By Bob Duncan
Strathclyde police say they are preparing to press charges against more individuals after releasing the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson from custody in Glasgow earlier this week.
Police officers who charged Mr Coulson with perjury are homing in on other suspects in their investigation into Rupert Murdoch’s empire in Scotland.
Coulson, David Cameron’s former spin doctor, was arrested at his London home early on Tuesday and driven to Govan police station. Police then announced that he had been charged with perjury. Perjury can in theory result in a life sentence, but sentences of a couple of years are more typical, a spokesman for the Scottish government justice department said.
But cases are being prepared against other suspects by detectives involved in Operation Rubicon – the probe into perjury at the Tommy Sheridan trial, phone hacking and possible illegal payments to police in Scotland. The Scottish inquiries are running separately from the major investigations by London police into newspaper malpractice.
A source told the Daily Record: “Operation Rubicon has uncovered widespread malpractice – in connection with the Tommy Sheridan case but also in connection with phone hacking. Our main focus has been on who ordered illegal activities. It is fair to say we are confident that there will be further arrests.”
Police say that there may be more than 200 people in Scotland who have been victims of hacking, after their names were found in the notebook of Brian Mulcaire, the private detective who was imprisoned for phone hacking on behalf of the News of the World (NotW).
Detectives believe that the Scottish hacking victims would have been unlikely to be targeted by London editorial executives at the paper, believing that orders must have come from Murdoch operatives in Scotland to look at people like Sean Connery, Jack McConnell and Joan McAlpine.
Sheridan was jailed for three years in January last year after a jury voted narrowly to find guilty of perjury during his 2006 defamation action against the News of the World, which he won with damages of £200,000. He was released from jail in January after serving one year of his sentence.
Coulson gave evidence at Sheridan’s perjury trial at the High Court in Glasgow in December 2010, where he claimed he had no knowledge of illegal payments to police officers during the time that he was editor of the News of the World.
However emails subsequently surfaced that appeared to cast doubt on these claims. Scottish News of the World editor Bob Bird, former husband of BBC Scotland newsreader Jackie Bird, was also questioned at the trial but denied being part of an “illegal culture of phone-tapping”.
An internal report uncovered ‘smoking gun’ evidence of criminal behaviour at the News of the World five years ago, however, it was not handed to Scotland Yard until June last year, long after Sheridan had been found guilty.
The report indicated hacking was widespread and journalists were paying police. Sources said 300 emails showed clear proof of criminal offences with a group of six journalists acting as ‘gatekeepers’ to private investigator Glen Mulcaire, who carried out hacking for the paper on a huge scale.
Mr Coulson resigned from his Downing St job a short time after giving evidence at the trial in the High Court in Glasgow as the phone hacking scandal intensified. In July 2011 he was arrested by police officers from Scotland Yard on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voicemails and making corrupt payments to police officers.
The investigation into these matters is continuing and no charges have yet been brought against him. Mr Coulson denies all the allegations.
In his evidence to the Leveson enquiry last November, Paul McMullan, formerly the deputy features editor for the News of the World, had claimed that senior executives on the newspaper, including Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, knew that hacking and other illegal activities were widespread.
Asked whether the editors of the News of the World knew that voicemail messages were being intercepted, Mr McMullan replied: “Yes … I could go a bit further than that. We did all these things for our editors, for Rebekah Brooks and for Andy Coulson.” adding, “My assertion has always been that Andy Coulson brought that practice [phone hacking] wholesale with him when he was made deputy editor.”
Prior to his arrest, prosecutors in Scotland had re-examined the testimony given by former News of the World editor at the trial. The Crown office also directed Strathclyde police to re-examine evidence given by other witnesses at Mr Sheridan’s trial.
Two other News International employees also gave evidence at the Sheridan perjury trial; Scottish NotW editor Bob Bird and news editor Douglas Wight.
Coulson, 44, has returned to his home in London while the procurator fiscal decides if he will face court proceedings. He is reported as having said he will “vigorously contest” perjury allegations against him if they are brought to trial.