MP reveals Freemason involvement in News of the World phone hacking scandal
Phone-hacking scandal widens to include Kate Middleton and Tony Blair
MP calls for expanded investigation as list grows of those allegedly hacked by Jonathan Rees for News International.
Pressure is building on the Metropolitan police to expand their phone-hacking inquiry to include a notorious private investigator who was accused in the House of Commons on Wednesday of targeting politicians, members of the royal family and high-level terrorist informers on behalf of Rupert Murdoch’s News International.
Guardian inquiries reveal that the former prime minister Tony Blair is among the suspected victims of Jonathan Rees, who was involved in the theft of confidential data, the hacking of computers and, it is alleged, burglary. According to close associates of Rees, he also targeted:
• Jack Straw when he was home secretary, Peter Mandelson when he was trade secretary and Blair’s media adviser Alastair Campbell;
• Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex, and the Duke and Duchess of Kent, all of whom are said to have had their bank accounts penetrated, and Kate Middleton when she was Prince William’s girlfriend;
• The former commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir John Stevens, and the current assistant commissioner, John Yates, who later supervised the failed phone-hacking inquiry for 19 months;
• The governor and deputy governor of the Bank of England, whose mortgage account details were obtained and sold.
Rees, who worked for the Mirror Group as well as the New of the World, is also accused of using a specialist computer hacker in July 2006 to steal information about MI6 agents who had infiltrated the Provisional IRA. According to a BBC Panorama programme in March, Rees was commissioned by Alex Marunchak, then the News of the World’s executive editor, to hack the information from the computer of Ian Hurst, a former British intelligence officer in Northern Ireland who had stayed in contact with several highly vulnerable agents. Marunchak has denied the allegations.
The Guardian has previously identified other suspected targets of Rees, including Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, George Michael, Linford Christie, Gary Lineker, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, and the family of the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.
None of these cases has been officially confirmed or even investigated. With many of them, it is not yet clear precisely what form of surveillance Rees and his agency, Southern Investigations, were using. Answers may lie in the “boxloads” of paperwork the Metropolitan police are believed to have seized from Rees.
But the Labour MP Tom Watson told the prime minister on Wednesday the head of the Operation Weeting inquiry into the News of the World’s investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, had told him that it may be beyond its terms of reference to investigate this evidence.
“Prime minister, powerful forces are attempting a cover-up,” Watson said. “Please tell me what you intend to do, to make sure this doesn’t happen.”While Glenn Mulcaire worked for the News of the World as a full-time employee from 2001, Rees worked freelance for the Mirror Group and the News of the World from the mid 1990s. His agency was earning up to £150,000 a year from the News of the World alone. In 1999, he was arrested and sentenced to seven years for conspiring to plant cocaine on a woman so that her husband would get custody of their children.
After his release in May 2004, the News of the World continued to hire him under the editorship of Andy Coulson, who went on to become David Cameron’s media adviser. Rees’s targets during this period included Prince William’s then girlfriend, Kate Middleton.
Scotland Yard is believed to have collected hundreds of thousands of documents during a series of investigations into Rees over his links with corrupt officers, and over the 1987 murder of his former business partner, Daniel Morgan. Charges of murder against Rees were dismissed earlier this year.
Daniel Morgan’s brother, Alastair, who has been gathering information for a book, told the Guardian he was aware from his own investigations and from material revealed in court hearings that the Metropolitan police was holding “boxloads” of evidence on Rees’s activities. Guardian inquiries suggest that this paperwork could include explosive new evidence of illegal news-gathering by the News of the World and other papers.
According to journalists and investigators who worked with him, Rees exploited his position as a freemason to make links with masonic police officers who illegally sold him information on targets chosen by the News of the World, the Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mirror. One close contact, Det Sgt Sid Fillery, left the Metropolitan police to become Rees’s business partner and added more officers to their network. Fillery wassubsequently convicted of possession of indecent images of children.
