‘Hypocritical’ Labour slammed over failure to act on phone hacking

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By G.A.Ponsonby

The Labour party has been accused of “hypocritical humbug” over the phone hacking scandal after party MP Tom Watson demanded an inquiry be set up by the Scottish Parliament.

SNP MP Pete Wishart slammed Labour for failing to act when in power, despite two Labour Prime Ministers being made aware of possible illegal practices within the British newspaper industry as far back as 2006.

By G.A.Ponsonby

The Labour party has been accused of “hypocritical humbug” over the phone hacking scandal after party MP Tom Watson demanded an inquiry be set up by the Scottish Parliament.

SNP MP Pete Wishart slammed Labour for failing to act when in power, despite two Labour Prime Ministers being made aware of possible illegal practices within the British newspaper industry as far back as 2006.

The calls for another inquiry follow new revelations that the home and mobile phone numbers of SNP MSP Joan McAlpine may also have been hacked by the News of the World.

A Committee of Westminster MPs has used the scandal to issue a report claiming Rupert Murdoch “is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”.  The Committee split along party lines with Labour and the Lib Dems condemning the media tycoon.

The report has also been used in order to launch another attack on First Minister Alex Salmond, with Unionists questioning Mr Salmond’s judgement and demanding the Scottish Parliament hold its own separate inquiry into the phone hacking scandal.

However in a statement issued today, Pete Wishart slammed Labour’s record on phone hacking and pointed out that the party, who were in power at Westminster and Holyrood, sat on their hands when confronted with evidence of widespread criminality in 2006.

Mr Wishart, the SNP Home Affairs spokesperson said:

“This is hypocritical humbug from Labour.  The whole phone hacking scandal happened on their watch and they chose to do absolutely nothing about it.

“Glenn Mulcaire’s notebooks were seized well before the SNP won the election in 2007.  Labour were in power both at Westminster and Holyrood at that time.

“They were clearly content to let phone hacking take place and the privacy of Joan McAlpine and others be violated.  They could have chosen to uphold the law, but manifestly failed to do so.

“Bizarrely, they failed even to warn Jack McConnell that his phone appeared to have been hacked.  He seems only to have been informed recently – years after this allegedly took place.”

Mr McConnell revealed this weekend that he had been contacted in February by Strathclyde Police and warned that he may also have been a victim of phone hacking.

In December last year, the Leveson inquiry was told that in 2003 the authority in charge of pursuing data protection breaches refused to act despite well-known newspapers being suspected of breaking the law, because they were “too big”.

The claim was made by Alec Owens, an ex-senior investigating officer for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).  According to Mr Owens, the Operation Motorman investigation uncovered documentary evidence showing a clear paper trail all the way and a possibility of many criminal convictions.

Motorman uncovered evidence of over seventeen thousand requests made by journalists to private investigator Steve Whittamore; many of the requests would have required breaking the law.

Mr Owens said: “We could identify the newspaper, the journalist, Whittamore, who he used, the blaggers, the corrupt people, and we had a paper chain right the way up and down,”

In November 2006, the then Labour government were eventually presented with the findings of the Operation Motorman report that catalogued over 3000 breaches of data protection laws.  However despite the tough recommendations in the report, no action was taken by Prime Minister Tony Blair, nor by Gordon Brown’s administration which took over a few months later in June 2007.

In 2006 Sir Richard Thomas wrote in his annual report to the Westminster Parliament:

“Much more illegal activity lies hidden under the surface.  Investigations by the Information Commissioner’s Office and the police have uncovered evidence of a widespread and organised undercover market in confidential personal information.  Such evidence formed the core of the report, detailing how the unlawful trade in personal information operates: who the buyers are, what information they are seeking, how that information is obtained for them, and how much it costs.

“Among the ultimate ‘buyers’ are many journalists looking for a story.  In one major case investigated by the ICO, the evidence included records of information supplied to 305 named journalists working for a range of newspapers.”

Pete Wishart said the whole episode, and the new revelations, left many unanswered questions and added:

“This begs questions about what Gordon Brown knew at the time he was Prime Minister.  If he did, know why did he not tell such a close political colleague as Jack McConnell what was going on? And if he didn’t, then why was he so woefully out of touch?

“It is only since the Crown Office asked Strathclyde Police last year to investigate the Scottish end of this grubby affair that these revelations have come to light.

“For years, Labour have tried to bury this scandal.  It is now returning to haunt them.”

The Motorman report was not handed to Scotland Yard until June of last year.  The report showed hacking was widespread and journalists were paying police thousands of pounds for information. 

Sources said 300 emails show clear proof of criminal offences with a group of six journalists acting as ‘gatekeepers’ to private investigator Glen Mulcaire, who carried out hacking on a huge scale.

Mr Mulcaire was also found to have the mobile telephone number of Tommy Sheridan in his posession along with Mr Sheridan’s private pin codes.

Some emails seem to suggest there was clearly evidence of serious crime with senior journalists paying substantial sums of money to police officers.