Yates welcomes inquiry into phone hacking investigation

'Yates of the Yard' goes to Westminster
'Yates of the Yard' goes to Westminster

By Ian Dunt

The assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police has said he would welcome an inquiry into the original investigation on phone hacking at News of the World.

John Yates told the home affairs select committee we would not object if HM Inspector of Constabulary looked at the way the police investigation had been conducted.

He also confirmed the police planned to talk to Andy Coulson once they had proceeded with their re-opened investigation.

"I still think the [original] investigation was a success," he insisted to MPs.

"If the HMIC [HM Inspector of Constabulary] want to have a look at it, we'd have no problem at all."

The comments are a far cry from those revealed by the Guardian yesterday in a leaked email from a Home Office minister, which said an HMIC inquiry would damage relations between the police and the government.

The email, from Home Office director general for crime and policing Stephen Rimmer to then-home secretary Alan Johnson, was sent last year when the row over phone hacking at the News of the World resurfaced.

Calling in HMIC might suggest "we do not have full confidence in the MPS", Mr Rimmer wrote.

The emails give some explanation as to the irritation expressed by Mr Johnson in recent days, as he came close to arguing that the police had withheld information from him when he was home secretary.

"Last year I was assured that the Metropolitan police service had not received any allegations in respect of other News of the World journalists," he told the House yesterday.

"I was also told that the Metropolitan police had taken all proper steps to ensure that where there was evidence of phone tapping or suspicion of phone tapping the individuals concerned would be informed."

The hearing concluded with committee chairman Keith Vaz suggesting it may decide to hold a full inquiry on the issue.

Mr Yates also revealed today that he intended to speak to former News of the World reporter Sean Hoare, who has gone on the record alleging widespread phone hacking at the tabloid.

Only after that would he consider talking to Mr Coulson, head of communications at Downing Street and former News of the World editor, who yesterday said he would be prepared to talk to police.

"In terms of Sean Hoare, that is new material and we'll be seeing him in the near future," Mr Yates said.

"We'll see what he has to say, then consider contacting Mr Coulson."

Mr Yates also confirmed that he had written to the New York Times a second time asking the newspaper to hand over any further material it has, although the newspaper rejected the previous request on the basis of journalistic privilege.

"I've written to them again today to see whether they are willing to waive that privilege in what are quite exceptional circumstances," he told MPs.

But the New York Times has already told police that the entire thrust of the story is that Scotland Yard already has access to evidence it has chosen not to properly pursue, making the request meaningless.

Mr Yates' appearance followed comments from Chris Bryant, former Europe minister, who told the House yesterday that he had not been informed by the police that his phone had been hacked.

Pressed on the issue in an occasionally bad tempered exchange with MPs on the committee, Mr Yates refused to say whether Mr Bryant had been on a list of between 91 - 120 potential victims of phone hacking, although he confirmed that John Prescott had not been.

"Where we believe there is the possibility they have been hacked we think we've done all that's reasonable," Mr Yates told the committee.

Pressed by committee member David Winnick, Mr Yates said: "I'm also trying to protect other people's privacy. Mr Bryant has been in contact with us for some time about his issues. I'll speak to Mr Bryant personally and in due course."

Scotland Yard's relationship with the News of the World is under severe scrutiny after the New York Times article alleged the police did not investigate the phone hacking allegations further so it could preserve its relationship with the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Labour MP Tom Watson listed some of the alleged failings in the police investigation.

"The [media committee] inquiry heard that a second News of the World reporter, Ross Hall, transcribed illegally-hacked phone messages. He has not been interviewed by police," Mr Watson said.

"He sent the now notorious email to News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck, reporter number three, who has not been interviewed by the police.

"Last week, former News of the World reporter Sean Hoare testified that his bosses instructed him to hack phones whilst he worked for the paper. He has not been interviewed by the police."

Responding to an urgent question on the row, home secretary Theresa May confirmed the issue was an operational matter for the police, not the government, although Mr Yates' comment that he would welcome an HMIC inquiry will make her argument harder to sustain.


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