November 29, 2021

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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Cameron Orders Two Inquiries Into Hacking Scandal as Former Aide Is Arrested

Struggling to contain the biggest scandal since he took office more than a year ago, Mr. Cameron announced two separate inquiries into the revelations, saying “no stone will be left unturned.”

In a statement, Scotland Yard said Andy Coulson, Mr. Cameron’s former director of communications, had been interviewed at a police station in south London and was “currently in custody.”

While his arrest had been expected, it brought a new dimension to the scandal, turning it from one of claim and counter-claim to a question of criminal charges.

A police statement said the former editor had been arrested “on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications” and “on suspicion of corruption allegations.” It said he had been interviewed by officers investigating illegal payments to corrupt police officers and phone hacking.

The arrest came as Mr. Cameron scrambled desperately to contain the fallout from scandal and focus public attention on measures being taken to investigate it. But it was certain to draw renewed taunts by Mr. Cameron’s critics that he showed flawed judgment in hiring Mr. Coulson in 2007. In the past, the prime minister has always vouched for Mr. Coulson’s integrity and said he believed Mr. Coulson’s assurances that he had done nothing wrong.

The developments followed a decision by Rupert Murdoch’s family on Thursday to close The News of the World — the tabloid newspaper at the center of the scandal over illicit payments to corrupt police officers and the hacking of cellphones belonging to victims of crime and terrorism and possibly families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The decision seemed to be a calculated move to help protect Mr. Murdoch’s proposed $12 billion takeover of the pay-television company British Sky Broadcasting. Mr. Murdoch already owns a controlling 39.1 percent stake in it; the deal would allow him to own it outright.

Members of the British public had until Friday to make their views known to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is to rule on the takeover. The BBC said some 256,000 individuals had lodged objections, many in recent days, and it could take months to sift through them.

Before the phone-hacking crisis exploded this week, Mr. Hunt had been expected to approve the deal, possibly this week. But he indicated on Friday that a decision would take longer.

In a statement, his office said that “given the volume of responses,” it would “take some time” to make a ruling. Mr. Hunt “will also consider all relevant factors” including the impact of the closure of The News of the World, the statement said.

The repercussions from the crisis also seemed to be spreading to the question of media regulation.

At a hastily-convened news conference to unveil his plans for inquiries, Mr. Cameron also proposed an extraordinary tightening of regulations on the behavior of the free-wheeling British press, which prides itself on investigative prowess far beyond the tabloid titillation with which some of its titles are associated.

“I believe we need a new system entirely,” Mr. Cameron declared, saying the current self-regulation of the press by a body called the Press Complaints Commission has “failed.” The scandal has shaken the intertwined worlds of press and politics, laid bare the cozy ties between British leaders and Mr. Murdoch and raised questions about the future of two once high-flying newspaper executives — Mr. Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the current chief executive of Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper operations in Britain who herself had been editor of The News of the World.

At his news conference, Mr. Cameron spoke with a rare candor about the darker practices that have been common in the British press, particularly tabloids like the News of the World, whose power to destroy reputations has spread widespread fear among politicians, celebrities and others in the public eye.

The prime minister said he would ask the inquiry he plans to appoint to make a sweeping review of “the culture, the practices and the ethics” of  the country’s newspapers. But he also acknowledged that politicians have traditionally failed to speak up about press abuses for fear of alienating press barons with the power to wreck their careers  or their parties’ electoral prospects.

John F. Burns reported from London and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Sarah Lyall, Jo Becker, Julia Werdigier and Ravi Somaiya from London, Jeremy Peters, Brian Stelter and Tim Arango from New York.

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