The cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which opened an investigation into phone hacking following a series of stories by the Guardian last summer, said that News International senior staff called to the committee had suffered "collective amnesia" and were unwilling to provide detailed information about activities at the paper up to 2007.
It had heard from News International legal manager Tom Crone; former NI executive chairman Les Hinton; News of the World former editor Andy Coulson; Stuart Kuttner, managing editor at News of the World and Colin Myler, the current editor.
"We strongly condemn this behaviour which reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred," the report says.
Additionally, the committee called the PCC's report into phone hacking published at the end of last year "simplistic and surprising".
While the PCC, under the leadership of chair Baroness Peta Buscombe and director Stephen Abell, had found "no new evidence" of phone hacking, the committee said the the Guardian's reports by Nick Davies had "relied on unused and unpublicised evidence available to the police. "Revelation of facts not already in the public domain is the very definition of news," the report states.
The report also criticised the Metropolitan Police investigation in 2007 and its failure to investigate certain evidence, such as a "holding contract" between News International and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and an email of voicemail transcripts sent by reporter Ross Hindley.
In a press briefing at Westminster yesterday, Labour MP Tom Watson - whose place on the committee News International originally objected to due to a separate legal argument - said he was surprised by the Information Commissioner's "reluctance" to put information into the public domain, even though "we are entering a new age of democratic transparency".
Watson, who joined the committee at the beginning of the NOTW inquiry, said "I didn't realise how it had got to the very heart of British establishment (...) What we know now is that Scotland Yard is sitting on a whole bank of information data about very senior people in the public eye that had been hacked that the public don't know about."
Paul Farrelly, also a Labour MP and a former Observer journalist, said the committee's experience of taking evidence from News International staff was "like getting blood out of stone".
"[There were] several instances during this inquiry when figures from News International have come to us and not given us accurate information," he said. "It's up to us to expose that when it happens."
Despite the committee's critical conclusions about more widespread incidents of phone hacking in 2007 than was initially believed, the committee concluded that the practice was not ongoing. It also stated that it had seen no evidence suggesting that former editor Andy Coulson who resigned over phone hacking in 2007, knew that it was taking place.
News International claims political agenda
In a statement issued after the embargoed report was released yesterday, News International denied the charges against News of the World.
"The credibility of the select committee system relies on committee members exercising their powers with responsibility and fairness, and without bias or external influence. Against these standards, this CMS committee has consistently failed."
News International argued the committee had pursued a "party-political" agenda, seemingly in reference to the fact that NOTW's former editor Andy Coulson is now communications director for the Conservative party.
"They have worked in collusion with the Guardian, consistently leaking details of the Committee’s intentions and deliberations to that newspaper."
Despite the committee report's claim it was new evidence, News International insisted that: "In all this time (seven months of inquiry), the committee has failed to come up with any new evidence to support the Guardian's allegations.
"Sadly, this has not stopped certain members of the committee from resorting to innuendo, unwarranted inference and exaggeration. Moreover, the reaction of the Committee to its failure to find any new evidence has been to make claims of "collective amnesia", deliberate obfuscation and concealment of the truth. News International strongly rejects these claims."
"News International believes that the select committee system has been damaged and materially diminished by this inquiry and that certain members of this CMS committee have repeatedly violated the public trust."
In a similar vein, a senior journalist argued in yesterday's press conference that there was not "a single piece of new evidence" and criticised the length of time spent by the committee on phone hacking.
But committee chair, the Conservative MP John Whittingdale defended the time it took to produce what he said was a "comprehensive and wide-ranging" report with only part of it on phone hacking. "This [report] was a constantly changing area. [Phone hacking] is not the reason it has taken longer."
Paul Farrelly added that the committee "had a duty and a responsibility to investigate" following the Guardian's revelations. If it had no re-opened the investigation, it would have been "as much a laughing stock" as the PCC, he said.
Meanwhile, the Guardian celebrated the report's arrival. "We welcome its findings in relation to the Guardian's investigation of phone hacking at the News of the World, and the clear recognition that our reporting exposed new information and legitimately raised an important point of public interest," said a spokesperson in a statement.
"We note that the committee has come to a very different conclusion to that reached by the PCC in its own perfunctory report."
The Guardian that it was "surprised" that News International "had questioned the integrity of a cross-party committee, with a Conservative chair:
"Observers will draw their own conclusions about why they have chosen to make this attack.
"According to the report, the MPs took a vote on only four clauses, unanimously agreeing on more than 570 paragraphs. It is insulting to the committee to question their work in this way."
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk at the press briefing, journalist Nick Davies said he was pleased by the report: "Whereas the Press Complaints Commission and the police failed to get anywhere near to the truth, the select committee has played straight and I think, particularly given all the political pressures around it, they have done very well."
"I think in a reasonable world Peta Buscombe and Stephen Abell would resign. They have discredited the PCC and the whole concept of self-regulation. It's hard to imagine they could have done a worse job that [former chair] Sir Christopher Meyer and [former director] Tim Toulmin but they have. Their fingers are all over that report they produced."
Key inconsistencies in News International evidence, as reported by the committee:
- The 'junior' reporter who transcribed voicemail messages "for Neville" [Thurlbeck, chief reporter, who only gave evidence to the committee in private]
"The paper blamed its errors on 'provocative questioning and interrupting of Mr Crone.'"
- The rogue reporter, blamed for phone hacking activities in 2007
"The idea that Clive Goodman was a "rogue reporter" acting alone is also directly contradicted by the judge who presided at the Goodman and the Mulcaire trial."
[T]here was no further investigation [despite evidence] of who those "others" might be and we are concerned at the readiness of all those involved: News International, the police and the PCC to leave Mr Goodman as the sole scapegoat without carrying out the full investigation at the time."
- The number of phones hacked
"It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone-hacking by [private investigator] Glenn Mulcaire will never be known. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there were a significant number of people whose voice messages were intercepted, most of whom would appear to have been of little interest to the Royal Correspondent of the the News of the World."
Full coverage of the CMS reports findings at this link...
Free daily newsletter
- Predictions for journalism 2024: misinformation, online safety and press freedom
- New digital platform helps support free press in Sudan
- Peter Jukes: 'More diversified media ownership is in the public interest'
- Three steps to protect newsrooms from press freedom attacks
- Alison Millar, award-winning film-maker, on documentaries and press freedom in Northern Ireland