Tag Archives: Met Police

The Tommy Sheridan Compendium – Perjury, News of the World, Hackgate and Coulson

I realised that, over the last few weeks, I have posted the odd piece about the trial of Tommy Sheridan and the News of the World related fallout.

I thought it would help my readers (both of them) if I listed the posts, with links, and a brief comment on each.

This story is a long way from ended, and I will update this post as necessary.

For the full story of the trial of Tommy Sheridan, I can do no better than to recommend the excellent Sheridan Trial Blog, compiled by James Doleman. James was able to give far more detailed coverage than any mainstream media outlets, and reported what took place in court without having his personal views, whatever they might have been, affect his narrative of the case.

James has contributed further work to the ever expanding Internet store of Sheridanalia at his new site.

I can also recommend heartily the Lallands Peat Worrier  who has been following the case for far longer than I have, and whose insights are always thought provoking, assiduously researched and elegantly drafted.

Finally Love and Garbage has been the source of much knowledge, insight and humour regarding the long process which has brought us to where we are, and he too I would commend to you.

News of the World Hackgate and the Police Investigation – Part 1

The Tommy Sheridan saga has proceeded now for many years. From the heights of the election of the Scottish Socialist Party MSP’s, led by Tommy Sheridan, to Holyrood, to the depths of him being led away to serve his prison sentence for perjury.

Whilst the issue was always very prominent in Scotland, wider UK interest was provoked by the scandalous revelations concerning the News of the World, which led to its closure.

This first piece addressed the evidence of DCS Phil Williams of the Metropolitan Police, who gave the High Court evidence about Operation Caryatid, which resulted in the convictions of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman. DCS Williams’ evidence regarding the investigation, and what the police did, and more particularly did not, do seems even more concerning than it did at the time I write about it. Quite how the police managed to investigate so few people, in light of what we now know of what there was by way of evidence, remains baffling.

The testimony of former Metropolitan Police officers like Andy Hayman and John Yates before the Home Affairs Select Committee did not answer the questions as to why the initial investigation seemed so ham-fisted.

Frankly DCS Williams’ evidence had little to do with the Sheridan trial, and falls within the wide category of evidence which, if Mr Sheridan had been represented, would not have been permitted by the judge as being irrelevant.

I followed up with a “triple-decker”. This was prompted by speculation about possible perjury investigations into certain witnesses in Tommy Sheridan’s trial, and by implication these were going to be the News of the World witnesses, Andy Coulson, Douglas Wight and Bob Bird. All of the parties in connection with whom it is understood there is the ongoing investigation made clear I court that they were telling the truth and, I am sure, would vigorously deny any such allegations.

I thought it helpful to go through, in as much detail as I could, the testimony of the witnesses and see whether or not there might be cases against any or all of them for perjury.

Andy Coulson, the News of the World, Tommy Sheridan and Perjury

I started with Mr Coulson. As I explained in this post, and further later, in my view, I thought it unlikely that Mr Coulson would ever face a perjury charge in connection with his evidence in this case.

One of the various reasons for this is that Mr Sheridan was not able to question witnesses with the forensic specificity which would have pinned down the witnesses such as Mr Coulson with answers which could be assessed clearly and where there was no dubiety as to what the witness was saying and meaning.

The News of The World, Tommy Sheridan and Perjury?

As with Mr Coulson, I did not foresee any real likelihood that Mr Wight would face perjury charges either.

The News of the World, Andy Coulson, Tommy Sheridan and Perjury? – Part 3 Bob Bird in the Dock?

As regards Mr Bird, he seemed, from what had been made public, to be in greatest danger of investigation in connection with the maters raised. This seemed primarily to relate to his evidence about News of the World e-mails which he told the court had been lost in transit to India.
It later transpired that the e-mails had never been sent to India at all. Bearing in mind that Mr Sheridan’s defence team had been looking for access to them in connection with his defence, the incorrect evidence he gave may suggest that there could have been an attempt to interfere with the course of justice, if not perjury itself.

News of the World, Hackgate and the Police Investigation – Part 2

By this stage, Messrs Yates and Hayman had given evidence to the Select Committee and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had resigned. It was being laid bare how poor and inept the original inquiry had been.

As I concluded ” Whether this “blind eye” approach was anything more sinister than simple incompetence will, hopefully, be addressed by one of the myriad of inquiries which seem to sprouting daily in connection with these matters.

What seems clear is that the police wanted little or nothing to do with this investigation – it was downplayed as much as possible – the bare minimum action was taken, and the whole sorry mess can be summed up by the picture of Mr Mulcaire’s 11,000 pages of notes lying in plastic bags in a Scotland Yard store room for four years, uncatalogued and ignored.”

Sheridan, Coulson and James Murdoch – Lessons from Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens?

I am a great fan of baseball, and over the last few years there has been an enormous explosion of interest in the use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport, and the attempts to stamp this out.

Two of the biggest names in the sport, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, have found themselves sitting in criminal courts facing perjury charges.

I thought that it would be interesting to see if there were any lessons that could be learned from either case as far as any potential perjury case might be concerned regarding witnesses in the Sheridan trial.

I feel (though I am biased as I wrote it) that there are a number of parallels and thus areas where we might gain a better ides as to how matters might progress domestically.

The Sheridan Trial Investigation – What Is Perjury and What Isn’t?

By this stage, there was a lot of discussion about the possibilities of court proceedings. One of the topics being raised was the suggestion by some that if it was shown that the NotW witnesses had lied about anything then (a) this was perjury and (b) Tommy Sheridan had been wrongfully convicted.
I tried in this post to explain the legal requirements for a perjury charge and how it was possible to tell lies in court and not commit perjury. This meant that there is quite a lot of law in this piece, by way of me “showing my workings” © Lallands Peat Worrier.

Tommy Sheridan’s Appeal – What Happened and Where Now?

By now the news had broken that Mr Sheridan’s appeal had been refused at the “sift” stage. This meant that he would not be granted an appeal hearing, because his ground or grounds of appeal were not felt to be arguable.

I wanted to give an indication as to why this might have been determined, and what options remained open to him.

I also wanted to clarify why the request by the defence to have the time for the appeal extended had failed.

Tommy Sheridan and the “McNeilage Tape”

One of the particularly striking pieces of evidence in the case was the “McNeilage Tape”. Whilst the authenticity of this had been questioned at the trail, neither party led any expert evidence to either confirm that the tape was genuine, or to refute that.

