Strathclyde Police to investigate NoW phone-hacking in Scotland

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by a Newsnet reporter

The Crown Office has officially sent a request to Strathclyde Police to investigate specific allegations of phone-hacking in Scotland made against reporters and employees of the News of the World.  In a statement issued to the press the Crown Office said: “In light of further emerging developments regarding the News of the World the Crown has asked Strathclyde Police to consider and assess specific claims of phone hacking and breaches of data protection in Scotland.

“Strathclyde Police will review available information and will liaise with the Metropolitan Police in relation to any Scottish dimension to their current investigations and will thereafter report their findings to the Area Procurator Fiscal at Glasgow.”

Calls to investigate the actions of the News of the World in Scotland had been made by Aamer Anwar, Tommy Sheridan’s lawyer.  Speaking to STV Mr Anwar said: “I’m glad the Crown Office is starting to catch up. But it’s a bit late given that Strathclyde Police had already told us what they were going to do.”

He added: “Happy is not a word I’d use. Satisfaction will happen if, at the end of the day, those who committed criminal offences as newspaper journalists are held to account and put behind bars.”

The fall-out from the scandal continues to grow.  Yesterday, Metropolitan Police arrested Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, over allegations of phone-hacking and corruption of police officers.  Police also arrested Clive Goodman, the former NoW royal correspondent who was jailed for four months in 2007 for his role in phone hacking at the paper.  It is understood that Mr Goodman is facing allegations related to the corruption of police officers.  A third arrest was reported last night in connection with the scandal, according to Sky News the man is believed to be a former private investigator once employed by the paper.

In a new twist to the tale, it was also reported yesterday that an unnamed senior executive at News International deleted thousands of emails sent to the company by NoW staff.  The emails date back to 2005, and cover the period when the phone-hacking was at its worst.  Amidst allegations of a criminal cover-up, police are investigating.

Following the shock news on Thursday that this Sunday’s edition of the paper will be the last, pressure is continuing to mount on Rebekah Brooks, former NoW editor and currently head of News International in the UK.  Ms Brooks refuses to resign, claiming that she is “the best person” to lead the company out of the crisis.   Yesterday tapes of a meeting between Ms Brooks and NoW staff were released to the press.  Angry staff were heard to confront her over the closure of the paper, telling her that by her actions she was making the entire company toxic.  Ms Brooks also disclosed that she would no longer be heading the company’s investigation into the scandal and admitted to staff that the “worst was yet to come”.

Pressure was also growing yesterday on Prime Minster David Cameron following his refusal to apologise for employing Andy Coulson as a Downing St staff member despite receiving information from the Guardian newspaper in 2010 that Coulson had employed a private investigator with a long history of criminality.  Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, said that the Guardian had contacted the three major UK party leaders before the 2010 election in order to inform them of unpublished details surrounding the allegations of Coulson’s involvement in illegal information gathering.  However three months later Coulson was appointed as Cameron’s director of communications.  At a press conference yesterday David Cameron stated that he “accepted Coulson’s assurances that he had not known about the phone hacking that occurred under his editorship of the NoW between 2003 and 2007.”

The scandal has shone a light on the relationship between the British political classes and the media, it being widely noted that Cameron counts both Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks as personal friends.  However all political parties have been equally implicit in courting News International.

In response to calls for an investigation into the role and responsibility of the press, and in an attempt to regain control of a rapidly changing situation, the Prime Minister announced two inquiries.  One enquiry will be headed by a judge and witnesses will be under oath.  This enquiry is to investigate the phone-hacking and the failure of the original police investigation in 2007 to uncover the true extent of the problem.  Another enquiry is to examine the ethics of the press and to determine the form of a successor to the Press Complaints Commission, which the Prime Minister described as “broken”.  It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to satisfy critics who have been calling for a full judicial enquiry.

Meanwhile, News International is currently negotiating to buy-out the remaining shares in BSkyB and take 100% control of the company.  The buy-out depends upon the approval of the regulator Ofcom, which is now under increasing pressure to declare that News International is not a “fit and proper” owner of a broadcasting company.  In the City of London’s trading markets yesterday, £1.8 billion was wiped off the value of News International’s shares as the City speculated that the lucrative deal might be off the table for the foreseeable future.  

It was reported last night that Rupert Murdoch was on his way to London to manage the crisis in person.