As the perfect storm of publicity finally hits home at News International, and in advance of the Parliamentary debate secured by Chris Bryant today, it is worth looking at the role of the police in the progress, or otherwise, of the investigation.
DCS Phil Williams of the Metropolitan Police was the Senior Officer in Operation Caryatid, the investigation which led to the arrest and imprisonment of Glenn Mulcaire, the investigator working for the News of the World (NotW), and Clive Goodman, the Royal editor. He gave evidence at the trial of Tommy Sheridan at the High Court in Glasgow in December 2010.
Thanks to the excellent Sheridan Trial Blog (located at http://sheridantrial.blogspot.com and for which Mr James Doleman deserves a million thanks) we can see details of DCS Williams’ evidence before Lord Bracadale.
Both are worth a read in full, as is the whole site.
Some points are worth focussing on in detail in light of recent events, and the criticism of the police inquiry. In particular, there is evidence of the lengths to which the Metropolitan Police went to investigate the case as it related to the News of the World (the answer – not far!) and the view by the Police of the evidence that was uncovered.
DCS Williams was called by Mr Sheridan as a witness. Interestingly, at a number of points in his examination, DCS Williams objected to questions from Mr Sheridan himself! In each case he was directed to answer. It is clear that the officer was less than comfortable being quizzed about the investigation in this way. He told the judge that he did not see how the questions were relevant. At one point he complained that he had not been told of the questions in advance and had thought he had only been due to testify on “the provenance of the documents we supplied.” He stated that he was “not properly aware of the questions to give accurate answers.” DCS Williams also suggested that, as there was an ongoing judicial review into the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the investigation, that his answers might prejudice that. Lord Bracadale directed him to answer. The High Court of Justiciary was not going to let the witness of the hook like that.
Police Inquiry into The News of the World
DCS Williams explained that the inquiry he headed had been into Messrs Mulcaire and Goodman. When asked if it had spread wider he said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Mr Sheridan later asked DCS Williams if during his inquiries he had “spoken to anyone else at the News of the World”. In light of present developments what seemed a bizarre answer then becomes even more ridiculous.
DCS Williams replied he had “not prior to the arrests” and afterwards he had worked “through their solicitors”.
Mr Sheridan asked, “You arrest the Royal Editor of the News of the World, arrest Glen Mulcaire and never speak to anyone else?” DCS Williams responded that it was all done via solicitors and he had a “legal process to follow”.
DCS Williams confirmed that Mr Mulcaire’s contract with NotW, showing a payment of £105,000 had been recovered by the police. It was signed by Greg Miskiw, a NotW executive. Mr Sheridan asked DCS Williams if Mr Miskiw had been interviewed. He had not. Mr Sheridan (and the tone of bafflement comes clearly through the question) asked, “You arrested Glenn Mulcaire for a criminal act and the person who signed the contract you don’t interview?” DCS Williams replied “We did not.”
Mr Sheridan asked the witness if, after they had arrested Clive Goodman, the police had asked him to whom he was responsible. DCS Williams replied that Mr Goodman had “refused to answer any questions.”
It causes some concern that the Metropolitan Police were not aware that a newspaper editor would be responsible for his journalists, as Mr Sheridan indeed followed through on by suggesting that as the NotW was a newspaper, the editor would be in charge.
Mr Sheridan asked if the police had interviewed the then editor, Andy Coulson. DCS Williams replied that the inquiry had not interviewed Mr Coulson.
Mr Sheridan then asked DCS Williams who else in the NotW he had spoken to about their relationship with Glenn Mulcaire. DCS Williams told the court he had taken “lengthy legal advice” and had made inquiries to the News of the World for information but was told it could not be provided as “they did not have it.” Mr Sheridan asked why DCS Williams had not obtained a “court order” to get information. DCS Williams replied that he had to go through a “process” and as the NotW had cooperated he was “not entitled to get a court order.”
Mr Sheridan asked the witness if the solicitors for the NotW had been cooperative, DCS Williams replied he had “no reason to think otherwise”.
Mr Sheridan referred to the House of Commons Select Committee Report into the “phone hacking” issue and specifically the evidence given to that committee that the NotW’s solicitors had “been robust” about giving out information and that the police inquiry had “been left in isolation, literally ,with not enough evidence to pursue” Asked by Mr Sheridan if this appeared to show that the NotW’s lawyers had not been cooperating DCS Williams replied that he had asked questions and been told that no such documents existed. The witness added that he had “no reason to doubt the solicitors” and had been advised by a Queens Counsel and the Crown Prosecution Service and had then used the process they had advised.
Mr Sheridan asked about notebooks found in Mr Mulcaire’s home by the police which had details of Mr Sheridan’s name, address, mobile telephone number and PIN codes. Mr Sheridan asked DCS Williams about a name, written in the corner and asked if this could be “Greg.” DCS Williams agreed that it could. Mr Sheridan asked if the police had investigated the possibility that this referred to Greg Miskiw. The witness said he had not and again insisted he had gone as far in “pursuing” the News of the World as the law allowed.
DCS Williams told the court that the investigation had found “no evidence of a conspiracy at the News of the World.” Mr Sheridan then put it to the witness that he had hardly, “pursued the News of the World” as the police had “not even interviewed Greg Miskiw.”
DCS Williams answered Mr Sheridan by stating that it was his “belief that I would have no legal basis to arrest or interview” Mr Miskiw. In answer to the only question in cross examination by the prosecution, DCS Williams stated that he had no relationship with the News of the World and had “pushed the law as far as I could go.”
What was laid out here by a senior Met Police officer is troubling, to say the least. I make no accusation against DCS Williams, who I am sure is a fine Police Officer with a long and distinguished career. However, to the outside observer, there are clearly matters which require clarification.
Why did the police not interview anyone at the NotW?
Why were the police unaware that the editor might be responsible for his staff without Mr Goodman telling them that?
Did the police ask to interview people at the NotW via the solicitors and if so, were they rebuffed?
If so, what grounds were there for refusing to be interviewed? Presumably at this stage these witnesses at the NotW would have been viewed not as suspects?
What did the Met Police do when told that no documents existed? I am sure there are many people who would like to tell the police that there is no documentation regarding what the police want to know about. That’s why there are rules and procedures in place to allow the police to look for such documents. I can’t imagine it’s standard procedure simply to accept the word of the witness that there are no documents.
Why did the police not interview the person “employing” Mr Mulcaire and paying him £105,000 per annum?
Was it the case that DCS Williams found no evidence of a conspiracy at the NotW simply because no effort as made to look for one?
Obviously the judicial review proceedings have laid bare many of the flaws in the Met’s handling of this matter, but even as recently as December 2010 the police seemed to be of the view that their inquiry had been “robust” and that they had “pushed the law as far as (they) could go.”
Hopefully the Parliamentary Debate will allow these matters top be aired, and at some point soon answers to be given.