There have been various theories suggested as to why this was the case, and I thought it useful to look at these, and the implications of the Cadder case for the testing of the video tape.

Yet More Thoughts Re Sheridan, Perjury and the News of the World

One of my readers had taken the time and trouble to prepare a detailed comment regarding various of the issues in connection with the case. I felt this would be a good way of giving my thoughts, views and arguments regarding various points in connection with the case, rather than engaging with limited specific issues as I had done before.

Hopefully my comments provide some additional clarification of what is an extremely complicated situation. I am very much appreciative of Joseph Syme’s time in preparing his thoughts. As those provided an excellent template within which my answers would fit.

There remain many issues concerning this matter. The narrow issues of Mr Sheridan’s trail and the appeal by the NotW against his £200,000 award on one hand, and the wider factors surrounding phone hacking, and the iniquities of the NotW together with perhaps the rest of Fleet Street will all require further analysis and clarification.

I hope to be able to shed some light on these issues in future posts, and I am always happy for readers to contribute with their own thoughts.

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The News of the World, Andy Coulson, Tommy Sheridan and Perjury? – Part 3 Bob Bird in the Dock?

 

The last of the three witnesses whose testimony in the Sheridan trial whose evidence is said to be subject of investigation by Strathclyde Police is Bob Bird, the Scottish editor of the News of the World (NotW) for the last 10 years.

Prior to his involvement in the Sheridan case, one of Mr Bird’s main claims to fame was that he had been married to Jackie Bird, the doyenne of Scottish television news. I believe however that his name may well become even better known now, and that, on the information publicly available now, he may well face charges himself.

Mr Bird gave evidence over several days in November 2010 at the High Court in Glasgow.

In the middle of Mr Bird’s cross examination the press gave further publicity to phone kicking allegations, which provided Mr Sheridan with additional ammunition for his questioning.

Mr Bird was called as a Crown witness, and properly as one; not as a courtesy to the defence a la Douglas Wight. That fact on its own means that, in my view, any perjury on the part of this witness is likely to have a greater bearing on Mr Sheridan’s appeal, should it be allowed to proceed. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that it will be more helpful, but simply that the fact the Mr Bird was led by the Crown makes his testimony of greater importance.

In addition, I am not offering any view in this piece regarding the value or otherwise to Mr Sheridan’s appeal of the emails thought by Mr Bird to have been lost in Mumbai, as referred to below.

I assume, as with the previous witnesses, that it is Mr Bird’s position that he told the truth to the best of his knowledge and he would deny any accusation of perjury which might, in due course, be brought against him.

Bearing in mind that the Crown Office move to look at these witnesses came last week, amidst the growing NotW scandal, it can be assumed that the issues where the evidence will be most scrutinised are those relating to phone hacking, private investigators and payments to police officers. On that basis, I do not propose, for example, to go over the evidence given by Mr Bird regarding the “McNeilage Tape”. If there were suggestions being seriously considered by Crown Office that this tape had been fabricated, as was alleged by Mr Sheridan at his trial, then, at the very least, Mr McNeilage too would be subject to enquiry.

In addition, the evidence given about payments to witnesses will be passed over by me, except for tangential matters.

Finally, by way of introduction, I again thank James Doleman for his comprehensive Sheridan Trial Blog, found at http://sheridantrial.blogspot.com/  upon which this piece is based.  The search facility on the blog will link to the relevant accounts of Mr Bird’s lengthy evidence.

Any errors in analysis or interpretation are mine and mine alone.

 

Perjury

 

 

To recap, in Scots Law, perjury is committed by a witness or party knowingly making false statements under oath in court proceedings. The matter has to be of relevance to the proceedings in which the allegedly perjured evidence is given, and requires to be material.

Mr Bird had given evidence for the NotW in the defamation case brought by Mr Sheridan in 2006. In that case Mr Bird had given evidence that Ms Katrine Trolle had never been offered money by the NotW for her story. In answer to Mr Prentice, the prosecutor, Mr Bird confirmed that he had later discovered that Ms Trolle had been offered payment, but she had declined this.

Mr Sheridan also raised this matter, asking if Mr Bird had disclosed all of the witnesses that had been paid or offered payments. Mr Bird responded “yes, we have now”. Mr Bird explained again, having been questioned about his use of the word “now”, that in the original case he had stated that Katrine Trolle had not been offered any money by the newspaper but had found out after his testimony that she had. Mr Bird added that this was a “genuine mistake” and denied Mr Sheridan’s assertion that this amounted to “perjury”.

I suggest this issue has no bearing on the present investigation.

 

The News of the World – General Matters

 

Mr Sheridan asked Mr Bird if his newspaper “always told the truth” The witness replied that it “did its best.” Mr Sheridan then asked Mr Bird if he had ever met Rupert Murdoch. Mr Bird replied they had met “half a dozen times” but had never discussed this case with Mr Murdoch or any of his family.

Whilst it might be arguable if, to the outside world, the NotW did do its best to tell the truth, a matter of opinion like that would not found a perjury case. In addition, even if it turns out the Mr Bird was a regular dinner guest of Mr Murdoch, that, on its own, would not amount in my view to perjured evidence likely to give rise to prosecution.
Mr Sheridan produced to Mr Bird excerpts from the Newspaper Editors’ Code of Conduct and asked if he complied with them. Mr Bird replied that the NotW “do our best to.” Mr Sheridan highlighted the section on “clandestine devices and subterfuge” and asked if the NotW followed that section of the code and again Mr Bird said we “do our best to.”

This might best be described as a “pious hope” perhaps. If there had been more detailed cross-examination of Mr Bird as to what exactly the witness meant by this, or what procedures and protocols were in place and how they operated, then these answers could potentially be problematic. In the absence of that however, I can’t see how these responses are objectionable (in the legal sense anyway).

 

Following Mr Sheridan’s questioning regarding the offer of payment made to Ms Trolle, Mr Bird denied the suggestion that the NotW considered itself “immune from prosecution.”

The recent admissions by Commander Yates of the Metropolitan Police about failings in the investigation might lead one to believe that the NotW thought it did have some immunity from prosecution, but again this is an expression of opinion, both by Mr Bird and then by me.

 

Regarding the witnesses to whom payments were offered or made, Mr Sheridan pointed out that the Editors’ Code of Conduct forbids payments to witnesses in “active legal proceedings”. Mr Bird responded that he did not regard the case as “active” when the payments were made; adding that he knew there was an investigation but not an active case.

Mr Bird’s response might be legally incorrect, but that does not render it perjury.

