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Signs of broader hacking at Murdoch newspaper

Signs of broader hacking at Murdoch newspaper

A private detective and reporter who worked for the weekly tabloid was arrested earlier.

London: Evidence is growing that hacking of both telephone voice mail and email was pursued by journalists from Rupert Murdoch's News of the World for years after the arrests of a private detective and reporter who worked for the weekly tabloid.

As recently as last week, News International, publisher of Murdoch's remaining three British print publications, had maintained that phone hacking at the News of the World ceased in 2006, after police arrested the paper's royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

But during the opening session on Monday of the parliamentary Leveson Inquiry, an investigation set up by the British government to investigate alleged abuses by UK media, the inquiry's chief counsel, Robert Jay, said British police investigating phone hacking at News International believed hacking had certainly begun by 2002 and continued "at least until 2009."

Jay did not elaborate on the nature of the evidence police had, except to say that this did not include voluminous notebooks maintained by Mulcaire which were seized at the time of his arrest in 2006.

In his opening statement to the inquiry on Tuesday, Rhodri Davies, a lawyer representing News International, conceded that he could not offer any guarantees that phone hacking did not occur "by or for the News of the World after 2007".

But Davies also said he believed the jailing of Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire had a "salutary" effect. Lessons had been learned, and whatever hacking culture might have existed at the company before their arrest did not thrive afterwards. A spokeswoman for News International said the company had no further comment.

Chris Bryant, a member of parliament for Britain's opposition Labour Party who has followed the hacking controversy closely and was a hacking target himself, told Reuters he understood hacking occurred after 2006, and that evidence to that effect has already begun to emerge in hacking-related court cases.

One relevant case, Bryant said, is that of actress Sienna Miller, whose relationship with actor Jude Law was closely tracked by the News of the World.

In a story published last week, the Guardian cited a claim made at a pre-trial hearing last April by Miller that her email had been hacked in 2008. The newspaper said that this allegation was contained in a re-amended statement of claim filed with the court.

The Guardian also reported that Michael Silverleaf, a lawyer for News International, admitted at a subsequent hearing that the company was liable for all wrongs alleged by Miller in her claim. Silverleaf said the newspaper "admits in terms that the acts were committed and they were committed on instructions from journalists employed by my client".

At a follow-up hearing in May, Miller's barrister, David Sherborne, reported that the tabloid had "fully admitted Ms Miller's claim in relation to the entirety" of her amended claim.

Earlier this year, in another case in which post-2006 voicemail hacking attempts by the News of the World were alleged, the company admitted liability for "misuse of private information" and "breach of confidence" during the period 2004-2006. But it conspicuously declined to admit liability after that period.


Kelly Hoppen, an interior decorator who at one point was the stepmother of Sienna Miller, applied in March 2010 for an order requiring mobile phone provider Vodafone to disclose the telephone number, as well as other details, of the individual or individuals who accessed or tried to access her voicemail between June 2009 and March 2010; this according to a court document signed by judge David Eady of Britain's High Court which is posted on the website of Hoppen's lawyer.

Hoppen also asked for an injunction preventing those responsible for allegedly trying to hack her voicemail between June 2009 and March 2010 from hacking her further, harassing her, or even phoning her cellphone. The judge said he would grant the order she was seeking.

Lawyers for Hoppen and Murdoch's News International subsequently announced the case was being settled. A statement made in open court said the publisher only admitted liability "in respect of the 2004-2006 part of her claim". But two people familiar with the case said that, whatever liability the company formally admitted, evidence did surface during the litigation that Hoppen had been a target of hacking after 2006.

A hacking victim who earlier this year was shown evidence seized from Mulcaire indicating that her voicemail had been hacked before the private eye's arrest told Reuters she also was advised by investigators that they had evidence that the practice continued after Mulcaire`s arrest in 2006.

According to the victim, who requested anonymity due to ongoing investigations and litigation, one police investigator almost casually asked whether she had changed the PIN number used to access her voicemail.

When the victim said that she had not changed her PIN number, the police commented that few other victims had changed their PINs either. The police suggested that this was unwise, because, they said, they had evidence that voicemail hacking had continued after Mulcaire`s arrest.

"You do realise it went on after 2006," the victim quoted the investigator as saying.

Specifically, an investigator told the victim, the police had acquired emails in which Mulcaire instructed other journalists how to hack emails. The victim said the investigator was from Operation Weeting, a Scotland Yard inquiry set up earlier this year to investigate the extent of hacking at the News of the World, which was shuttered by Murdoch last July as public controversy flared over the newspaper's reporting practices.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said that the police were not prepared to discuss specific points about evidence or timelines raised during the Leveson inquiry. News International continued to emphatically deny as late as last year that there was "a widespread culture of wrongdoing at the News of the World".

first published:November 16, 2011, 01:07 IST