Did the PCC turn a blind eye to evidence that phone hacking went beyond one rogue reporter?

In his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry, the former chairman of the PCC defended the reaction of the PCC to the conviction of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire for phone hacking in 2007:

Sir Christopher Meyer: “I made several statements from August until the verdicts were delivered in the end of January or February, whenever it was, in 2007, against phone hacking, but beyond exhortation, I did not believe there was more that could be done during a police investigation, a court – a trial, until after the verdicts were rendered.”

Mr Robert Jay: “It follows from that, Sir Christopher, that once the criminal process had ended and the investigation had concluded, there was nothing to stop the PCC, is this right, from carrying out whatever inquiry or investigation that it wished?”

Sir Christopher Meyer: “None whatsoever, and this is exactly what we did.”

The PCC could not, he claims, have known phone hacking had gone further than one rogue reporter, without having investigative powers like the police. This is consistent with what the PCC said prior to July 2011.

But the comprehensive 408-page evidence submitted by the current director appears to challenge this claim.

In December 2006 the then PCC director, Tim Toulmin, wrote a paper for the Commission (PCC Paper No. 3856) called ‘The Clive Goodman Phone Message Tapping Case’. The paper considered what steps the PCC should take following the conclusion of Clive Goodman’s trial:

‘It is also likely that further information will come to light when the judge makes his sentencing remarks. One approach might be for the Commission to review the position following those remarks – expected in January – and decide at that point whether to write to the Editor with further questions based on what is known now and whatever comes to light later.’ (p.253 in PCC evidence)

The following year, after Goodman had been convicted, and the judge had made his sentencing remarks, the PCC questioned the new editor of the News of the World, Colin Myler. It recorded part of Myler’s response in its 2007 report. In particularly it noted that Myler referred to the court case and the sentencing hearing. “[T]he identity of that source [Mulcaire] and the fact that the arrangement involved illegally accessing telephone voice mails was completely unknown and, indeed, deliberately concealed from all at the News of the World’, Myler told the PCC. ‘…[I]t was made clear at the sentencing hearing that both the prosecution and the judge accepted that” (PCC Report on Subterfuge and Newsgathering 2007, paragraph 4.9).

So what did the judge, Mr Justice Gross, say in his sentencing remarks, specifically about the private investigator employed on an exclusive contract by News of the World, Glenn Mulcaire?

“As to Counts 16 to 20 [relating to the phone-hacking of Max Clifford, Simon Hughes MP, Andrew Skylett, Elle Macpherson and Gordon Taylor], you had not dealt with Goodman but with others at News International”. (The Guardian, 21 July 2009)

The judge, in other words, was absolutely clear that it was not just one rogue reporter – Clive Goodman – but that ‘others at News International’ were involved.

Even if the PCC had missed the judge’s remarks, then it only needed to look at Mulcaire’s plea. In addition to pleading guilty to hacking into the phones of members of the royal household, Mulcaire pleaded guilty to hacking five other individuals: Max Clifford, Skylet Andrew, Gordon Taylor, Simon Hughes and Elle MacPherson. None of these were likely to be targets of the royal correspondent.

Therefore far from needing any special investigative powers to see that phone hacking went further than one rogue reporter, the PCC need only have looked at the judge’s sentencing remarks, and the plea of one of the defendants. Indeed, the PCC had specifically said it would be waiting for the sentencing remarks before deciding how to proceed. Then, following the sentencing remarks it chose not to question the relevant editor of News of the World, and chose to believe the claim of the new editor that phone hacking did not go beyond one rogue reporter.