 

Mr Sheridan later put it to Mr Bird that the NotW practised “cheque book journalism” and that people who had “smelled the big money would be prepared to say anything.” Mr Sheridan claimed that the culture at the newspaper was one of “publish anything as the subjects would not have the resources to go to court”. Mr Bird denied this.

This is a further matter where Mr Bird is in disagreement with the prevailing public mood, but again, when expressing an opinion, it is very difficult to commit perjury.

 

As cross examination progressed, Mr Sheridan asked a series of questions about the size of News International, and Mr Bird confirmed they owned the Sun, the News of the World, the London Times and the Sunday Times as well as a “fair chunk” of Sky TV. Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Bird that the group was “powerful” and that one of its ex-editors, Mr Coulson, was (at the time) the Government’s head of communications. Mr Bird agreed the group was powerful, but said it always also did its best to be truthful.

If repeated now this answer might have provoked the response noted in trial reports as “Laughter in Court”.

Mr Sheridan quoted from a report of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture, Media and Sport which had described a “collective amnesia” amongst the newspaper’s executives into the scale of the group’s phone hacking activities. Mr Bird had already been asked about this, referred to below. He repeated that the committee was “biased” as “MP’s do not like tabloid newspapers poking around their private lives and expense claims”.

Interestingly, at the time, I do not recall a great deal of publicity being given to this answer and the attitude it exhibited of the NotW towards MP’s. It might help to explain the rush of MP’s now to assail News International, and helps to make clear why there were only a few, such as Tom Watson and Chris Bryant who seemed willing to put their heads over the parapet. However politically unwise Mr Bird’s answer might have been, it can’t be perjury. In fact, other than the accusation of bias, his answer might well be true.

 

Private Investigators

 

 

Mr Sheridan asked if the NotW had employed any private investigators in his case. Mr Bird replied that they had once, to try and track down Duncan Rowan before the 2006 libel trial but the investigator had failed to find Mr Rowan. Mr Bird was asked about the use of an investigator, Mr Whittamore, by the NotW. He had indicated that he was aware of ten occasions that the paper had used Mr Whittamore’s services.

After the weekend adjournment, Mr Sheridan asked whether in light of the publicity pertaining to News of the World phone tapping activities Mr Bird would like to change his evidence regarding use of private investigators in the case. Mr Bird declined to do so.

 

Mr Sheridan described new evidence that showed Douglas Wight, former Scottish NotW News Desk editor and current national NotW Features Editor had used Mr Whittamore seventy times for enquiries, not the ten times that Mr Bird had previously stated. Mr Bird replied that he had only seen ten records of payment to Mr Whittamore on the system.

 

This area of questioning could be a cause of difficulty for Mr Bird, depending on what new evidence might be available. However again any perjury case would be based on the material nature of any incorrect testimony given by the witness, and the precise wording of the questions becomes very important. A witness is entitled to tell the court a recollection which turns out to be wrong, as long as the witness is not wrong deliberately.

 

Mr Sheridan asked whether “legal enquiries” of the sort undertaken by private investigators hired by NotW was a cover for illegal activities. Mr Bird replied that NotW had made much greater use of private investigators like Mr Whittamore ten years ago but had not realised at the time that they used illegal methods to get information.

This comment by Mr Bird was obviously made in light of the earlier conviction of Mr Whittamore, but seems to be one of the rare public admissions that the NotW did use people who used illegal methods (though not an admission that the investigators used illegal methods when working for the NotW.)

 

Mr Sheridan asked Mr Bird if he had any dealings with Glenn Mulcaire. Mr Bird denied this.

Again the question here is what more information the authorities have. Are there documents suggesting Mr Mulcaire was known to Mr Bird? Would Mr Mulcaire state such on oath?

 

As a brief digression, I should explain that in Scots law a “Commission” is a procedure used to recover evidence and documents. People who have had possession of the sought after documents are called to give evidence at the “Commission” to allow the Commissioner to see about tracking down such information, or working out where it has gone. Mr Bird had given evidence to the commission dealing with this case, where he had stated that the NotW had not employed any private investigators in relation to this case. Mr Sheridan made reference to that response, calling it a “lie” in light of Mr Bird’s subsequent evidence. Mr Bird replied that the NotW had employed a private investigator to try and find Duncan Rowan, but as the investigator had not found him he had forgotten about it. Mr Bird admitted he had “got that wrong” and when he had checked he had found that “one instance.”

On the basis that Mr Bird was admitting to having given mistaken evidence previously, it might be much harder, in the event that it was shown that other investigators were involved, to pass this off as simply a mistaken recollection.

 

Mr Sheridan asked the witness if he had been involved in hiring the private investigator who had hacked his (Mr Sheridan’s) phone. Mr Bird denied he had ever done such a thing.

Here again the questioning makes any issue of perjury difficult to prove as regards this answer. The question conflates two issues. 1 Was Mr Sheridan’s phone hacked? 2 Did Mr Bird hire an investigator to do so? Without clear and specific questioning, it would be very hard to establish that the answer to the question, as asked, was perjured.

Mr Sheridan asked the witness again if he had had any dealings with Glenn Mulcaire or if any check had shown up any invoices in the aliases he used (Paul Williams and John Jenkins).  Mr Bird repeated that he had no dealings with Mr Mulcaire. Mr Sheridan then asked if Mr Bird was aware that Greg Miskiw was Mr Mulcaire’s “handler” within the News of the World. The witness replied he did not. Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Bird that Mr Mulcaire had an “exclusive contract” with the NotW but Mr Bird said he had no knowledge of that.

As before, any difficulty for Mr Bird regarding these matters would arise from documentation showing his evidence was incorrect. However, replying that one has no knowledge of something which it turns out later one does know, can be excused as a lapse of memory, rather than as a lie.

 

Mr Sheridan then produced three pages of what he told the court were copies of a notebook found when Mr Mulcaire’s house was raided by the police. These notebooks appeared to contain Mr Sheridan’s address, postcode, mobile telephone number, the name of his telephone provider and what Mr Sheridan said was his “PIN” number. There was also a reference to “Gregg” in a note beside the details and two dates, 14/09/04 and 26/07. Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Bird that these were the dates when the NotW was preparing their articles about him.  Mr Bird pointed out that the second entry had no year, but agreed that the dates were around the time of the publication of Anvar Khan’s book, Pretty Wild and the NotW’s subsequent article based on it. In light of this evidence, Mr Sheridan asked Mr Bird if he was “surprised that a private investigator with an “illegal track record”, an “exclusive contract” with the NotW and based in London, would have “my details.” Mr Bird said he was.

