The phone-hacking scandal takes a new twist

Tessa Jowell reveals her mobile was hacked 28 times.

After Wednesday's remarkable New York Times investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World, which suggested that the former editor and now No 10 communications director, Andy Coulson, had "actively encouraged" the practice, come fresh revelations from the Labour MP Tessa Jowell, who says her mobile phone was tapped at least 28 times during the period she served as a cabinet minister in the last government.

Jowell told the Independent:

I know I was tapped 28 times by May 2006 because the police told me. I had a call when I was on holiday in August 2006 from the Met to say that I had been tapped, but they asked me to do nothing except increase the security on my phone. Later, they came back to me and said I wouldn't need to be a witness in this case. I also had a call from Vodafone about improving security.

Meanwhile, Jowell's former cabinet colleague John Prescott intends to seek a judicial review to establish if his phone was hacked while he was in government. Prescott was not satisfied by the results of a Scotland Yard investigation into the affair, which concluded that there was "no evidence" that his phone had been hacked.

Yesterday, Alan Johnson added to the clamour for action, arguing that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constablulary should review the Metropolitan Police's investigation of the case. Such calls are, predictably, being given short shrift by the government. Making a connection between this affair and the case of the Foreign Secretary William Hague, Duncan said last night on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions that "things are getting ramped up in the media based on rumour and innuendo and, as in the William Hague case, I don't think it's acceptable in this case. And unless anybody comes forward with any clear evidence this is not something that should be pursued."

That's certainly the line emanating from No 10 itself. The BBC's Gary O'Donoghue reports that a "very senior source in the government" has insisted to him that Coulson's position safe. "Andy is going nowhere," the source said.

One wonders, though, how long they can hold the line. As my colleague George Eaton argued earlier in the week, "If Coulson did know about the phone-hacking then he's too wicked to be the Tories' spin chief, and if he didn't know then he's too stupid to be the Tories' spin chief."

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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