions with Mr. Wallis while he was still working at The News of the World.
Senior police officials declined several requests to be interviewed for this article.
The police have continually asserted that the original investigation was limited because the counterterrorism unit, which was in charge of the case, was preoccupied with more pressing demands. At the parliamentary committee hearing last week, the three officials said they were working on 70 terrorist investigations.
Yet the Metropolitan Police unit that deals with special crimes, and which had more resources and time available, could have taken over the case, said four former senior investigators. One said it was “utter nonsense” to argue that the department did not have enough resources.
Another senior investigator said officials saw the inquiry as being in “safe hands” at the counterterrorism unit.
Interviews with current and former officials show that instead of examining all the evidence, investigators primarily limited their inquiry to 36 names that the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, mentioned in one list.
As a result, Scotland Yard notified only a small number of the people whose phones were hacked by The News of the World. Other people who suspected foul play had to approach the police to see if their names were in Mr. Mulcaire’s files.
“It’s one thing to decide not to investigate,” said Jeremy Reed, one of the lawyers who represents numerous phone-hacking victims. “But it’s quite another thing not to tell the victims. That’s just mind-blowing.”
Among the possible victims was former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who asked the police last year to look into suspicions that his phones were hacked. In response, Scotland Yard sent him a form letter saying it was unclear whether the tabloid had eavesdropped on his conversations, people with knowledge of the request said.
The police assigned a new team to the hacking allegations in September after The New York Times published a magazine article that showed that the practice was far more widespread and which raised questions about Scotland Yard’s handling of the case.
Shortly after, the police finally reopened those “bin bags.” Now, the police are enduring the painstaking and humiliating exercise of notifying nearly 4,000 angry people listed in the documents that they may have been targets of what now appears to be industrial-strength hacking by The News of the World. The chore is likely to take years.
A Series of Inquiries
Scotland Yard’s new inquiry, dubbed Operation Weeting, has led to the arrests of a total of nine reporters and editors, with more expected. And the police have opened another inquiry into allegations that some officers were paid for confidential information by reporters at The News of the World and elsewhere.
The Metropolitan Police itself is now the subject of a judicial inquiry into what went wrong with their initial case, as well as into the ties between the department’s top officers and executives and reporters for News International.
At a parliamentary committee hearing last week, three current and former officials who ran the case were openly mocked. One member of Parliament dubbed an investigator “more Clouseau than Colombo.”
At the hearing, the senior investigator in charge of the day-to-day inquiry, Peter Clarke, blamed The News of the World’s “complete lack of cooperation” for the shortcomings in the department’s initial investigation.
While editors were not sharing any information, they were frequently breaking bread with police officers. Andy Hayman, who as chief of the counterterrorism unit was running the investigation, also attended four dinners, lunches and receptions with News of the World editors, including a dinner on April 25, 2006, while his officers were gathering evidence in the case, records show. He told Parliament he never discussed the investigation with editors.
Mr. Hayman left the Metropolitan Police in December 2007 and was soon hired to write a column for The Times of London, a News International paper. He defended the inquiry that he led, writing in his column in July 2009 that his detectives had “left no stone unturned.”
Three months later, Mr. Wallis, the former deputy editor of The News of the World, was hired by Scotland Yard to provide strategic media advice on phone-hacking matters to the police commissioner, among others. Scotland Yard confirmed last week that the commissioner, Sir Paul, had personally approved nearly $40,000 in payments to Mr. Wallis for his work.
But when Mr. Wallis was interviewed in April by a New York Times reporter working on a story about the hacking, he did not disclose his new media role at Scotland Yard. In the interview, Mr. Wallis defended both the newspaper and the vigor of Scotland Yard’s initial investigation.
A person familiar with the hacking investigation said on Friday that Mr. Wallis had also informed Rebekah Brooks about The New York Times’s reporting. Ms. Brooks, who resigned on Friday as chief executive officer of News International, has maintained that she was unaware of the hacking.
A News International spokeswoman said the company was reviewing whether it had paid Mr. Wallis at the same time.
It is unclear whether Scotland Yard knew about Mr. Wallis’s activities. While The New York Times was working on its article last year, Scotland Yard was refusing to answer most of the detailed questions that The Times submitted to it in a freedom of information request.
It was not until Thursday night that Scotland Yard revealed that Mr. Wallis had worked for it for a year. That revelation came about 10 hours after he was arrested at his west London home in connection with the phone hacking.
“This is stunning,” a senior Scotland Yard official who retired within the past few years said when informed about Mr. Wallis’s secret dual role. “It appears to be collusion. It has left a terrible odor around the Yard.”
Sky News raised further questions about a possible link between Sir Paul and Mr. Wallis on Saturday night. Just after Christmas last year Sir Paul recovered from surgery at a Champneys Spa in Hertfordshire, and his $19,000 bill was paid by a friend, the spa’s managing partner, Sky News reported. Sir Paul learned Saturday that Mr. Wallis had worked as a public-relations consultant for the spa, a police spokesperson said, adding that “Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson is not considering his position.” Mr. Stephenson had declared the stay on a gifts list, Sky reported.
