It’s bad news for Andy Coulson. The News of the World phone-hacking scandal is gathering pace with the prospect of fresh inquiries into the allegations.
It was reported last night that MPs who believe that their phones were hacked are considering asking the Speaker, John Bercow, to order an investigation by the House of Commons standards and privileges committee, on the grounds that their parliamentary privilege has been breached.
This news came as Scotland Yard said it would examine new evidence about the extent of phone-hacking and decide whether further action should be taken. When the Guardian first reported on phone-hacking at News International last year, the Metropolitan Police decided not to launch an investigation, a decision that has come under fire after the New York Times quoted unnamed detectives blaming the “close relationship” between the NoW and the police for the investigation being cut short.
In a statement last night, Assistant Commissioner John Yates said that, so far, the Met has not seen any new evidence that would merit reopening the case, but that this could change.
With the decision-making of the police already under scrutiny (the Guardian today publishes a detailed report on this), perhaps a full public inquiry is the way to go. However, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has so far said this is unnecessary — sticking to the Tory party line that the allegations are nothing new. MPs are expected to press her on the inadequacy of the Met’s investigation at Commons questions later today.
Senior Conservatives have attempted to recast the uproar as a party political issue: Alan Duncan said at the weekend that Labour was launching a concerted campaign against the government. All five candidates in the Labour leadership race have called for a fresh inquiry, as have other senior party figures.
But it is clear that this case is much bigger than the voicemails of sports stars, or political point-scoring. Quite apart from the huge question marks it raises over Coulson, a man at the epicentre of David Cameron’s circle, police integrity has been undermined.
In the absence of a full inquiry, a proper parliamentary investigation could be the next best thing. A clear precedent for this was set when the privileges committee launched an inquiry into the arrest of the Tory MP Damian Green over alleged leaking of documents.
Downing Street has remained silent, sources saying that Coulson is “going nowhere” and that Cameron “totally and utterly” rejects the claim that Coulson knew about phone-hacking. But how much longer can they hold out?