Should there be evidence linking Mr Mulcaire to Mr Bird regarding this matter, then this answer could be problematic but again the answer lacks the precision, in my view, that there would need to be before the answer could lead the witness back to the court. There might be many reasons why the witness would be surprised, not necessarily that he was saying that there was no role for Mr Mulcaire in the NotW’s investigation of Mr Sheridan.

 
Payments to Police Officers

 

In connection with the issue as to when Mr Bird became aware of the police investigation, Mr Sheridan produced a copy of the NotW from the 20th August 2006 and directed Mr Bird to the following story extract.

“A force insider said they wanted to discover anything added or taken away. Barbara [Scott] said during the trial she did not have the notes but after the trial had ended we can reveal she discovered them and handed them to police. The perjury probe is expected to last three months. Strathclyde Police are also involved.”

Mr Sheridan asked about the “force insider” quoted in the article and asked if this would have been a police officer. Mr Bird told the court that the phrase had come from the reporter and he assumed it was a contact in the police force. He added that he had no contact with any police officer. Mr Sheridan then asked if the paper would have paid this force insider. Mr Bird stated that it was not normal practice for the paper to pay police officers and that “to his knowledge” the paper had never paid one.

Here arises one of the most important issues and one of those which has seen Mr Coulson arrested by the Metropolitan Police. The question of the NotW and its dealings with the police heads the news bulletins. Mr Bird admits in his evidence that the statement referred to came from a police source, or at least he assumed it was. However, he denies that it was the practice of the paper to pay police officers and “to his knowledge” the paper had never done so.

Might there be evidence that Mr Bird was aware of, or involved in, payments to police officers. He has denied this on oath. He was a senior executive in the NotW, being the Scottish editor. If payments were made in London, would he have known?

Bearing in mind the comments made by Rebekah Wade, as she then was, before a Parliamentary Committee in March 2003, when she said “We have paid the police for information in the past”, it might appear that Mr Bird was “out of the loop” or didn’t pay attention to what his bosses were saying!

As far as perjury goes, the problem is that, unless shown to be directly involved in these activities himself, I don not feel that Mr Bird is in jeopardy. If however there now exists evidence linking Mr Bird to such payments, then perjury would be a concern (amongst a number of others) for him.

 

Phone Hacking

 

 

Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Bird that he was at the heart of Wapping culture, was part of the illegal culture of phone tapping there, and was a News International “hack” to whom accuracy and truth were unimportant if it got in the way of a story. Mr Bird denied this, stating he did not believe phone tapping was part of Wapping culture and was certainly not practised in Scotland.

 

Here the dossier provided by Mr Anwar, Mr Sheridan’s solicitor, to Strathclyde Police might be of relevance. Does this disclose evidence of phone hacking taking place in Scotland? If so, can this be laid at Mr Bird’s door? Any answer about the “culture” is a matter of opinion, but a denial of phone tapping taking place here might pose difficulties for Mr Bird. Once more the precise terms of the questioning is important. There may well be a large difference between “phone tapping” and “phone hacking”. If Mr Bird was asked specifically about “tapping”, and, purely for the purpose of this hypothetical, the practice of “hacking” was rife, then it would not be perjury to say there was no phone “tapping”. Perhaps Counsel for Mr Sheridan might have focussed in on the actual practices, rather than the headline title. That might have made a difference to what we are looking at now.

 

 

As I have referred to before, Mr Sheridan had earlier quoted the report of the Select Committee which, according to Mr Sheridan, alleged there was a slush fund which showed the editors of the NotW condoned such payments on a “not need to know basis” as long as this provided “good copy.”  Mr Bird replied that people should “bear in mind” that the Parliamentary Committee was “anti-News International” and had a “political agenda.” He denied there was any “culture” of phone hacking at the newspaper.

Here again we have the issue about questions concerning “cultures”. One may perceive a “culture” when another would not. Such differences of opinions do not constitute perjury. It is of note that the Scottish Editor of the NotW was willing to express such trenchant views about Parliamentarians and their motivations. It is rather naïve for Mr Bird to complain that a Committee of MP’s might have a political agenda!

 

 

Under this heading Mr Sheridan put again to Mr Bird that he had “broken the law by ordering illegal surveillance” and planting “listening devices” Mr Bird replied that was “not true.

This one seems nice and simple. If there is corroborated evidence that Mr Bird did do what he denied, then one can see matters going further. However, even here the lack of precision acts to help Mr Bird. If, for example, Mr Bird ordered surveillance which he believed to be legal (and again this is a hypothetical) then his answer would be legally incorrect, but not perjury.

E-Mails

 

The retrieval of e-mail evidence, very much now the cause celebre, was raised by Mr Sheridan. Mr Sheridan’s defence team had been looking for various emails specifically regarding the NotW’s dealings with one of the parties with whom Mr Sheridan was alleged to have had an affair and the issue of phone hacking. Whilst some were produced, many were not. Mr Bird stated there was a six month black hole in the NotW e-mail archive, which was stored with a company in India, and that these e-mails had not been able to be retrieved.
Mr Sheridan later took Mr Bird through his evidence at the commission charged with locating documents to be used in the trial. He accused Mr Bird of being obstructive during that process, which Mr Bird denied. Mr Bird repeated that the NotW had lost “six months” worth of emails due to a decision to archive them in Mumbai.

This area would appear to be the one with most risk for Mr Bird. By the end of January 2011 it was revealed that, in fact, the emails had not been lost. The Independent reported http://ind.pn/hSRgAm that the emails were in fact available, and stated that “News International now says Mr Bird unintentionally misled the court, but insists that all the emails sought by the defence were disclosed to it either by the newspaper or the police.”

In June 2011 the Guardian reported http://bit.ly/mCzRVZ  that the Information Commissioner had ended his investigation into the “missing” emails, having been assured that none were in fact missing!

“Christopher Graham said on Friday the News International subsidiary had told him that, contrary to the earlier claims of a senior executive, it had not transferred archived emails to India and none had been lost.

“We have received assurances from News Group Newspapers (NGN) that in fact no emails were transferred to India,” Graham said in a statement. He added he had “seen no evidence to contradict this assurance”.

As mentioned, the News International spokesman said that Mr Bird unintentionally misled the court. Bearing in mind that Mr Bird offered a scenario explaining why the emails could not be produced, which scenario turns out to be wrong, this seems, to me, to be the area most likely to lead to one of the witnesses at the Sheridan trial appearing in the dock charged with perjury.