A lawyer for Mr. Wallis said there was no connection between Sir Paul’s stay at the spa and Mr. Wallis. Mr. Wallis did not return calls seeking comment.
He had worked as second in command at the tabloid under Andy Coulson, who left the paper in 2007 after the private investigator and the reporter were found guilty of hacking into the phones of members of the royal family and their staff.
Shortly after, Mr. Coulson was hired by the Conservative Party to lead its communications team. Last year, when David Cameron became prime minister, he brought Mr. Coulson to 10 Downing Street. But Mr. Coulson could never escape the hacking controversy. Once Scotland Yard decided to reopen the case, he resigned and was arrested on July 8.
It was not until last autumn that the police were forced to confront their own mistakes. By then, they were facing an escalating stream of requests by people who suspected that their phones might have been hacked. Two dozen people had also brought civil cases against News International, and that compelled the police to release information from Mr. Mulcaire’s files.
The documents were seized on Aug. 8, 2006, from Mr. Mulcaire’s home in Cheam, south of London. Mr. Mulcaire, a 40-year-old former soccer player whose nickname was “the Trigger,” was nothing if not a meticulous note-keeper. On each page of the 11,000 documents, in the upper-left-hand corner, he wrote the name of the reporter or editor whom he was helping to hack phones.
Also seized from his home was “a target list” of the names of a total of eight members of the royal family and their staff, and 28 others, which Scotland Yard’s investigators used as their first road map of Mr. Mulcaire’s activities.
‘A Mutual Trust’
From the beginning, Scotland Yard investigators treated The News of the World with deference, searching a single desk in its newsroom and counting on the staff’s future cooperation. “A mutual trust” is how one police investigator described the relationship.
Leaders of the Metropolitan Police decided not to pursue a wide-ranging “cleanup of the British media,” as one senior investigator put it. Mr. Hayman, the investigator in charge, said in testimony before Parliament last Tuesday that the inquiry was viewed as “not a big deal” at the time.
The police charged only Mr. Mulcaire and the royal affairs reporter, Clive Goodman. When the case was done, the evidence went into plastic bags in a storage locker, several officials said. It was occasionally reviewed, but a complete accounting would not be done until late 2010.
On July 9, 2009, Mr. Yates, the assistant commissioner, said, “It is important to recognize that our inquires showed that in the vast majority of cases there was insufficient evidence to show that tapping had actually been achieved.”
And then last year, he told two parliamentary committees that a full accounting of all the evidence had been done.
Mr. Yates said investigators presumed that the material in the files was for legitimate purposes since it was the job of both Mr. Mulcaire and Mr. Goodman “to gather personal data about high-profile figures.”
Yet on numerous occasions Mr. Yates assured the public that all those affected had been notified.
He said the police had “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.”
The parliamentary committees declined to pursue the matter.
In the fall of 2006, Sir Ian Blair, then the police commissioner, had the option of assigning the case to the Specialist Crime Directorate, the division that handles homicides, robberies and the like. It had 3,500 detectives at its disposal and could have reviewed every document, several former officials said.
The man leading the unit, Tarique Ghaffur, was known among his colleagues for refusing to toe the line. Mr. Ghaffur had led an internal inquiry into the police harassment of a prominent black activist and concluded that the man had been the victim of “unreasonable targeting by police officers.”
It was not until July 2009, three years after the evidence was seized, that Mr. Yates ordered some of the names in Mr. Mulcaire’s files to be put into a database, former officials said. But it fell far short of a complete accounting, they said.
In one instance, the police thwarted a deeper look at their handling of the evidence.
Last autumn, four people, including John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, and Brian Paddick, a former senior police official, sought a judicial review to determine why Scotland Yard had not notified all the hacking victims.
In response, lawyers for the police claimed that none of the four plaintiffs’ phones had been accessed.
Last February, a judge ruled against going forward with an inquiry. Within days, several plaintiffs received word from the police that their phones might have been hacked.
“The court was misled,” said Tamsin Allen, who represents four people who claim their phones were hacked. “It was pretty outrageous.”
A judge recently decided to open a new review of why Scotland Yard did not notify everyone in Mr. Mulcaire’s files.
“I still don’t think we know the extent of what the police did and did not do because we are only about halfway down into the murky pond,” said Chris Bryant, a Labour member of Parliament who is one of the four plaintiffs who applied for the judicial review.
A Toxic Atmosphere
Current and former officials said that shortly after Scotland Yard began looking into the hacking, five senior police investigators discovered that their own phones might have been broken into by The News of the World.
At last week’s hearing in Parliament, Mr. Hayman, one of the five, denied knowing if his phone had been hacked.
So far, only 170 phone-hacking victims have been notified.
A second police operation is now trying to determine how many officers were paid for information from journalists working at The News of the World and elsewhere. One of the challenges, a senior officer said, was that the journalists’ records contained pseudonyms instead of the officers’ names. There is suspicion that some pseudonyms were made up by reporters to pocket cash from their editors, the officer said.
