Fresh probe in Britain into phone-hacking claims

A NEW inquiry into allegations that public figures had their phones hacked was launched yesterday.

Keith Vaz, Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chairman, said it was acting after John Yates, one of Britain’s top police officers, raised questions over the law as he gave evidence to the committee yesterday morning.

The inquiry will focus on the police response, the ease of prosecuting such offences, and the treatment of victims after it emerged the New York Times refused to co-operate with British police looking into allegations of phone-hacking made by the newspaper last week.

Vaz said: “The evidence of Assistant Commissioner John Yates today raised a number questions of importance about the law on phone-hacking, the way the police deal with such breaches of the law and the manner in which victims are informed of those breaches.

“I hope that this inquiry will clarify all these important areas.”

The committee’s inquiry will be the second time MPs have investigated the issues surrounding the 2007 convictions of News of the World reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire for illegally intercepting the voicemail messages of Princes William and Harry.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee previously described the “collective amnesia” of News of the World journalists when asked about their recollections of the time.

The Home Affairs select committee will focus on the “definition of the offences relating to unauthorised tapping or hacking in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the ease of prosecuting such offences”.

It will also consider “the police response to such offences, especially the treatment of those whose communications have been intercepted” and “what the police are doing to control such offences”.

Earlier yesterday, Yates said the Met would press ahead with questioning former reporter Sean Hoare and consulting with prosecutors over whether to reopen its investigation into the News of the World.

In interviews with the New York Times (NYT) and the BBC, Hoare claimed eavesdropping on voicemail messages was widespread at the News of the World and known to the then editor Andy Coulson – now Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications.

His claims are denied by both the News International-owned newspaper and Coulson himself, who has offered to speak topolice.

Yates told MPs he expected to see Coulson “at some stage”, but would not decide whether to take up his offer until after Hoare has been interviewed.

Officers wrote yesterday to the NYT asking the US paper to reconsider its decision not to hand over information, citing “journalistic privilege”, but Yates said he was “not hopeful”. It was an article in the US paper which revived the phone-hacking issue last week.

Yates came under fierce questioning from MPs on the select committee over the police’s decision not to contact some 91 people – believed to include politicians and celebrities – whose voicemail PINs were discovered during the probes into Goodman and Mulcaire.

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