Tom Watson: Police Must Investigate Mail on Sunday Phone Hacking Allegations

6 January 2019

THE LABOUR Party’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson has called for police to investigate allegations of phone hacking carried out for The Mail on Sunday.

The MP also claimed the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Paul Dacre may have misled the Leveson Inquiry – a criminal offence, if intentional.

Mr. Watson spoke out on the day the Mail on Sunday’s newest columnist, Tina Weaver – named last month by Byline Investigates as the director of an industrial scale phone hacking operation at her former employer the Sunday Mirror – was conspicuously absent from Britain’s biggest mid-market weekend publication.

“The only recourse for the alleged victims is now to report a crime to the Metropolitan Police to investigate,” ~ Tom Watson

But the focus of West Bromwich East MP’s comments were directed at unlawful news gathering allegations linked to other executives at the Mail group.

Last week, Byline Investigates revealed how transcripts of illegally obtained voicemails were emailed to a senior editor at the million-selling Sunday paper.

Convicted phone hacker Glenn Mulcaire admitted doing the illegal surveillance, and told how he wrote the name ‘Mail on Sunday’ on his notes, as a means of identifying the end-user of his product.

There has been no documentary evidence linking any newspaper in the powerful Mail publishing stable to phone hacking – until now.

Talking exclusively to Byline Investigates, Mr. Watson said: ‘The only recourse for the alleged victims is now to report a crime to the Metropolitan Police to investigate.”

The Metropolitan Police, under pressure from the press, closed down its phone hacking inquiries into the News of the World and the Mirror Group in 2015.

Last year, the Government, to cheers of approval from the Mail group and the Murdoch stable, then cancelled the second part of the Leveson Inquiry which was due to investigate the extent of phone hacking and other criminal acts at the Mail and across the industry.

However, since then Byline Investigates has exposed evidence of fresh criminal conspiracies at other newspapers including The Sun, The Sunday Times – and now at the prestigious Mail on Sunday.

So far, Byline Investigates has identified at least six suspected victims of phone hacking targeted for the benefit of the Rothermere-owned paper.

They include actress Sadie Frost, her ex-husband Jude Law and her ex-nanny Jade Schmidt.

In addition, Heather Mills, and her former business associates Ben Noakes and Nicky Taylor, are also alleged victims of illegal news-gathering techniques, carried out on behalf of The Mail on Sunday.

The links to our previous five stories (linked at the foot of this article) about Mail on Sunday phone hacking allegations can be found at the bottom of this story.

Byline Investigates understands that most of them are consulting lawyers, with a view to suing the paper’s publisher Associated News, whose Chairman is Paul Dacre.

Our reporters have information suggesting that there are other possible victims.

The Mail on Sunday’s publishers have never been sued for phone hacking before.

Associated News has not been affected by the kind of litigation which had plagued rival newspaper groups, since the phone hacking scandal erupted in 2010 and 2011.

So far, phone hacking has cost Rupert Murdoch’s empire an estimated £500 million, including £30 million over the last two years to settle claims against The Sun, in the High Court.

The Mirror Group (now renamed Reach) has put aside an admitted £70.5 million in phone hacking contingencies – but the real cost in terms of additional internal spending and damage to businesses and reputation, is estimated to be much more.

Speaking to Byline, Mr. Watson reminded victims – and the police – when deciding what to do about the recent Mail on Sunday revelations, to follow the guidance of a government minister, who told Parliament, after closing down the Leveson Inquiry, that a criminal investigation was now the only way of dealing with new phone hacking cases.

Mr. Watson said: “I urge victims to follow the advice of the former Secretary of State Matthew Hancock who made clear that potential criminal cases of press abuse are “a matter for the police” and should be investigated by them.”

Matthew Hancock was the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport who cancelled the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, in March last year.

The first part of the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the press tool place in 2012.

A second stage – which would specifically investigate “who did what to whom” at what newspapers and when – was proposed after the criminal trials of phone hackers had finished, in order to prevent public hearings from prejudicing those cases.

Defending his decision to cancel, which was opposed by Lord Justice Leveson himself, Mr. Hancock claimed that a public inquiry was not the most efficient way of dealing with fresh allegations of press abuse.

In a fiercely contested Parliamentary debate, he stressed that the existence of alternative methods of dealing with new phone hacking allegations – such as a criminal probe by the police – justified his decision to shelve Leveson Part 2, which he also claimed was “out-of-date.’