The atmosphere at Scotland Yard has become toxic. “Everyone is rowing for the shore,” said a former senior Scotland Yard official. “Everyone is distancing themselves from this mess.”
Sue Akers, a deputy assistant commissioner who is leading both police inquiries, said the department faced a deep challenge to repair its reputation.
“I think it is everybody’s analysis that confidence has been damaged,” Ms. Akers told Parliament last week. “But I am confident that we have got an excellent team who are working tirelessly to get this right.”
She added: “I hope that I do not have to come back here in five years’ time to explain why we failed.”
A Day of Apologies for the Murdochs, and of New Questions for Cameron
- By JOHN F. BURNS - July 16, 2011 - The New York Times
LONDON — As Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire on Saturday published full-page ads in every national newspaper in Britain under the words “We are sorry,” the government of Prime Minister David Cameron released information documenting the prime minister’s close ties to Murdoch company executives that continued even as the phone-hacking scandal grew.
The apology by Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation was a U-turn from his previously defiant handling of the crisis. The banner headline in Saturday’s editions of The Times of London read “Day of Atonement,” and it was all the more striking for the fact that it ran in the 226-year-old newspaper that is the flagship of the print empire that Mr. Murdoch has assembled in Britain over the past 40 years.
At the end of a week that rocked the interwoven worlds of the press, politicians and the police in Britain, and spread across the Atlantic with the opening of an F.B.I. investigation into allegations of associated abuses in the United States, penitence was the buzzword far beyond the London headquarters of Mr. Murdoch’s British-based newspaper subsidiary, News International.
The crisis seemed far from over for Mr. Murdoch, as the scandal that began over illegal phone hacking by one of his newspapers, The News of the World, now defunct, widened to include a second newspaper in his stable, The Sunday Times, officials said Saturday.
Nor was the crisis abating for Mr. Cameron. As presses rolled Friday night with the Murdoch bid for redemption in the “sorry” ad, and with front-page stories telling of his face-to-face, head-hanging apology to the parents of a murdered girl whose cellphone voice mails were hacked, Mr. Cameron’s aides released a diary of his meetings with executives and editors of News International.
The diary shed light on what Mr. Cameron acknowledged last week was the “cozy and comfortable” world in which politicians, the press and the police in Britain have functioned for decades, one he said had to yield to much greater public scrutiny. The diary showed that since taking office in May 2010, Mr. Cameron has met 26 times with Murdoch executives, including Mr. Murdoch; his son James, the top official of News International; and Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of the British subsidiary and editor of The News of the World, who resigned on Friday.
Her resignation was quickly followed by that of Les Hinton, the News Corporation executive and former chief of News International who had been publisher of The Wall Street Journal, another Murdoch property, since 2007. All four executives are expected to testify before a parliamentary oversight committee on Tuesday.
Most of the meetings cited in the diary took place at the prime minister’s London headquarters at 10 Downing Street, or at Chequers, his official country residence northwest of London. His meetings with the Murdoch officials exceeded all those with other British media representatives put together. Ms. Brooks was the only person on the guest list for Chequers who had been invited there twice.
Another guest was Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who resigned as Mr. Cameron’s Downing Street media chief under the pressure of the phone-hacking scandal in January. That visit occurred in March, two months after he resigned.
Downing Street officials noted that Ms. Brooks and her husband have a country home near Chequers. As for Mr. Coulson, they said, he and his family had been invited for an overnight stay to thank him for his work for the government and the Conservative Party, where he held a similar post before the election.
The list did nothing to assuage the questions about Mr. Cameron’s judgment in maintaining close ties with executives of a media enterprise that has been under a faltering police investigation for years and has come under intense scrutiny.
The ties to Mr. Coulson, in particular, have been assailed by the Labour opposition leader, Ed Miliband, but have also spread dismay among Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives.
Foreign Minister William Hague defended those ties on Saturday, telling the BBC that inviting Mr. Coulson to Chequers was “a normal, human thing to do” and that it was “not surprising that in a democratic country there is some contact” between political leaders and media officials. “Personally I’m not embarrassed by it in any way,” he said.
Mr. Cameron hired Mr. Coulson in 2007, shortly after he resigned at The News of the World and against the strong urging of some other Conservatives. His defense has been that Mr. Coulson deserved “a second chance,” and he has said that if Mr. Coulson’s assurances of guiltlessness in the phone-hacking scandal prove to have been false, he should be prosecuted.
While the police investigation has largely centered on cellphone hacking by journalists at The News of the World, it has now spread to the investigative unit of The Sunday Times, a person familiar with internal News Corporation discussions said. That person, as well as a person with knowledge of the scope of the inquiry, said the investigation would expand to include hacking into e-mail accounts and other online privacy invasions.
One target of the investigation is Jonathan Rees, a private detective employed by The News of the World with ties to corrupt police officers and a criminal record. Tom Watson, a Labour member of Parliament who has been briefed on the inquiry, said the police had evidence that Mr. Rees was paid by News International and that he had claimed to have met with members of The Sunday Times investigation unit.
Published: July 18, 2011