Where did Mr Bird get his information from? How was he misled about what had happened to the emails? Who must have told him, in error, about the data transfer to Mumbai?

As I discussed in my earlier pieces, it is easier to commit perjury by advancing a scenario or providing as detailed reply, rather than simply answering yes or no to questions that might be imprecise.

Interestingly, it might not be the recovered emails themselves that cause Mr Bird most trouble, but instead the fact that they never disappeared at all. On one view there was action taken and replies given which prevented information legitimately sought by the defence from being put before the court. That evidence might have been of no use to Mr Sheridan – in fact it might even, depending on what it said, have harmed his defence, but the Scottish Editor of the NotW, whether unintentionally or not, acted so as to deprive the court of relevant information.

 

Conclusion

 

The matter of the email evidence, its alleged disappearance and subsequent retrieval, is clearly material, substantial and relevant to the case.

One issue might be though why it is only now that the matter seems to be being investigated. Mr Anwar indicated in January 2011 that, once it became apparent that the emails had never enjoyed a trip to the sub-Continent, he wished to raise the matter with Crown Office. What action has been taken by Crown Office, if any, regarding the matter of the email evidence till now? Why has it taken so long?

Bearing in mind that one of the reasons for Mr Sheridan being prosecuted for perjury was because of the damage that perjury causes to the integrity of the judicial process, one can well imagine circumstances where, subject to what the police and prosecuting authorities discover, the former Scottish Editor of the former NotW finds himself sitting in the same dock occupied previously by Mr Sheridan.

 

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The News of The World, Tommy Sheridan and Perjury? Part II – Douglas Wight

 

 

The second potential subject of investigation for perjury would appear to be Douglas Wight, a News of the World (NotW) journalist. Indeed STV have indicated he is a main focus of the Strathclyde Police inquiry. Mr Wight had previously given evidence in the Court of Session action for defamation brought by Mr Sheridan regarding the NotW’s allegations about him.

 

As before, I thank the diligent James Doleman for his Sheridan Trial blog, found at http://sheridantrial.blogspot.com . Mr Doleman has also produced a short and to the point piece regarding this very issue, with links directly to the relevant records of Mr Wight’s evidence and this can be found at http://bit.ly/pyXmJZ .

 

Any errors in analysis are mine. I should also say that, although I have not seen any formal statement by or on behalf of Mr Wight, I am sure his position will be that he is innocent of any charges which might be brought. Against that background, what of his evidence?

 

Mr Wight formally appeared as a Crown witness in November 2010, being called as such as a matter of courtesy to the defence. This meant that once Mr Wight had confirmed his name, address, age and occupation, Mr Sheridan took up his cross-examination immediately. If Mr Sheridan had not wanted him to give evidence, then the Crown would not have called him at all. This has less of a bearing on any possible perjury case against Mr Wight, but limits the value to Mr Sheridan in his appeal in the event that Mr Wight was found to have given perjured evidence.

 

Bearing in mind the focus on phone hacking, illegal investigative techniques and alleged payments to police officers, we are able, I think, to leave out of consideration as regards alleged perjury much of Mr Wight’s evidence where these matters were not raised. Unless News International have presented the police with clear proof re these extraneous matters, it is highly unlikely they form the basis for the present investigation.

 

Mr Wight was questioned extensively about the story he had written for the NotW alleging Mr Sheridan had had an affair with a Ms McGuire.

 

He was also asked about his dealings with Ms Anne Colvin, in connection with the alleged “Moat House” incident. Indeed, in connection with that Mr Wight accepted that he had given incorrect evidence in the earlier case regarding payments by the NotW to Ms Colvin and her friend. Bearing in mind that he admitted this mistake at the trial in November 2010, I suggest it is unlikely that that now forms the basis for a perjury investigation against him.

 

In addition, Mr Wight’s evidence re his history and role in the NotW does not seem relevant to recent developments.

 

His relevant evidence for present purposes relates to the NotW’s “Dark Side”, and especially dealings with investigators such as Steve Whittamore.

 

 

The “Dark Side”

 

Mr Sheridan began by his questioning by asking Mr Wight if it would be fair to describe him as gatekeeper for “the dark side”. Mr Wight disagreed, and asked whether Mr Sheridan mean the question literally, and was enquiring into his status as a Jedi Knight.

 

Mr Wight was asked whether it was part of his job to break the law. Interestingly the initial reply was that this was “not strictly true” but Mr Wight stated that he did not accept it to be true when Mr Sheridan repeated the question.

 

Mr Sheridan asked whether the NotW was a newspaper that regarded itself as being above the law and that could make payments to people to remain quiet about illegal activities. Mr Wight responded that he was not aware of any payment for illegal activities.

 

Mr Wight was, at the time, Scottish News Editor for the NotW. Would he have been aware of “illegal” payments, such as those alleged to have been made to the police? If so, would he have been aware they were illegal. Whilst ignorance of the various laws regarding illegal payments to the police might not be a successful defence to a charge under these rules, a statement which turns out to be legally wrong, but which the witness believes, cannot be proved to be perjured, unless there is clear evidence from elsewhere that the witness did know what he said was wrong. There might be such a “smoking gun” in the information now in the hands of the police, but it would be surprising if such had appeared so quickly.

 

 

Mr Sheridan asked whether there was a culture of private and confidential cash payments at News of the World. Mr Wight accepted that cash payments were indeed made, but that there was a note of every one paid. Mr Sheridan then referred to the NotW’s “Sheridan Costs” document dated 27 June 2007, consisting of a table of payments, many redacted by the commissioner appointed previously by the court. Mr Sheridan drew Mr Wight to two entries labelled “Private and Confidential cash payment” for £1,000 and £1,500, which Mr Wight was unable to explain, then another two entries with his name against them, one for around £1,600 and the other for £2,173 labelled accommodation. Mr Wight stated these pertained to his three week stay in Scotland around the 2006 trial, and also included Ms McGuire’s expenses, adding that cash payments were very rarely paid in Scotland. Mr Sheridan then drew attention to records of three cash payments from August 2006 totalling £2,500 attached to the “Sheridan Costs” document, with Mr Wight pointing out that these were dated after he had moved to London, and stated these were not evidence of a culture of cash payments.

