Six things we’ve learnt from Sue Akers at the Leveson Inquiry
We've found out that News International withdrew co-operation with the police, and the sheer size of the challenge facing the Met, says Hacked Off's Thais Portilho-Shrimpton.
After all the moving evidence from victims, the countless “I can’t recalls” from senior newspapers executives and politicians, and the explosive revelations involving top political figures, the Leveson inquiry found its second wind -- just as it is about to finish taking evidence.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, the woman in charge of all investigations into phone hacking and criminality allegedly perpetrated by journalists, dropped a few bombshells during her third (and seemingly not last) session of oral evidence to Lord Justice Leveson.
Her evidence was part of the closing submissions to the inquiry, after which Leveson will write his recommendations.
Here are six things we have learnt from DAC Akers during today’s hearing:
1. Alleged criminality spread further than News International
DAC Akers told Leveson today that Operation Elveden, which is looking into payments to police officers and public officials, had evidence that Trinity Mirror, Express and Star Newspapers, as well as News International journalists, have allegedly paid a prison officer some £35,000 for stories between April 2010 and June 2011.
Although there has been evidence of unethical behaviour in more than one title and more than one newspaper group before, there had never been evidence made public of alleged criminality anywhere other than the Sun, the News of The World, and The Times (the NightJack case).
This is an important development – it was believed thus far that most evidence of alleged unlawful behaviour by other newspaper groups was restricted to Operation Motorman files, as breaches of the Data Protection Act. This appears to indicate it went further.
2. The scale of phone-hacking
Out of the 11,000 pages of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire’s notes, Operation Weeting has managed to identify, according to DAC Akers, a total of 4,775 potential victims. Of these potential victims, 2,615 were notified, with 702 individuals likely to have actually had their voicemails intercepted. Not all victims whose numbers and personal details appear on Mulcaire’s notes have necessarily had their phones hacked. The figure for likely victims was 1,081, but the Met Police was unable to contact all of them.
We’ve learnt last week during a preliminary hearing that, so far, 417 have started civil action against News International over phone-hacking, out of which a total of 100 are expected to go ahead with High Court action against the newspaper publisher.
3. There's a Himalayan quantity of email data to investigate
The scale of Operation Tuleta, examining alleged computer hacking and breaches of privacy, has been revealed to be somewhat overwhelming. There are 101 individual claims relating to the investigations being carried out by the Met into phone hacking, computer hacking, and improper access to medical, banking and other personal records. The police are currently analysing eight to 12 terabytes of data kept in 70 devices.
We have no idea, yet, whether Tom Watson MP was right that email hacking will reveal malpractice on the scale of phone-hacking – the answer is within the mountain of data still to be analysed by the police.
4. Data could have been downloaded from stolen phones
According to Akers, NI's Managing Standards Committee (an internal investigations team set up by Rupert Murdoch to look into News International titles) handed over data that appears to have been downloaded from stolen mobile phones.
This is a fresh line of inquiry. The data seems to have been obtained some time in late 2010, and the phones seemed to have had their security codes broken so that data could be accessed and downloaded. The mobile phones were obtained in Manchester and South-West London, said Akers.
5. There have been dozens of arrests through Operations Weeting, Elveden, and Tuleta
To date, 15 current and former journalists have been arrested and interviewed by Operation Weeting, in connection with phone hacking. Thirteen of them have had their files passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service and will learn if they face phone-hacking charges tomorrow.
Forty-one people were arrested under Operation Elveden - 23 current or former journalists, four police officers, nine current or former public officials and five other people who allegedly acted as conduits for payments.
Finally, Operation Elveden arrested six people, under the Computer Misuse Act or on suspicion of handling stolen goods, who are currently on police bail.
6. News International have refused to co-operate with the police
NI's Managing Standards Committee has had a controversial existence so far. It was set up to help Operations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta, by providing material obtained via internal investigations, but its members have been accused by former News International journalists of doing the unacceptable: handing over hacks’ sources to the police amidst the evidence of alleged wrongdoing collected from emails, etc.
Akers told the inquiry that Will Lewis and Simon Greenberg, members of the committee, are no longer attended regular meetings with the Met. She said the MSC stopped disclosing information to the police from the middle of May until June 13.
She praised the committee for providing a lot of evidence of “suspected criminality” to the Met, but said that there had been a “change in the nature of cooperation” between the MSC and police, following the arrests of Sun journalists earlier this year.