The Commons’ inquiry looking into allegations of phone hacking by journalists may have been misled it emerged last night as Metropolitan Police lawyers acting for a senior officer on the force investigating reporters at the News of the World denied he had ever claimed 6,000 calls had been intercepted.
In a letter to the Press Complaints Commission, police lawyers said that evidence suggested only “a handful” of people were targeted rather than the thousands that were claimed inrecent evidence given to the Commons’ Select Committee examining alleged phone-hacking.
PCC chairman, Baroness Buscombe, revealed the existence of the letter to delegates after her opening address to the Society of Editors conference, at Stansted, last night.
Baroness Buscombe said: “The PCC has heard from Detective Inspector – as he now is – Maberly through lawyers for the Metropolitan Police.
“This letter says that Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an email confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by Assistant Commissioner John Yates to the Select Committee, who referred to only a ‘handful’ of people being potential victims.”
Evidence of phone hacking first emerged in 2007, when former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for eavesdropping on royal aides and celebrities.
The News of the World then told a PCC inquiry that no one else at the paper was involved.
The inquiry’s findings were reviewed earlier this year after reports in The Guardian suggested that the practice was more widespread at the Sunday tabloid than previously believed.
In a report published last week, the PCC said it had found no evidence that it was misled by the News of the World in the original inquiry.
The PCC report was then criticised by a number of MPs, calling it a “whitewash”, and by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger who said it was “worse than pointless”.
Last night Buscombe said the commission would update its report in the light of the new information supplied to it about the evidence presented to the CMSC last month by solicitor Mark Lewis.
Lewis told the committee that he had been informed by Maberly that “they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved.”
“It was not clear to me whether that was 6,000 phones which had been hacked, or 6,000 people including the people who had left messages.”
Buscombe told delegates: “In light of this [lawyers’ letter], I am doing two things.
“First, I am of course putting this new evidence to my colleagues on the Press Complaints Commission, because they will want to update our report to take account of this development.
“Second, I have just spoken to the chairman of the select committee on Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, to draw this to his attention. Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter.”