 

If the accusation is that these payments were in fact for matters other than that stated by Mr Wight, then one can see, if there is sufficient evidence of that, difficulties as regards perjury for him. However Mr Wight, as with Mr Coulson, has the advantage of not having been questioned by a lawyer. The issues which might otherwise have been followed through, and on which the witness might have been committed to an answer, were left hanging in the air. In fact, evidence that these cash payments went elsewhere than to the parties named by Mr Wight might give rise to a fraud case, rather than one of perjury. It is not, in all but the most extreme of circumstances, perjury to be unable to offer an explanation or answer to a question. It can, in certain circumstances, be prevarication, but that would be dealt with by the judge in the course of the trial. There is no suggestion here that Mr Wight was warned as regards prevarication.

 

Finally in this section, does Mr Wight face problems in denying there was a “culture of cash payments”? That is such a subjective question that I can’t see how that can found any perjury case. One may think there is such a culture, another might not. Differences of opinion do not constitute perjury.
 

Private Investigators and Steve Whittamore

 

Mr Sheridan asked Mr Wight about the NotW’s use of Private Investigators. Mr Wight explained that they were used for tracing people, carrying out occupancy checks, accessing company records, and the like but that in the case of Tommy Sheridan had only ever used one to trace Duncan Rowan. (Mr Rowan was a former Scottish Socialist Party official).

 

As the questioning continued, as referred to below, it becomes apparent that the allegation is that Mr Whittamore was used by the NotW for inquiries into Mr Sheridan. Here, as in the case of Mr Coulson, the precise terms of the question and answer are vital. Was Mr Wight categorical that only one investigator was used? Can it be shown Mr Whittamore was instructed by NotW? Would Mr Wight have known this?

 

 

Mr Sheridan then asked specifically about Stephen Whittamore. Mr Wight admitted using his services as he provided information that could help move stories on. Mr Wight could not recall who had originally passed him the name of Mr Whittamore, but denied that it was Andy Coulson as he was not at the NotW at the time, and that it probably wasn’t Greg Miskiw either. Mr Sheridan asked what Mr Wight knew of Mr Whittamore now. Mr Wight responded that he knew Mr Whittamore had been prosecuted for accessing data in breach of the Data Protection Act.

 

Could there be any difficulty for Mr Wight here? It seems unlikely. Even if he had got the name from Mr Coulson, for example, the particular issue, subject of course to what else might be alleged, is not really relevant to the case. Whilst witnesses swear to tell the truth about all matters, big and small, it would be highly unlikely that perjury case in respect of a side issue like this would be pursued.

 

 

Mr Sheridan asked Mr Wight about the “blue book” which was found by police in Mr Whittamore’s home. This book listed, according to Mr Sheridan, requests for “illegal services” by various journalists. There was then a discussion as to whether Mr Wight’s name was in the book 17 times or 70 times. Mr Sheridan referred Mr Wight to a “league table” of users of Mr Whittamore’s services. Mr Wight stated that the News of the World was not at the top. Mr Sheridan asked if Mr Wight himself was “high on league table”, to which Mr Wight replied that he was “convinced I’m at the lower end of scale“. Mr Sheridan then put it to him that in fact he was third on the list of journalists who used Mr Whittamore. Mr Wight disagreed, saying that this was “preposterous”, as he had checked with the newspaper accounts department previously and there had only been 17 requests of which only 10 were paid.

 

Does it harm Mr Wight if he ranks high on this “league table”? I think not. It was not suggested, as I understand it, that he had controlled the table or indeed that he had had any access to it. Even if he was completely in the wrong about his evidence, this seems again a side issue, irrelevant to the case as a whole and therefore not appropriate to hang a perjury case upon. He agreed that there were 17 “referrals” to Mr Whittamore, so even if it was actually 70, I can’t see how that fits the definition of perjury.

 

 

Mr Sheridan  then asked Mr Wight  how the paper had traced Anne Colvin, as she had phoned the NotW under a false name and given an anonymous tip off but then one week later Mr Wight had arrived at her home address, supposedly telling her “believe me if we want you we can find you”. Mr Wight denied using Mr Whittamore’s services after 2002  and claimed he had found Ms Colvin’s address by searching  the internet,  found that the mobile number he had was associated with a garage and that the garage had only one female director. He had then went to the premises, got Ms Colvin’s address and then went to her home.

Here Mr Wight advances a clear scenario in response to a question. If it could be proved, by corroborated evidence, that Mr Whittamore had been instrumental in getting Ms Colvin’s details, and that Mr Wight’s evidence was fabricated to hide this, then this would clearly be worthy of investigation as regards prosecution. However, and as before, is it realistic to assume that the information recently in the hands of the Metropolitan Police has provided a lead on this matter? Who, other than the police and prosecuting authorities, knows at this stage? I think it unlikely.

 

 

Conclusion

 

So where does this leave us? On the premise that I have not a verbatim transcript of Mr Wight’s evidence, and I do not know what the police or Crown Office have by way of evidence, can any conclusions be formed?

To my eyes, there seems to be little or nothing in the evidence I have analysed here which might give rise to proceedings against him.

In fact, it was in his other evidence, which I have omitted for reasons stated above, that there was more scope for perjured evidence to have been given. Specific questions were asked about specific events involving specific people, and specific answers were given. If these were incorrect, they would be more likely to form the basis for investigation, but unless it is purely a coincidence that the Crown Office raised matters this week, I can only foresee that it is the issues mentioned at the head of this article which are relevant.

One can, with hindsight, imagine a string of questions about the NotW’s investigative and financial practices which could have been asked and which would have made Mr Wight’s position far more clear.

However, it is questionable how much of this would have been relevant to Mr Sheridan’s trial. Whilst both Mr Prentice QC, the Prosecutor, and Lord Bracadale, the Judge, gave Mr Sheridan considerable lee-way to pursue lines of enquiry which, if put forward by Counsel for Mr Sheridan rather than by him as a party litigant, would undoubtedly have been successfully objected to, the court still did not permit Mr Sheridan to go completely off the topic of the case, despite his efforts to do so.

On what is publicly available now, there seems little chance of Mr Wight facing proceedings for perjury in connection with this case. If he is implicated in other matters now being investigated, such as involvement in phone hacking etc, then that is a question for another day.

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Andy Coulson, the News of the World, Tommy Sheridan and Perjury

 

 

Perjury in the law of Scotland is the making of false statements under oath, the statements having to be competent evidence in the case in which they were made, and material to the subject of the case or investigation. There requires to be proof beyond reasonable doubt that the statement or statements are false and there requires to be evidence from at least two sources.

