Press standards, privacy and libel - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 1900-1919)



  Q1900  Chairman: If I happen to have listened to it and not deleted it and they then manage to access it, that is perfectly legal?

  Mr Yates: It is a breach of privacy. I am not sure it is legal, but it is certainly no offence under section 1 of RIPA.

  Q1901  Chairman: This may be going slightly beyond your remit, but do you not think that is completely ridiculous?

  Mr Yates: Well, I suppose you could take a view on it, but we are only dealing with what the law states and what we can do in terms of the evidence in terms of building a case.

  Q1902  Chairman: I understand. Can I, finally, ask you about the notification of those many people where there was evidence that their phones might have been hacked into. There appeared to be some confusion as to how many of those were notified and when.

  Mr Yates: If I take it from the start, all those subject to the indictment are clearly aware obviously. A number of other people who were approached as potential witnesses, but chose not to provide evidence for whatever reason, they too were aware. Then we looked at a system with the phone providers, and the decision was taken in 2006 and I have no reason to doubt them now, where we looked at certain sensitive areas, people in government, people in sensitive public positions, royal, military, police and the like, where there was a suspicion that they had been hacked or otherwise had their privacy breached where we would contact them, which we did. Then the service providers contacted other ones in the same sort of category that we were looking at who, they believed, had been hacked or otherwise had their privacy interfered with. They contacted them and, if they felt there was a greater degree of interference which merited further police investigation, then they came back to us, and there was one case where that happened which formed part of the indictment. Since July 2009, you will remember that at the end of my statement I said I was concerned as to had anything fallen through the net, and we had been following a very, very tight strategy around analysing whether something could have fallen through the net. There may have been a couple, it is a handful of people potentially, and we have gone back and worked with the phone companies again on that, and one of them of course was Andy Coulson who himself declared that he may have been subject to that type of activity, but it is very few, it is a handful, and we are still going through that process now.

  Q1903  Philip Davies: Just going back to the point about Neville Thurlbeck, I am obviously not a police officer, you are the experts in these matters and I certainly do not want to presume that I know more about these things than you do because I do not, but, given that Clive Goodman was the royal reporter and there was evidence that phones hacked included those of people who were not in the Royal Family, would it not be a fairly easy conclusion to come to, or proposition to make, that perhaps, if he is the royal reporter and there are other people's phones being tapped, there must be other people at the News of the World involved in this activity? Would that not be an early presumption that the police would make if investigating this?

  Mr Yates: I think we made the presumption and the assumption that he was involved with numerous journalists from many newspapers and other outlets. All the evidence and material we seized from his home address indicated that that was his job. Whether it breached into the lines of illegality is a different matter, but he was a private investigator and you would expect him to have snippets of information and sometimes he had just a name, sometimes he had a date of birth, sometimes he had an awful lot of information around individuals, but that is what his job is. Our job was to follow the evidence around section 1 of RIPA, which is fairly narrow, fairly well defined and fairly challenging to prove.

  Q1904  Philip Davies: Sure, I appreciate all that, but, given that you had the name "Neville", this idea that he did not say which Neville it was and it could have been any Neville, how many Nevilles were working at the News of the World at the time? Did you look into it and come across a huge list of Nevilles at the News of the World when you were carrying out the investigation?

  Mr Yates: I can absolutely see where you are coming from and where the Chair is coming from on this, but we are looking at using our resources wisely and effectively. I would say it is 99.9% certain that, if we were to question Neville Thurlbeck on this matter, he would make no comment. That was the position of every other journalist we spoke to during this inquiry. It was the position of Mulcaire, it was the position of Goodman and they made no comment. I have no evidence to put before him other than the fact that this is a Neville, that he has not read it and we know that he has not read it because it has not been transmitted by Mulcaire to Neville Thurlbeck. I can see where you are coming from, but we are making the decision based on where the evidence is going to be and where we are going to get the proof for a case to put before a court. The decision taken at that time was that it was not a viable line of inquiry and, I have to say, it has been supported by leading counsel and the DPP recently.

  Q1905  Chairman: You could have asked the author of the email. We know precisely who he is.

  Mr Yates: Who, Mulcaire or Ross Hindley?

  Chairman: No, the individual employed by the News of the World whom we have not named at the request of the Guardian, but you know who it is because it is on the top of the email.

  Q1906  Paul Farrelly: He has just been named.

  Mr Yates: I did not mean to.

  Q1907  Chairman: Well, you could have asked him.

  Mr Yates: We could, and I can ask my colleague whether we did or not.

  Mr Williams: No, we did not speak to him, but it comes back actually that, as part of our investigation strategy, we were asking the News of the World to supply more information pertaining to Mulcaire, his employment, his records of work, who he worked for and what stories he worked on, as was said, and any editors or journalists that he worked for because this was an ongoing process and we wanted to understand the whole picture. What it came back to was the News of the World saying, "No, there was no information" and, therefore, we were left in isolation, literally, with that document which, when you look at it, is not enough in evidence to pursue, which is where we have ended up.

