“Blindingly obvious” evidence of corrupt payments to police officers was found by the former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, when he inspected News of the World e-mails, the home affairs select committee was told.
Explaining how he had been called in by solicitors acting for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (NSDQ: NWS) board, Lord Macdonald said that when he inspected the messages it took him between “three to five minutes” to decide that the material had to be passed to police.
“The material I saw was so blindingly obvious that trying to argue that it should not be given to the police would have been a hard task. It was evidence of serious criminal offences.”
He first showed it to the News Corp board in June this year. “There was no dissent,” he recalled. “They were stunned. They were shocked. I said it was my unequivocal advice that it should be handed to the police. They accepted that.”
That board meeting, the former DPP said, was chaired by Rupert Murdoch.
Lord Macdonald shortly afterwards gave the material to Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick at the Metropolitan police. The nine or 10 emails passed over led to the launch of Operation Elveden, the police investigation into corrupt payments to officers for information.
Lord Macdonald, who had been in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service when the phone-hacking prosecution of the NoW’s royal correspondent took place, said he had only been alerted to the case due to the convention that the DPP is always notified of crimes involving the royal family.
Members of the committee were highly critical of the CPS’s narrow definition of what constituted phone hacking, claiming that it was at odds with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Mark Reckless, the Conservative MP for Rochester, said that the original police investigation was hindered by the advice from the CPS that phone hacking was only an offence if messages had been intercepted before they were listened to by the intended recipient. However, Reckless said, a clause in the RIPA makes it an offence to hack in to messages even if they have already been heard.
Keir Starmer, the current DPP, said that the police had been told that “the RIPA legislation was untested”. Listening to messages before they had been heard by the intended recipient was illegal, the police were told, but the question of whether intercepting them afterwards constituted a crime was “untested”, he said.
Mark Lewis, the solicitor who has followed the scandal since its start, said he was the first person to lose his job over the affair when the firm in which he was a partner said it no longer wished him to pursue other victims’ claims.
Lewis also told MPs that he had been threatened by lawyers acting for John Yates, the former assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan police, because of comments he had made about phone hacking.
“I have copies of a letter from Carter Ruck [solicitors] threatening to sue me on behalf of John Yates,” Lewis told the home affairs select committee. He said the Guardian and the Labour MP Chris Bryant had also received threats of being sued. “The costs of the action were paid for by the Metropolitan Police, by the taxpayer,” he added.
Lewis said the reason for the investigation taking so long was not due solely to the police. “The DPP seems to have got it wrong and needs to be helped out,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian.