Coulson-gate, day 2: Lib Dems refer NotW phone-tapping case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission

Despite the concerted efforts of some sections of the media to ignore the story in the hope it’ll go away, yesterday’s Guardian revelations about the extent of the illegal activities of Rupert Murdoch’s news group in illegal phone-tapping activities remain big news.

After yesterday’s rather rushed attempts by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates to try and kill the story (‘move along, folks, nothing to see here’ – I paraphrase, but only just), Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne has decided to refer the Met’s inquiry to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for further investigation.

Chris says:

The Metropolitan Police cannot act as judge and jury in its own trial. Only an independent inquiry can properly consider any possible neglect of duty by the Specialist Operations Department into the original investigation.

“Given the scale and scope of the allegations, the possibility that other journalists and investigators were involved must now be seriously considered. The review by the Director of Public Prosecutions is a tacit admission that the review by Assistant Commissioner Yates was rushed, and supports the case for a full, independent inquiry by the IPCC into the original police investigation.

“These allegations have serious implications for privacy laws and freedom of the press in this country, and as such must be investigated thoroughly. When the civil courts are recording large settlements to hush up potentially criminal activity, public authorities have a duty to investigate the matter fully.”

Chris has written to Nick Hardwick, Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), asking the IPCC to open an inquiry into the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into widespread phone tapping by journalists and private investigators. You can read his letter in full, below:

Mr Nick Hardwick
Independent Police Complaints Commission
90 High Holborn
London
WC1V 6BH

10 July 2009
Hardwick/100709
Thank you very much for arranging the visit to your office recently to see more about how you work, and to talk about the progress of the G20 policing investigations. I found it very interesting and informative.
I am writing to you today about the recent allegations of phone tapping by journalists on the News of the World published in The Guardian on Wednesday 9th July 2009. Assistant Commissioner John Yates yesterday announced that the Metropolitan Police Specialist Operations Department would not be re-opening the investigation into the phone tapping conducted by Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire. However, I am concerned that this review was conducted too quickly to be thorough, and left open as many questions as it answered.
Firstly, Mr Yates clearly said that it focused only on the Goodman and Mulcaire cases, and not on whether any further investigations into other journalists or investigators should have been or were undertaken. Given the nature of the allegations – that up to three thousand phones may have been tapped – this must surely now be considered. Secondly, why were the potential victims of the phone tapping not informed at the time that they may have been tapped, or were at risk of being tapped?
Although there is a potential neglect of duty by the Metropolitan Police in this case, we have merely received assurances from the same department of the same police force that conducted the original investigation that it did so thoroughly and properly. In such circumstances, surely it is more appropriate for another police force or the Independent Police Complaints Commission to look into the matter.
As such, I am writing formally today to request that the Independent Police Complaints Commission conduct a full and independent inquiry into the original handling of the case by the Metropolitan Police, and to ascertain how many journalists and private investigators were involved, and how many people may have had their phones tapped as well as those for whom there was clear evidence (as in the Goodman and Mulcaire case).
This case raises serious questions about the border between protecting the rights of journalists to investigate abuses of power in the public interest and journalism directly merely at titillating the interest of the public at the expense of individual privacy. Mr Yates stated that there was insufficient evidence in the vast majority of cases to show tapping had been achieved, which would be necessary to prosecute criminally to achieve a guilty verdict “beyond reasonable doubt”. However, the standard of evidence was clearly high enough in the case of Gordon Taylor to secure a very substantial out of court settlement for damages due to invasion of privacy.
There is therefore a very clear public interest in knowing the extent of these “dark arts” and in ensuring that the costs of undertaking them establish a very clear disincentive to the invasion of privacy. A fully independent and objective investigation into exactly what happened, when, and for how long, starting with the original investigation by the Metropolitan Police, is surely now required.
I look forward to hearing from you shortly.
Yours sincerely,

Chris Huhne MP
Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary

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