News International tried to “thwart” the original inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World, senior Met police officers have told MPs.
Ex-Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said while probing the claims in 2006, he came across “prevarication and what we now know to be lies”.
Assistant Commissioner John Yates said the firm “appears to have failed to co-operate” during his review of the case.
Committee chairman Keith Vaz said Mr Yates’s evidence was “unconvincing”.
But the current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Stephenson said Mr Yates has his “full support and confidence”.
A police investigation began in 2005, triggered by stories about Prince William’s health in the NoW.
News International closed the paper last week amid continued outrage over reports of hacking including revelations that the mobile phones of murder victim Milly Dowler and relatives of dead soldiers had been accessed.
In his evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Clarke said: “We pursued it as far as we could through the correspondence with the News of the World lawyers.”
But he added: “This is a major global organisation with access to the best legal advice, in my view deliberately trying to thwart a police investigation.”
In other developments:
- News International denies The Sun accessed the medical records of former prime minister Gordon Brown’s son Fraser, explaining a 2006 story about him having cystic fibrosis “originated from a member of the public”. Another NI paper, The Sunday Times, denies it broke any laws when investigating the purchase of a flat by Mr Brown.
- Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who is leading a new investigation into hacking, revealed to the committee that only 170 out of more than 4,000 potential victims whose details were stored by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire have been contacted by police.
- Labour leader Ed Miliband is to meet David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg to discuss the fall-out of the scandal.
- MPs will vote on Wednesday on a Labour motion urging News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch to withdraw his bid for BSkyB – and the government says it will back the call.
- News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, its chairman James Murdoch and News International’s chief executive Rebekah Brooks have been invited to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee next Tuesday.
- Labour leader Ed Miliband has a meeting with the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was allegedly hacked, and tells them his “heart goes out” to them.
- The final edition of the News of the World on Sunday sold 3.8 million copies, 1.1 million more than the previous week.
- The websites TheSunOnSunday.co.uk and SunOnSunday.co.uk are transferred to News International amid speculation a seven-day edition of The Sun is being planned.
- News International says it is to offer new positions to the “vast majority” of former News of the World staff.
Mr Clarke told MPs his remit during the initial investigation was strictly to look into who had been hacking into the phones of members of the royal household.
Only the “most important” victims of phone hacking had been told about it, he said.
He said he had to weigh up a breach of privacy investigation with counter terrorism investigations, and an exhaustive analysis of the evidence at hand may or may not have made any difference at all.
“If at any time News International had offered some meaningful co-operation instead of prevarication and what we now know to be lies, we would not be here today,” he said.
In 2007, a reporter and private investigator working for the paper were jailed for phone hacking. It was reported that the pair were considered to have been acting alone, and the investigation, led by former Met assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, ended.
Mr Hayman told the committee: “At the time everything possible that they were able to do, given the resources and the parameters they set, was done and I stand by that…
“What we look like now, it’s very lame. I think what’s happened is I think we’ve had more time to do it, more revelations have come out, the News of the World have given us material that we didn’t have at the time.”
Mr Hayman later went on to become a columnist with the News International title The Times but rejected suggestions that he was in the newspaper group’s “back pocket”.
In 2009, Assistant Commissioner Yates oversaw a review of the investigation after allegations appeared in the Guardian that NoW reporters had paid private investigators to hack into thousands of phones, many owned by politicians and celebrities.
At the hearing, he admitted it was a “poor” decision not to reopen the inquiry and he regretted not doing enough to protect victims.
But he said: “It is a matter of great concern that, for whatever reason, the News of the World appears to have failed to co-operate in the way that we now know they should have with relevant police inquiries up until January this year.
“They have only recently supplied information and evidence that would have had a significant impact on the decisions that I took in 2009 had it been provided to us then.”
He said he would not resign over criticisms of his actions, and told MPs he had not been under pressure from the NoW over issues in his private life.
Mr Yates also said he was 99% certain his own mobile was hacked between 2005 and 2006.
In a statement, the Met Commissioner said Mr Yates should be given “credit for his courage and humility in acknowledging that if he knew then what he knows now, he would have taken different decisions”.
He added he hoped Mr Clarke’s evidence “helps to inform the public debate and the reasons that the original inquiry operated as it did”.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Vaz said of the evidence to the committee: “Had they actually said all along, well the reason why we closed the first inquiry is because News International were not supportive and not cooperative – and had Mr Yates said the same thing – it would have been much easier.”
Other MPs not on the committee but who listened to the evidence, were critical of what they had heard.
Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who suspects that his phone was hacked, said: “Nearly everything that we have heard in the last few weeks was in the papers that the police gathered in 2006 if they had chosen even to read it. All we learned today is, they didn’t even bother to read most of it.”
And former shadow home secretary David Davies said: “There was incompetence in the handling, there was complacency over the issue.”
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Akers confirmed to the committee that the material gathered by police contains 3,870 first and second names. There are 5,000 landline phone numbers and 4,000 mobile phone numbers.
She said senior management at News International were now co-operating with her inquiry.
“I held a meeting at which for the first time two News International executives attended to debate our very different interpretations of the expression full cooperation and subsequent to that meeting I can say that relationships have been much better,” she said.
The committee hearing opened with questions to former Met Police Commissioner Lord Ian Blair about claims police officers had been paid for information by the News of the World.
He said he strongly suspected corruption in the force, but knew of no payments made to police officers.
He was also asked about the decision not to reopen an inquiry in 2009. He said: “If material was available at the time that showed ‘industrial level hacking’ it would have been appropriate to have gone further.
“I didn’t know and I wouldn’t have expected it to have been known further up the organisation.”