  Q1908  Philip Davies: Whether you think it is worth reopening this again at this stage is a separate matter, and you may well be right that, based on what you have seen, it is not, but would you not at least concede that, in reviewing it thoroughly, perhaps at the time it would have been best practice if the police had spent a bit of time having a chat with Neville Thurlbeck on the basis of the emails that you had in your possession?

  Mr Yates: In 2006 that may well have been the case but it is concentrating on using your resources properly. We would make a professional decision based on our experience, which collectively is quite considerable, that that is going to take us absolutely nowhere; therefore we were concentrating on using the resources that we do have in the areas where we are going to find the evidence. That is not going to take us anywhere. That was the decision taken at the time. Certainly, in 2009, I was absolutely of the view that it was not new; it was considered at the time by counsel, and there was certainly no value in reopening it.

  Q1909  Mr Sanders: I will move away from Neville-Neville Land and come back to what actually happened when the Guardian wrote this story. There was a lot of excitement and then, almost within a matter of hours, it was announced there had been a review and that sort of killed it. Can you explain to the Committee how that review was undertaken?

  Mr Yates: Firstly, it was not a review. The Commissioner asked me to establish the facts, two entirely separate exercises. A review involves a thorough—

  Q1910  Mr Sanders: Hang on. It was very clearly reported as a review and I am almost certain I heard a police officer on television refer to it as a review at the time.

  Mr Yates: I absolutely guarantee the word "review" was not mentioned that day.

  Q1911  Mr Sanders: So where has the media got the idea that there was a review? Do you think they tapped somebody's phone and got it?

  Mr Yates: I have no idea. I was so clear on the day, through both my statement and through other means, that I was asked to establish the facts. In police circles, and no doubt in journalistic circles, a review has a completely different sense, which is a focus. Sometimes it is a forensic review, sometimes it is a complete review, but that involves a lot of work and a small team of people. I was asked to establish the facts by the Commissioner, and indeed if you read the transcripts of that day you can see absolutely clearly I was asked to establish the facts. I made a note to myself on that day as to what I was actually doing, what I was actually going to consider. I looked at the scale, the scope and the outcome in terms of the original case. I considered the level of liaison there had been with CPS and senior counsel and any advice they had provided. Clearly that was considerable.

  Q1912  Mr Sanders: Did you consult with counsel at that time?

  Mr Yates: No, I did not.

  Q1913  Mr Sanders: So you just went back over what had been the—

  Mr Yates: There were a number of other considerations that I made. I considered the approach adopted by the prosecution team in their papers, what were they actually focused on, and it was those eight cases. I considered the amount of complexities and challenges around the evidence then and what evidence would be available now, particularly in relation to the availability of the data. I considered the level of disclosure and who would review the material. In this case senior counsel had reviewed the material. I considered how the case was opened after the guilty pleas. I considered whether there was anything new in the Guardian articles in terms of additional evidence, and I considered finally our approach to the victims, how they were managed and dealt with and the impact of further inquiries, if they had been necessary, on them, and I came to the view, and I appreciate you all thought it was rather quick, that there was no new evidence in this case. It was a conflation of three old stories.

  Q1914  Mr Sanders: And this was an exercise you alone conducted?

  Mr Yates: No, I did it with Philip and the team and the original team. We sat down for a number of hours that day and went through these points.

  Q1915  Mr Sanders: How many hours that day? What time did you start this process?

  Mr Yates: It was a number of hours. I did not record it, but I came to the view—

  Q1916  Mr Sanders: It presumably was not on your agenda that day.

  Mr Yates: No. The diary was cleared that day, as you would imagine.

  Q1917  Mr Sanders: At some point the diary must have been cleared. At some point somebody took a decision, in the light of this new story, "We have got to look at this again".

  Mr Yates: It was fairly early on in the day. I gave this considerable thought in terms of what was new and was there any—the principal point is, was there any new evidence, and the answer was there was not, and I have to say, whilst I came to the view fairly quickly, subsequent events, subsequent views of the DPP, subsequent views of senior counsel who had reviewed the material, had concurred with my view.

  Q1918  Mr Sanders: At what time in the day was an announcement made to the media that this exercise was being undertaken?

  Mr Yates: I think Sir Paul Stephenson had announced it up at the ACPO conference round about half past nine that morning, I cannot remember, but he certainly had a very early conversation in the morning with me. I cannot remember what time because I did not deem it relevant then, but it was a very early in the morning conversation.

  Q1919  Mr Sanders: And at what time—

  Mr Yates: You are trying to find out how many hours I spent on this?

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