Friday, March 2, 2012

#Leveson Inquiry:Labour minister and MI5 'briefed about phone hacking scandal'Leveson inquiry hears Met police allegedly sent report to John Reid and security service, but it was not made public

 John Reid, a home secretary under Tony Blair, was informed of phone hacking, according to Met police former deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke.

The Tony Blair government was secretly briefed about the phone hacking scandal, according to the head of the aborted 2006 police investigation into the News of the World.

Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan police's former deputy assistant commissioner, made the unexpected disclosure to the Leveson inquiry this week. The hearing heard details of how the targeting of Labour cabinet ministers was subsequently kept quiet.

Clarke told Lord Justice Leveson that a confidential report on the phone hacking discoveries was sent by the Met to the then home secretary, John Reid, who personally discussed it with him. A briefing was also sent to the cabinet office at No 10, and to MI5.

 After hearing Clarke's disclosure on Thursday, Leveson immediately demanded that the Reid report be handed over to his inquiry.

This disclosure raises the possibility for the first time that the Blair government colluded in a cover-up.

At the time, according to former ministers, the Labour administration was anxious to keep on good terms with the Murdoch papers.

At least three cabinet ministers in the then Blair government were among the News of the World's hacking targets, with national security implications.

But this fact was withheld from the public during the trial of former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who formerly worked for the paper, and full details have only emerged during this week's Leveson hearings into the behaviour of the police.

Former home secretary David Blunkett, the then serving culture and media minister, Tessa Jowell, and the then deputy prime minister John Prescott were discovered at an early stage by police to be hacking targets.

But none were named in the subsequent prosecution of the News of the World's allegedly single "rogue reporter", Goodman, and Mulcaire.

Prescott was never informed by anyone of the News of the World's behaviour towards him, although police were aware of it almost from the day they raided Mulcaire's home and found on the premises incriminating documents about the deputy prime minister and his assistant.

Jowell was privately told by police at an early stage that her phone had been hacked, after they made the discovery on 26 July 2006, before any arrests had occurred.

Although Jowell was in charge of media regulation, she refused to co-operate with police's request to sign a statement which could be used for the prosecution, and the facts were subsequently not revealed, the inquiry was told this week by police witnesses.

Blunkett, too, was privately told of what had happened to him by the then police commissioner, the inquiry heard. But he too, did not participate in the case, and subsequently refused to talk about it.

All three ministers had cause for personal embarrassment.

Jowell's husband, David Mills, was the subject of controversy over claims relating to offshore companies he had helped Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi set up.

Blunkett had been involved in an affair with Spectator publisher Kimberly Fortier which ended acrimoniously.

Prescott, as he described to the inquiry this week, had been targeted by the newspaper because of an affair with his then aide, Tracey Temple.

The Blair government and its spin doctor Alastair Campbell had a policy of cultivating close links with the Murdoch papers, including the News of the World, which had supported the party at past general elections.

 According to Prescott and others, they were unwilling to challenge the behaviour of the Murdoch press.

Police failed to turn over to the Leveson inquiry the secret report they had sent to the home secretary.

When Clarke disclosed its existence during his testimony, Leveson called for the inquiry to be supplied with it.

Because the then Met commissioner, Ian Blair, had personally told Blunkett he had been hacked, counsel to the inquiry suggested a senior police officer should similarly have notified Prescott.

Clarke admitted on Thursday that Prescott should have been informed that he and his adviser had been targeted.

He said he had no idea why no one had done this.

He would have expected the senior investigating officer – who was DCS Philip Williams – to have contacted Prescott's office, he said.

Clarke claimed that the government had been informed of the details of the hacking case, and Reid had discussed it with him during a meeting about counter-terrorism.

Leveson asked if the inquiry had been given the MPS briefing paper, and when told no, asked for it.

Jay said there might be public interest immunity claims over part of it.

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