Even the investigator had his phone hacked.
During a hearing today in London that drew both laughter and scorn from lawmakers, assistant commissioner John Yates defended the original police inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal and told listeners that his own voice-mail messages had also been illegally intercepted during an unrelated 2005 investigation.
Appearing at the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing, the senior police officer had to answer questions on why the police inquiry that began six years ago hadn’t been reopened in 2009 when the Guardian newspaper began publishing accounts that suggested the practice was widespread.
At one point, committee chairman Keith Vaz presented a list of names to Yates and instructed him to read it; the list contained the names of some of the thousands of people who reportedly have had their phone conversations intercepted. “One of those names is the prime minister’s,” Vaz said, referring to former prime minister Gordon Brown. “Is this the first time you’ve seen that list?”
His response: he hadn’t read the list.
Yates expressed regret and blamed News of the World for not cooperating. “Do you expect wrongdoers to cooperate with inquiries?” exasperated member of Parliament Michael Ellis finally asked, creating a stir in the packed room. (Peter Clarke, another Scotland Yard official, said: “This is an organization with access to the best legal counsel, in my view deliberately trying to thwart an investigation.”)
As he and other former Scotland Yard officials tried to explain why the police had failed to fully investigate the phone-hacking scandal, which has shocked the nation, the committee grew seemingly more incredulous.
The head investigator, Andy Hayman, drew audible guffaws from the committee and the audience when he claimed not to have known details of the investigation. Hayman, who has since left the police department and taken a job writing a column for The Times, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper, refused the suggestion that his dining with News of the World staff during the investigation was improper.
“Did you ever say, ‘hang on, friends,’ between the starters and the main course, ‘why are you not being more cooperative with Peter Clarke?’” asked Vaz. “All of this sounds more like [Inspector] Clouseau than Columbo.”
When Hayman at one point said he didn’t understand why everyone in the room was laughing, Vaz responded: “We are astounded by your answers.”
Sir Ian Blair, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who, it was reported, had also had his phone hacked, said of the inquiry at its initial stages: “I don’t want to sound too dismissive of this, but this is a tiny fragment of the events that were taking place across London ... This was not seen at the time as a particularly significant inquiry.”
Since then, it has clearly become so.
Journalists and observers packed the room where the hearing was held, prompting a government official to scold the crowd into being quiet as the committee went about its regular business before getting to the hacking hearing.
In contrast to her predecessors, Sue Akers, the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, whose work is not in question, was direct and to the point, assuring listeners that the current investigation, which she heads, will be thorough–and will spare no one.
“I’ll go on the record and say, ‘we’ll go wherever the evidence leads us.’”
She said investigators have identified at least 3,800 people who have been hacked, and that she is telling everyone in a responsible way. So far, at least 170 have been told. “There’s an awful lot more work to be done,” she said.