The third phase of the investigation into hacking at News of the World accuses Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct tabloid of ordering a burglary. Peter Jukes on how Murdoch antagonist Tom Watson might be able to back this claim up.
Rupert Murdoch’s British publishing arm, News International, can now add burglary to list of crimes it has been accused of—joining other allegations such as phone and email hacking, corruption, and more.
On Monday, The Independent and the London Evening Standard published allegations that the bestselling News of the World commissioned surveillance of leading police officers. The Independent made fresh claims on Tuesday that a private detective firm called Southern Investigations regularly contracted by the now-shuttered Sunday tabloid was ordering burglaries.
Within hours, campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson published an open letter he has written to Rupert Murdoch.
In the letter, Watson—who was in the vanguard of parliamentary investigations into phone hacking—claims he has been approached several times by News Corp. management to provide evidence of any law-breaking at News of the World and other papers. Watson writes that he has “resisted such requests because I did not believe they were sincere.” Now Watson has offered to supply material to the chair and CEO of News Corp. because “that era may be drawing to a close.”
Much of what Watson offers supports The Independent’s front-page article from this morning, written by Martin Hickman—who coauthored with Watson an account of the hacking scandal, Dial M for Murdoch, published this spring. Watson claims to be in possession of a document from a private investigator at Southern Investigations, who regularly employed by the News of the World, requesting “a sortie into the home of a woman living in Ascot.” Watson also claims to have an internal police document stating the file “shows a conspiracy to break and enter into private property.”
On Monday, The Daily Beast reported how high-profile members of the Labour Party were disproportionately represented in the civil phone-hacking claims, and the allegations of burglary also seem to predominantly concern Labour politicians. Apart from Watson’s own account (in Dial M for Murdoch) of an alleged attempt to break into a garage where he kept his personal papers, the other leading Labour MP campaigning on the phone hacking issue, Chris Bryant, reported to the police his concerns that his house had been broken into and nothing stolen.
Earlier in the year, during the Leveson Inquiry into Media Ethics, the former business minister and key strategist for New Labour, Lord Peter Mandelson, also claimed in a sworn witness statement that a series of invoices indicated Southern Investigations had been trying to access his private bank account details and conducted a surveillance operation on his elderly mother.
The Independent reports that some of this new material is in the hands of Operation Tuleta, the third prong of Scotland Yard’s investigation into alleged criminality at News International. The first prong of the joint task force, Operation Weeting, has made over a dozen arrests over claims of phone hacking—mainly journalists and editors at News of the World. The second, Operation Elveden, has arrested over 40 people on suspicion of into corruption, mainly public officials and journalists at the daily Sun. Until now it was believed that Operation Tuleta was devoted to allegations of email hacking.
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan police told The Daily Beast that it would not be proper to comment on ongoing operational matters but confirmed that Operation Tuleta was not solely concerned with computer intrusion but was examining various "criminal breaches into privacy" outside the remit of the other two operations.
Meanwhile, Watson’s personal plea to Rupert Murdoch may not fall on completely deaf ears. Much of the alleged evidence of corruption of public officials has come from the Management and Standards Committee, set up by News Corp. last year in the wake of the hacking scandal, and in a response to a probe from the U.S. FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes U.S.-registered corporations and executives liable for any bribing of public officials overseas. Though the new claims do not directly allege bribery payments, the targeting of MPs could be considered a precursor to bribery.
According to the Mike Koehler, an expert on FCPA law, the SEC might take an interest since financial reporting should work as internal controls. “Among the questions the SEC may ask is how did News Corp. record such payments to this detective agency and do such and such-such payments,” Koehler told The Daily Beast. “If indeed they occurred, these suggest a lack of internal controls at the company.”
News International was approached by The Daily Beast about these new allegations, and a spokesperson confirmed that Tom Watson would have been asked to provide evidence of any allegations of criminality by the company. The spokesperson declined to comment further.