Scotland Yard last night effectively accused News International of deliberately leaking information in an attempt to undermine the police investigation into phone hacking and corruption at the News of the World.
Britain’s biggest police force took the rare step of issuing a statement alleging a “deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation” following the publication of stories which suggested royal protection officers had been paid for information by the newspaper.
The statement, widely interpreted as an attack on News International, said the force believed that the information known by only “a small number of people” has been selectively leaked to “divert attention from elsewhere”.
The wording of the statement suggests what many already suspect, that News International leaked information which allegedly links Mr Coulson to the scandal in an attempt to divert focus from Rebekah Brooks, its current chief executive.
The statement was released yesterday afternoon after reports on the BBC website and London’s Evening Standard newspaper detailed allegations against Andy Coulson, the News of the World’s former editor, and Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal correspondent.
The stories alleged that emails, passed from News International to Scotland Yard, included a request by Goodman to Mr Coulson for money to pay a police officer for information on the royal family. The story was the latest which had angered Scotland Yard.
Sir Paul Stephenson was forced to issue a statement last week announcing a second inquiry into alleged payment of police officers by the News of the World.
It came after it was reported, and confirmed by the company, that News International had handed emails to detectives allegedly showing details of payments to a handful of police officers totalling about £130,000 during the four-year editorship of Andy Coulson.
It was reported that the emails were discovered by News International in 2007 but not passed to the Metropolitan Police until four years later. News International sources said that it was only when Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch became aware of the emails that they were passed to police.
The sudden emergence of the emails which allegedly show criminality at the paper appeared to implicate Mr Coulson, who is no longer a News International employee, in the scandal.
The existence was revealed the day after the News of the World was alleged to have hacked the voicemail of the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler. That hacking was said to have taken place under the tenure of Rebekah Brooks, now the company’s chief executive.
The timing was noted in the Yard’s blistering attack, which suggested that the leaking of information was designed to “divert attention from elsewhere”.
The Metropolitan Police statement also details meetings between News International and the force, saying that all parties had agreed to keep the details of the investigation confidential.
The statement, issued this afternoon by Scotland Yard, said: “It is our belief that information that has appeared in the media today is part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation into the alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers and divert attention from elsewhere.
“At various meetings over the last few weeks information was shared with us by News International and their legal representatives and it was agreed by all parties that this information would be kept confidential so that we could pursue various lines of inquiry, identify those responsible without alerting them and secure best evidence.
“However we are extremely concerned and disappointed that the continuous release of selected information – that is only known by a small number of people – could have a significant impact on the corruption investigation.”