However, Mr. Watson told Byline Investigates that the emerging stream new phone hacking conspiracies proved that Mr. Hancock was wrong, and evidence enough that a second Leveson was required.

The MP for West Bromwich East said: ‘Further allegations of phone hacking, being used to publish stories in a Rothermere group newspaper, are another depressing milestone in what is now a decade long investigation.

‘The place where these issues could have been discussed most productively – the second part of the Leveson inquiry – has been shut down by Theresa May’s government. These latest allegations show just how wrong that decision was.’

However, Mr. Watson saved his most explosive attack until last.

He openly suggested that Fleet Street giant Paul Dacre had misled the first Leveson Inquiry, when specifically claiming that the Mail group was not involved in phone hacking, and that there had been a thorough investigation.

The allegation is serious, because intentionally giving wrong or distorted evidence to a public inquiry is a clear-cut criminal offence, punishable by a prison sentence.

Mr. Watson told Byline Investigates: ‘The most disturbing part of these particular allegations is that, if proven, it shows that former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre misled the first part of the Leveson inquiry when he denied any wrongdoing at the Mail group.

‘I’m sure he will want to correct the record.’

Paul Dacre told the Leveson Inquiry that neither the Daily Mail nor the Mail on Sunday had ever been involved in phone hacking, and that the papers had never used Glenn Mulcaire.

After condemning phone hacking outright, Mr. Dacre said he could sure of his facts because an internal investigation had been carried-out.

Lawyers suggest that proving a crime of perjury under the Inquiries Act 2005 is more straight-forward than demonstrating perjury or perversion of the course of justice under older laws, the more common ways of punishing those who lie under oath.

The Inquiries Act 200 5 was passed to protect the integrity of public inquiries and deter witnesses from lying or making errors in their evidence.

To prove perjury in a court case, the prosecution has to show under section 1 Perjury Act 2011, that the false evidence was ‘material’ to the proceedings.

Material means evidence that is key or important, in such a way that falsehood would taint significant evidence.

To prove that a witness, who gave false evidence, was guilty of the separate offence of perverting the course of justice, a jury must find that the accused knowingly gave the false evidence, with the intention of misleading the court.

However, the bar is much lower under the Inquiries Act.

Under the s35(2)(a) of the Inquiries Act 2005, ‘distorting’ or ‘altering’ evidence given to a public inquiry is a criminal offence.

In an unrelated development, the page usually penned by the The Mail on Sunday’s new star signing Tina Weaver was not published today –  48 hours after Byline Investigates raised fresh questions about her phone hacking.

Our reporters have asked the paper’s Managing Editor why Weaver’s RightMinds column was left out without explanation, but have so far not received a reply. 

We will update our readers on this story later.

Byline Investigates, has sent around 40 questions, covering a wide range of legal and editorial questions to the Mail on Sunday over the past two weeks.

However, none of them have been answered directly.

The Managing Editor John Wellington has repeatedly told Byline that the Mail on Sunday has never knowingly used material that was illegally acquired.

The Mail on Sunday has never confirmed that it had not knowingly processed personal data illegally obtained from phone-hacking.

Byline has asked the Mail on Sunday whether the papers, or its publisher AN intends to write to Lord Justice Leveson to correct the evidence given to him at the Inquiry.

Our reporters have also asked the Managing Editor John Wellington if Paul Dacre (ex-Editor Daily Mail) Peter Wright (ex-Editor Mail on Sunday) and Liz Hartley (in-house legal boss) intend to amend their witness evidence given in 2012, in the light of the new allegations.

At the time of publication, Byline Investigates had not heard back.

However, at 8.47 pm – four hours after this story was posted – the Managing Editor of the Mail on Sunday, sent this statement:

‘These allegations are totally unfounded. 

‘The emails published by Byline contain no evidence which demonstrates that The Mail on Sunday was in any way aware that Greg Miskiw may have been attempting to supply information obtained by phone-hacking. 

‘We repeat once again: The Mail on Sunday has never knowingly used information that was illegally obtained by Greg Miskiw or Glenn Mulcaire.’

Greg Miskiw is the freelance journalist, who sent verbatim transcripts of Sadie Frost’s voicemails to the Mail on Sunday.

Miskiw – who acted as a middleman between Glenn Mulcaire and newspapers – was a former News of The World Associate Editor, later convicted of phone hacking.

Readers can follow our series: Story 1 here, Story 2 here,  Story 3 here, Story 4 here, and Story 5 here.