Detailed allegations presented by John Prescott and Brian Paddick suggest victims, politicians and judges were misled
by David Leigh
Documents revealing the full extent of the Metropolitan police cover-up over phone hacking have been unearthed after legal discovery battles by News of the World victims.
The files’ contents were detailed on Monday to the Leveson inquiry in sworn written statements from the former deputy prime minister John Prescott and former Met deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick, who was himself a hacking victim.
Paddick used his insider knowledge to depict the existence of a widespread fear of the tabloids among senior police officers and what he called a general “culture of cover-up” at the Met.
But the detailed allegations he and Prescott make about the hacking affair are even more startling. According to the evidence, lies appear to have been told not only to individual victims, but to government ministers, parliament, the judges and the public.
Police attempts to undermine the Guardian’s reporting when it first disclosed the scandal in 2009 are shown to have been wrong. There had been a “conspiracy of silence”, Prescott said.
According to the evidence presented on Monday:
• Police knew from the outset that Prescott was a hacking victim, but told him the opposite.
• Police immediately identified hundreds of hacking targets in the seized files of the private detective Glenn Mulcaire, but later claimed they were unaware of them.
• Police never received key financial evidence or computers from News International (NI).
• Police “tipped off” Rebekah Brooks, the then editor of the Sun, about the scope of their investigation.
• Police discovered in Mulcaire’s files highly sensitive leaks from within their own ranks that could have endangered those with new identities.
• An unknown police officer reversed a recorded decision to inform key victims, ensuring a cover-up.
Some of the most senior officers who handled the case have already testified to MPs on the Commons media committee. They are being recalled under oath by Lord Justice Leveson later this week.
These include the former assistant commissioner John Yates, who has resigned and is currently employed as a consultant by the ruling family in Bahrain; the former deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke; and the former assistant commissioner Andy Hayman.
Police investigations were “thorough and appropriate” to start with, said Paddick. The NoW’s royal reporter Clive Goodman was targeted in 2006 after members of the monarchy complained that their phones were being interfered with.
The documents reveal, however, that police realised from the outset that phone hacking was a potentially huge issue.
On 4 April 2006, Detective Superintendent Philip Williams wrote that the ability to intercept voicemails was “highly unlikely to be limited to Goodman alone” and could be too expensive to investigate by the royal security squad.
In May, after Mulcaire had been linked to the case, the case officer Mark Maberley wrote of “sophisticated and organised interception of voice messages”.
His senior investigating officer, Keith Surtees, proposed that “given the large number of non-royal victims” a better-equipped squad should take over. Paddick said he did not understand why this never happened.
The team then discovered that the then Labour cabinet minister Tessa Jowell was being hacked. When Mulcaire’s property was raided on 8 August 2006 they found that Prescott was also being targeted.
A transcript of Mulcaire’s interrogation on the following day was revealed on Monday. Prescott said he found the transcript “quite staggering” when it was eventually disclosed to him five years later.
The interrogator, DC Gallagher, was recorded saying: “Another page here has got the name John Prescott. There’s another name underneath, first of all it says adviser and then the name Joan Hammell. You’ve got her telephone numbers and DI numbers, password numbers and Vodafone passwords … and an address.”
Police regarded the Prescott allegation as so significant in 2006 that they included his name in a draft application for a search warrant for the NoW, which was never executed.
The draft said Mulcaire had been receiving extra payments of £250 a time “which appear to be linked to assistance given in relation to specific stories”. It added: “The details contained in these invoices demonstrate these stories involve individuals in the public eye such as … ‘Prescott’.”
The evidence police already held included two £250 bills Mulcaire presented to NI dated 7 May 2006 and 21 May 2006. One said: “Story – other Prescott assist – TXT” and the other: “Story: Other Prescott assist – TXT: Urgent”.
Other damning evidence which later came to light, and would have been discovered had police pursued inquiries at the time, included an internal NI email dated 28 April 2006. It was headed “Joan Hammell: adviser to Prescott”, gave instructions on how to access her voicemail box and said there were 45 messages to be listened to.
But police did not push ahead. There was a “tense standoff” at the News of the World offices when police arrived, according to the case officer. Stuart Kuttner, the managing editor, and the Farrers solicitor Julian Pike met police and allegedly “obstructed” them. The accounts department was not searched as intended, nor were Goodman’s safe and computer taken away.