In a case where the accused has “spun a line” by advancing under oath a case he knows to be untrue, as the jury determined Mr Sheridan had done, the questions that prompt the perjured statements are of lesser importance.

However, where it is alleged that answers to questions have been perjured, then the precise wording of the question becomes vital.

It might, as I explain below, turn out that Mr Sheridan’s decision to dispense with Counsel and to act for himself could let Mr Coulson off a hook he might otherwise have been on.

A few months ago Barry Bonds, a famous baseball player, was tried for perjury in California in connection with allegedly perjured evidence he gave to a Grand Jury about steroid and other drug use. Because many of the questions asked to him were rhetorical, and multi claused, by the end of the case many of the allegations had disappeared from the indictment against him. Put simply, if he was not asked a straight question, it was difficult to prosecute him for giving a false answer, especially where the answers in turn were inspecific and woolly. In a different way Mr Coulson might be the beneficiary of Mr Sheridan’s lack of legal expertise, notwithstanding his undoubted oratorical talents.

I should state that Mr Coulson has at no time accepted that he committed perjury in connection with the Sheridan case and therefore remains an innocent man. These thoughts are entirely speculative, in light of information publicly available to date.

 

Today, in the midst of the storm regarding the now about to disappear News of the World (NotW) the Crown Office confirmed that it had asked Strathclyde Police to investigate the evidence of “certain witnesses” who gave evidence at the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial.

Clearly the Crown Office has not identified the parties involved, and no action has yet been taken regarding them, so it is appropriate to speculate as to whom, in and in relation to what, the police will be examining.

The first name springing to mind is Mr Coulson, former editor of the NotW and former Director of Communications for David Cameron.

Mr Coulson was called by Mr Sheridan to give evidence for the defence at the High Court in Glasgow in December 2010.

As always, my notes of what took place are based upon James Doleman’s marvellous Sheridan Trial Blog, found at http://sheridantrial.blogspot.com. Some day all trials (of importance) will be covered this way.

So where might Mr Coulson have erred in his evidence?

 

Payments to Police Officers

This area is, on what has been made public so far, probably the most troubling for Mr Coulson. In connection with this issue, Mr Sheridan asked “did the News of the World pay corrupt police officers?” Mr Coulson replied, “Not to my knowledge”.

Now, according to press reports, the NotW has given confirmation to the police of payments connected to Mr Coulson to police. That, at first sight, seems an open and shut case. If Mr Coulson did authorise such payments, the surely he has committed perjury?

But he was asked if the NotW paid “corrupt” police officers. Therefore he could say that the NotW did not pay “corrupt” officers, but instead paid honest ones. As the wise blogger and Twitterer @loveandgarbage pointed out, the Prevention of Corruption legislation makes payments like this illegal both by the donor and the recipient. However, if Mr Coulson believed these were legitimate payments, tied in perhaps with the “crime fighting” role of the NotW, then the fact that, in law, recipients of the payments were ipso facto “corrupt” would not be enough, in my view, to establish perjury. Ignorance of the law cannot make a statement false where the person believes it to be true.

If Mr Sheridan had still bee represented, then the questioning would probably have been in more depth and detail (if of course Counsel had agreed to call this witness and follow this line).

If Mr Coulson had given the same reply to a question as to whether the NotW had paid any officers, he would be in clear difficulties. After all, he sat beside Rebekah Wade, as she then was, when she told the House of Commons Committee that the NotW had paid police officers.

One interesting practical point is whether or not Mr Coulson ought to have been cautioned by the judge before he answered the question that he was not required to answer it, where there was a risk he might incriminate himself in a criminal act. If so, could he argue that it would be an inappropriate act of the Lord Advocate under the Scotland Act to prosecute him for perjury in connection with that answer, where such a caution was not given?

After some thought, it seems that this would be an issue for any trial, but not a preliminary point. The case of Graham v HMA 1969 SLT 116 seems to deal with the issue. Here a challenge to the competency and relevancy of a perjury indictment failed where the accused had answered a potentially self incriminating question in a murder trial without the judge cautioning him. The court held that, as perjury was a separate matter from the original offence, that it was entirely proper for such a case to be tried in the absence of a caution. The court said that the issue could be addressed at trial, taking account of all the circumstances under which the evidence was given.

On balance therefore, the absence of a caution to Mr Coulson prior to that question did not render his answer inadmissible and so, as mentioned above, a charge of perjury would be competent.

 

Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman

Mr Coulson was asked about his departure from the NotW. After saying that he had “taken the ultimate responsibility and stepped down” he was asked what the crime committed by his staff member was. Coulson stated that it involved “illegal phone hacking” and that he had “no knowledge of it.”

Can it be proved with corroborated evidence that Mr Coulson did know regarding Mr Goodman at the time? Even if it was proved he knew that there was widespread phone hacking, can it be proved he was aware of the position re Mr Goodman at the relevant time. Mr Goodman would be, one would assume, a probable Crown witness in any such case, although, if it was his position that he was simply one “bad egg” he could be a defence witness, for what that might be worth.

 

Mr Sheridan asked if Mr Coulson knew of Mr Goodman’s association with Glenn Mulcaire. He replied that he had never had any contact with Mr Mulcaire and had not even known his name until Mr Mulcaire had been arrested. When asked regarding Mulcaire’s company, 9 Consultancy, he insisted, “I never met him, spoke to him or emailed him”.

Again, subject to the exact questions asked, can it be shown he had contacted, or even knew of Mulcaire? The mysteriously re-appearing emails (more of which later) might assist regarding that point. Mr Mulcaire would of course be a compellable witness in any perjury proceedings. Whilst he failed to appear at the Sheridan trial, as a result of medically certificated ill health, one can imagine he would definitely be asked to attend such proceedings as we are contemplating here.

 

After discussing the £105,000 per annum contractual payment to Mulcaire’s company, Mr Coulson was asked about other payments made to Mr Mulcaire. He told the court that there were other payments but these had happened “without my knowledge”.

One would imagine a paper trail will exist re payments being made to third parties, even for a business with such a large budget as the NotW. Is Mr Coulson’s name on any of these?

 

Mr Sheridan asked who else had their voicemails “hacked” to which Mr Coulson answered that it was a “matter of record”. He was pressed on this, and Mr Coulson replied that he understood “five other individuals” had been mentioned as having their voicemails intercepted.