Some police contacts are said to have been blackmailed into providing confidential information. One of Rees’s former associates claims that Rees had compromising photographs of serving officers, including one who was caught in a drunken coma with a couple of prostitutes and with a toilet seat around his neck. Rees claimed to be in touch with corrupt Customs officers, a corrupt VAT inspector and two corrupt bank employees.
An investigator who worked for Rees claims he was commissioning burglaries of public figures to steal material for newspapers. Southern Investigations has previously been implicated in handling paperwork which was stolen by a professional burglar from the safe of Paddy Ashdown’s lawyer, when Ashdown was leader of the Liberal Democrats. The paperwork, which was eventually obtained by the News of the World, recorded Ashdown discussing his fears that newspapers might expose an affair with his secretary.
The Guardian has confirmed that Rees also used two specialist “blaggers” who would telephone the Inland Revenue, the DVLA, banks and phone companies and trick them into handing over private data to be sold to Fleet Street.
One of the blaggers who regularly worked for him, John Gunning, was responsible for obtaining details of bank accounts belonging to Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex, which were then sold to the Sunday Mirror. Gunning was later convicted of illegally obtaining confidential data from British Telecom. Rees also obtained details of accounts at Coutts bank belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The bank accounts of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, are also thought to have been compromised.
The Guardian has been told that Rees spoke openly about obtaining confidential data belonging to senior politicians and recorded their names in his paperwork. One source close to Rees claims that apart from Tony Blair, Straw, Mandelson and Campbell, he also targeted Gaynor Regan, who became the second wife of the foreign secretary, Robin Cook, the former shadow home secretary, Gerald Kaufman; and the former Tory minister David Mellor.
It is not yet known precisley what Rees was doing with these political targets, although in the case of Peter Mandelson, it appears that Rees obtained confidential details of two bank accounts which he held at Coutts, and his building society account at Britannia. Rees is also said to have targeted his brother, Miles Mandelson.
Separately, for the News of the World, Glenn Mulcaire was hacking the voicemail of the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, Straw’s successor as home secretary, David Blunkett, the media secretary, Tessa Jowell, and the Europe minister, Chris Bryant. Scotland Yard has repeatedly refused to reveal how many politicians were victims of phone hacking, although Simon Hughes, Boris Johnson and George Galloway have all been named.
The succesful hacking of a computer belonging to the former British intelligence officer Ian Hurst was achieved in July 2006 by sending Hurst an email containing a Trojan program which copied Hurst’s emails and relayed them to the hacker. This included messages he had exchanged with at least two agents who informed on the Provisional IRA – Freddie Scappaticci, codenamed Stakeknife; and a second informant known as Kevin Fulton. Both men were regarded as high-risk targets for assassination. Hurst was one of the very few people who knew their whereabouts. The hacker cannot be named for legal reasons.
There would be further security concern if Rees’s paperwork confirmed strong claims by those close to him that he claimed to have targeted the then Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir John Stevens, who would have had regular access to highly sensitive intelligence. Sir John’s successor, Sir Ian Blair, is believed to have been targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, although it has not been confirmed that Mulcaire succeeded in listening to his voicemail. Assistant commissioner John Yates was targeted by Rees when Yates was running inquiries into police corruption in the late 1990s. It appears that Yates did not realise that he himself had been a target when he was responsible for the policing of the phone-hacking affair between July 2009 and January 2011.
Targeting the Bank of England, Rees is believed to have earned thousands of pounds by penetrating the past or present mortgage accounts of the then governor, Eddie George, his deputy, Mervyn King, who is now governor, and half-a-dozen other members of the monetary policy committee.
According to police information provided to the Guardian in September 2002, an internal Scotland Yard report recorded that Rees and his network were engaged in long-term penetration of police intelligence and that “their thirst for knowledge is driven by profit to be accrued from the media”.
Operation Weeting has been investigating phone hacking by the News of the World since January. The paper’s assistant editor, Ian Edmondson, chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, and former news editor James Weatherup have been arrested and released on police bail.
View the original article at the guardian.co.uk.