UK Politics

Colleague says Coulson 'probably' knew of phone hacking

A woman using her mobile phone
Image caption The Met Police has said it is launching a fresh investigation into phone hacking

A freelance journalist has told MPs that a former News of the World editor probably would have known about phone hacking by reporters at the paper.

Paul McMullan, in evidence published by the Home Affairs Select Committe, made the claim about Andy Coulson - who has denied any knowledge of hacking.

Mr McMullan said Mr Coulson "probably heard" him doing it.

News International said there were "serious inaccuracies" in some of the written evidence.

Mr McMullan's evidence was included in several submissions published on Friday by the committee.

He wrote to the committee in November 2010: "For what it is worth Andy Coulson knew a lot of people did it at The Sun on his "Bizarre" column and after that at NOTW.

"As he sat a few feet from me in the newsroom he probably heard me doing it, laughing about it etc and told others to do it."

Mr Coulson quit his job as the prime minister's director of communications last month, blaming the phone-hacking scandal at the paper for making it hard to focus on his government role.

In 2007 the News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed for accessing messages left for royal aides.

Last month the Metropolitan Police launched a fresh investigation into hacking, as it had received what it called "significant new information".

The force has been accused by a number of public figures - including former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott - of failing to carry out thorough inquiries in the past.

'Storage' interpretation

Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer's evidence to the select committee said that the law covers the period of "storage" of mobile phone messages - although it was not clear how to interpret this.

"The difficulty of interpretation is this: Does the provision mean that the period of storage referred to comes to an end on first access or collection by the intended recipient, or does it continue beyond such first access for so long as the system is used to store the communication in a manner which enables the (intended) recipient to have subsequent, or even repeated, access to it?"

The Crown Prosecution Service gave oral legal advice about prosecutions of the two men in 2006.

The advice was that prosecutors might have to limit their charges to cases where journalists had listened to mobile phone voice messages before the intended recipient of the messages.

But this point was never tested in court because Goodman and Mulcaire pleaded guilty.

Mr Starmer has urged prosecutors to take a "robust view" of the law - suggesting they should not limit potential prosecutions to cases where the recipient has not yet heard the message.

Other submissions to the MPs have come from Max Mosley who successfully sued the News of the World (NOTW) for breach of privacy after a story about his private life was published in 2006.

'Inaccuracies'

His submission said: "In pursuing its story about me, the NOTW engaged in criminal conduct. Such conduct is endemic at the NOTW and its parent company, News Group. The Metropolitan Police are aware of this.

"Yet only one NOTW employee has been prosecuted and no proper investigation of criminal conduct by these organisations has taken place."

A spokesman for News International, which publishes News of the World, said: "There are some serious inaccuracies in some of the written evidence submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

"We are currently carrying out a detailed review and will engage with the committee to set out our positions."

'No statistics'

Sources have told the BBC that the "inaccuracies" relate to the evidence submitted by Mr Mosley, and lawyer Mark Lewis who is representing other alleged victims.

Freelance journalist Nick Davies, who wrote about hacking for the Guardian, and the Information Commissioner's Office also submitted evidence.

Phone company Everything Everywhere (formed in 2010 by the merger of mobile and broadband communications companies Orange UK and T-Mobile UK) said it had "no evidence to support the contention that the practice of unlawfully accessing mobile voicemails is widespread".

"The level of enquiries that are received from people who are concerned about the security of their voicemail accounts is so low that statistics are simply not kept," its submission said.

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