The latest information publicised from the police suggests there are thousands of people affected. Was Mr Coulson saying what he believed the position was at the time, or was he stating his understanding as at December 2010? Here again ambiguity of questioning can make it impossible to establish perjury.

 

On the second day of Mr Coulson’s testimony, Mr Sheridan asked him if the NotW had made payments to Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman after their release from prison. Mr Coulson stated that this had happened after he had left the NotW and he had “no knowledge” about any payments.

Short of a smoking gun with his name on it (sorry for the mixed metaphor) it’s hard to see how that answer, could give rise to any case now. He was not denying the payment, strictly, but stating he had no knowledge. Forgetting could be a legitimate reason for having no knowledge.

 

Mr Sheridan asked if Mr Coulson had emailed Mr Goodman asking him to “take the blame for the good of the paper”. Mr Coulson responded “No, I’m positive, do you have that email, Mr Sheridan?” Mr Sheridan replied that “Mr Goodman has been cited. Perhaps we will hear from him.” However we did not.

On one view, Mr Coulson’s answer could be construed as an admission, but in reality there could only be case re this if the email was discovered, either in the NotW archives, or coming from Mr Goodman. However, stating that he was “positive” might cause Mr Coulson difficulties if it did exist and was discovered.

 

Mr Sheridan came back to Glenn Mulcaire and the notebook found in his papers by police. Mr Coulson denied that he had any knowledge of this or that the News of the World in London had instructed Glenn Mulcaire to “hack” Mr Sheridan’s phone.

Again, what might Mr Mulcaire say, and what evidence would there be to corroborate that, if he disagreed with Mr Coulson?

 

 

News of the World Practices

Mr Sheridan asked Mr Coulson if the “News of the World employed people who broke the law.” The witness replied that “we did not seek to but it is obvious we did with Clive Goodman” but denied he had employed “convicted criminals.”

One of Private Eye’s regular features involved mentioning Fleet Street staff who were convicted of various offences, whether of drunkenness or assault. Sadly I do not have time just now to go through my 30 years’ back issues of the Eye to see whether any of these stories popped up under Mr Coulson’s charge. Interestingly, a perjury charge on this issue might fall foul of the need that the perjured statement needs to be relevant to the case. If therefore it could be shown the NotW employed a convicted criminal under Mr Coulson, then, unless it is connected to the alleged hacking, it would not found a perjury case.

Mr Sheridan asked Mr Coulson if his newspaper “printed lies” to which he responded “We try not to.”

People might disagree, but that answer won’t form part of a perjury charge.

 

The McNeilage Tape

Mr Coulson was asked about his role in the purchase of “the McNeilage tape.” This was a video tape prepared by Mr Sheridan’s former friend and colleague, Mr McNeilage, where Mr Sheridan was recorded effectively admitting perjury. Mr Sheridan had denied that the voice on the tape was his (the participant not being clearly seen) or stated that it had been concocted from recordings of his voice. Mr Coulson told the court that he had been alerted to the existence of the tape by Bob Bird, the NotW’s Scottish editor (whose own testimony will be addressed later). Mr Sheridan asked Mr Coulson if he had seen him in the tape, to which Mr Coulson responded “I heard your voice” as he had compared that to other recordings of Mr Sheridan speaking.  Mr Sheridan asked if the witness had heard “private eye recordings of my voice.” To this Mr Coulson replied “I don’t believe I did.”

Even if it could be shown that Mr Coulson had listened to such recordings, his answer is not specific enough to found a case.

Sean Hoare

Mr Sheridan then asked the witness about an article in the New York Times which had quoted an ex-NotW journalist Sean Hoare http://nyti.ms/aCuDeN. Mr Sheridan put it to Mr Coulson that Mr Hoare had claimed, in the article, that he had been told to “employ the dark arts” by Mr Coulson himself.  To this Mr Coulson replied that he had “no recollection of doing so.”

A failed recollection, even if shown to be wrong, won’t found a perjury case. Again, more forensic questioning about Mr Coulson’s dealings with Mr Hoare might have led him into difficulties.

 

Steve Whittamore

Mr Sheridan was then asked about another private investigator involved in the matter, Steve Whittamore. Mr Coulson told the court that he had never had any dealings with Mr Whittamore or asked anyone else to deal with him. Mr Sheridan asked Mr Coulson if Mr Whittamore had been used by the News of the World “while you were boss”. Mr Coulson said he did not know. Mr Sheridan then said that Steve Whittamore had been convicted in 2005 and this had happened “under your watch”. Mr Coulson said he had not been involved with Mr Whittamore “in any way, shape or form”.

 

Mr Whittamore too would be compellable as a witness. Would he state that he had had dealings with Mr Coulson?

 

 

Legal Costs

Mr Sheridan then asked if News International (NI) was paying Mr Coulson’s legal costs. He replied “I certainly hope so” explaining that as the case related to his employment with News International they would be expected to meet his legal bills. I am sure that was correct at the time. Should he be arrested tomorrow (Friday) will they still be covering his costs? Will NI be funding his defence wither prosecuted in Scotland or England?

 

Conclusion

Will Mr Coulson face a perjury trial? It is possible that he might. The transcripts of his evidence, and every word thereof, will be trawled over. My thoughts are based on an excellent contemporaneous record of the trial, but one which could not be a verbatim report. There may well be nuances I have missed, or events seen in the trial itself, such as Mr Coulson’s apparent wink to Mr Sheridan as he finally left the witness box.

Is it appropriate that the matter be investigated? Of course it is. Here, in the highest profile perjury case in Scotland for many a year, it is alleged that a senior journalist, with connections to the Government, may have lied on oath. The Crown Office would have been criticised if it had failed to look at these concerns, though since the allegations re the NotW phone hacking have been about for a long time, it might be asked what evidence in particular has prompted the Crown Office decision today, rather than before. Perhaps the front pages of the newspapers qualifies as the necessary “evidence” to prompt the inquiry, bearing in Mind Mr Sheridan’s solicitor, Mr Anwar, stated some time ago that his phone had been hacked by, he suspected, the NotW.

If Mr Coulson is not pursued re perjury, is he in the clear?

Clearly the English courts may well have an interest in connection with the phone hacking and police payment allegations. I will happily leave that issue to commentators better versed in English Law than I am.

 

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News of the World Hackgate and the Police Investigation – Part 1

 

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.

The relevant links are http://sheridantrial.blogspot.com/2010/12/detective-chief-inspector-phil-williams.html and http://sheridantrial.blogspot.com/2010/12/detective-chief-superintendent-phil.html.

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.

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