Huhne calls for independent inquiry into newspapers' phone tapping

by Stephen Tall on July 9, 2009

There’s been a lot of ‘shock! horror!’ at this morning’s Guardian revelations by Nick Davies that ‘Rupert Murdoch’s News Group News­papers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.’ The reaction is of course the right one. What I’m less convinced by is the supposed surprise of many in the media at the extent of the illegal activity undertaken by Mr Murdoch’s papers. (And don’t think for a moment the practise is restricted solely to the Murdoch empire).

By coincidence, I’ve just finished reading Nick Davies’s 2008 book, Flat Earth News, in which he devotes an entire chapter to what he terms ‘The Dark Arts’, focusing on the willing way in which newspaper reporters – and, yes, their editors and proprietors – sanctioned the increasing use of phone-tapping and other criminal acts to dig dirt, some of it in the public interest, much of it not. As Nick writes,

The truth is that what was once the occasional indulgence of a few shifty crime correspondents has become the regular habit of most news organisations. The hypocrisy is wonderful to behold. These organisations exist to tell the truth and yet routinely they lie about themselves. Many of these organisations have been the loudest voices in the law-and-order lobby, calling for tougher penalties against villains, tougher action against antisocial behaviour, even while they themselves indulge in bribery, corruption and theft of confidential information. (p.286)

Quite.

And good on Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne for writing today to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, to call for an independent inquiry into these allegations, pointing out that the Met is itself in the firing line because it may have neglected its duty to prosecute the serious offence of tapping and may have failed to alert victims of tapping.

Chris’s comments are below:

An independent inquiry by either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or another police force would be more appropriate than a further investigation by the Met. Why did prosecutions not take place? Why were the victims of tapping not informed? These are matters that the Metropolitan Police must answer.”

And here’s his full letter:

Sir Paul Stephenson
Commissioner
Metropolitan Police

Dear Sir Paul,

I understand that you have asked the specialist operations department of the Metropolitan Police to investigate the allegations surrounding bugging reported today in the Guardian. Clearly John Yates has replaced Bob Quick in charge of this department, but I am concerned that a department that may have failed in its duty to investigate some serious crimes is now being asked to investigate whether there has been any neglect of duty. After all, one of the clear issues here is whether the department merely dropped matters after prosecuting Clive Goodman because that had effectively ended the Royal connection, and its remit does not normally include many others who, if the reports are correct, were also bugged by newspapers or investigators working on their behalf. Why did prosecutions not take place? Why were the victims of bugging not informed? These are matters that the Metropolitan Police must answer.

In the circumstances, I hope you would agree with me that an independent inquiry from either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or from another force would be more appropriate than a further investigation by the Met. Indeed, I understand that the statutory requirement is for an appropriate investigation. In the circumstances, I wonder if you feel it would be better to ask another force with similar experience and senior officers with security clearance (such as Greater Manchester or the West Midlands) to investigate the matter. I would be grateful for your comments.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Huhne
Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary