MP: Hacking investigation should probe 2nd detective

A Labour MP yesterday claimed that former prime minister Tony Blair was targeted by a private detective and that “powerful forces” were attempting to cover up the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

Scotland Yard said it is now considering whether to whether its investigation into hacking following controversial new claims made by Tom Watson in Parliament yesterday.

The force said it had received allegations of privacy breaches which fall outside of its ongoing probe into claims that staff at the News of the World hacked into the messages of celebrities, politicians and royals.

Watson told MPs: “The convicted private investigator Jonathan Rees, a contractor to News International, targeted former prime minister Tony Blair for covert surveillance, and at least one former home secretary.”

He added: “The Metropolitan Police are in possession of paperwork detailing the dealings of criminal private investigator Jonathan Rees.

“It strongly suggests that, on behalf of News International, he was illegally targeting members of the royal family, senior politicians and high-level terrorist informers, yet the head of Operation Weeting [Scotland Yard’s codename for its probe into phone hacking at the News of the World] has recently written to me to explain that this evidence may be outside the inquiry’s terms of reference.

“I believe powerful forces are involved in a cover-up.”

A Met police spokesman said: “[We] can confirm that since January 2011 the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] has received a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy which fall outside the remit of Operation Weeting.

“These allegations are currently being considered.”

News of the World owner News International rejected Watson’s claims.

“It is well documented that Jonathan Rees and Southern Investigations worked for a whole variety of newspaper groups,’said a spokesperson.

“With regards to Tom Watson’s specific allegations, we believe these are wholly inaccurate.

“The Met Police, with whom we are co-operating fully in Operation Weeting, have not asked us for any information regarding Jonathan Rees.

“We note again that Tom Watson MP made these allegations under parliamentary privilege.”

Earlier this year BBC Panorama was given access to police surveillance tapes which revealed Rees was employed by the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror to find out details of the bank accounts of Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, and Prince Michael of Kent in 1999.

Several journalists at the titles were implicated by the surveillance tapes in using Rees’s company Southern Investigations.

The programme also alleged that the News of the World paid Southern Investigations tens of thousands of pounds before 2000, and that it continued using Rees after his release from prison in 2006.

In 2000 he was convicted of criminal conspiracy to plant cocaine on an innocent person and jailed for seven years, and earlier this year he was one of three men acquitted of involvement in the 1987 axe murder of his former business partner Daniel Morgan after the trial collapsed.

Three News of the World journalists have been arrested since the Met reopened its inquiry into claims that staff hacked into the answerphone messages of celebrities and politicians.

The force has endured repeated criticism over its handling of the original phone-hacking inquiry, which led to the conviction of News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2007.

The paper’s former editor, Andy Coulson, resigned as Prime Minister David Cameron’s director of communications in January as he admitted that the ongoing row about the affair was making his job impossible.

Days later the Met launched Operation Weeting, a fresh investigation, after receiving “significant new information” from News International.

Actress Sienna Miller was this week awarded £100,000 damages at London’s High Court after bringing a privacy and harassment claim in connection with the tabloid’s phone-hacking action.

Her counsel, David Sherborne, told Mr Justice Vos that in 2005 and 2006 she was the subject of numerous articles which contained “intrusive and private information”.

He said the 29-year-old did not know the source of the information and could not understand how it was possible for the newspaper to obtain it.

In October 2010, after disclosure of documents by the Met, Ms Miller issued proceedings for misuse of private information, breach of confidence and harassment, he said.

In April, News Group Newspapers, parent company of the News of the World and the Sun, made an unconditional admission of liability.

It has been estimated that News International has set aside £20 million for payouts over hacking.

Talking about the allegations on the BBC’s Breakfast programme, Mr Blair said he knew no more than what he had read and had not spoken to the Metropolitan Police about it.

He added: “I assume that if someone’s got something they will get in touch with me.”

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