August 14, 2022

Cozy Ties Mark Newspaper’s Dealings With Scotland Yard

Detective Cook said the police had evidence that one of The News of the World’s senior editors, Alex Marunchak, had ordered the illegal surveillance as a favor to two suspects in the case: Sid Fillery and Jonathan Rees, private investigators whose firm had done work for the paper. The lawyer for Mr. Cook, Mark Lewis, said in an interview that the detective believed that Mr. Fillery and Mr. Rees were seeking help in gathering evidence about Detective Cook to derail the murder inquiry.

What happened at the meeting, a less detailed account of which appeared in The Guardian, provides a window into the extraordinary coziness that long existed between the British police and The News of The World, as well as the relationship between the paper and unsavory characters in the criminal world.

None of the parties to this alliance have escaped the stain. The paper, at the center of a widening scandal over phone hacking and corruption, was shut last week by News International, its parent company, in an effort to limit the already extensive damage done to the reputation and business interests of Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation.

Scotland Yard has admitted that it accepted News International’s explanation that the hacking was the work of one rogue reporter, and that some police officers had accepted substantial payments in exchange for confidential information.

The News of the World remains the target of several criminal investigations. A number of its former editors and reporters have been arrested, including Andy Coulson, who most recently worked as the chief spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, but no one has yet been formally charged. And Mr. Cameron has announced he will appoint a judge to examine both the tabloid’s hacking and its close relationship with the police.

Also present for the meeting that day in 2003, said a spokesman for Scotland Yard, were Cmdr. Andy Baker, who was Detective Cook’s boss, and Dick Fedorcio, Scotland Yard’s chief public relations officer. According to an account that Detective Cook provided to Mr. Lewis and others, Ms. Wade excused the surveillance by saying that the paper’s action had been “in the public interest” — the argument British newspapers typically make to justify using underhanded or illegal methods to, say, expose affairs by public officials.

Ms. Wade said that the paper was tailing Detective Cook because it suspected him of having an affair with Jackie Haines, host of the Crimewatch television program on which he had recently appeared. In fact, the two were married to each other, as had been mentioned prominently in an article about them in the popular gossip magazine “Hello!”

Scotland Yard seems to have been satisfied with the explanation of Ms. Wade, now Rebekah Brooks and the chief executive of News International. Her paper’s editors and reporters had a long history with the police — paying for tips and sometimes even serving as quasi-police investigators themselves, in return for confidential information (many News of the World stories about criminal matters used to include a reference to the paper’s handing “a dossier” of its findings to Scotland Yard).

It is the closeness between the paper and the police that, it seems, led Scotland Yard to what officials have retrospectively admitted was a major misstep: the decision not to pursue the initial phone-hacking investigation adequately in 2006 and again in 2009. It was in 2006 that members of the royal household notified the police that they believed their cellphone messages were being intercepted by The News of the World.

The subsequent police “raid” at the paper consisted of rummaging through a single reporter’s desk and failing to question any other reporters or editors. Two people were subsequently jailed: Clive Goodman, The News of the World’s royal reporter, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator hired by the paper. Even when The Guardian reported that the hacking had extended far beyond the pair, and that thousands of victims might be involved, the police and the newspaper insisted repeatedly that the wrongdoing had been limited to a single “rogue” reporter.

This weekend, Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who was in charge of the initial inquiry and who in 2009 declined to reopen it, said that the police response had been inadequate. “I have regrettably said the initial inquiry was a success,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “Clearly, now it looks very different.”

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