Westminster is bracing itself for one of the biggest days in recent parliamentary history, as two select committees prepare to quiz some of the key players in the News of the World phone hacking and police corruption scandals.
At stake is the reputation of the police, News International and the abilities of two dozen MPs, who’ll seek answers from those at the centre of a conspiracy which has rocked both the British government and one of the world’s largest companies. Eyes across the globe will be watching the evidence.
At midday the Home Affairs Committee will quiz two men who, until 48 hours ago, were among the most senior police officers in Britain. Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates have both resigned from the Metropolitan Police in connection with the scandals.
John Yates resigned as an Assistant Commissioner at the Met on Monday. His main responsibilities were for counter-terrorism, but he also took charge of the first phone-hacking investigation in 2009, a probe which is now widely believed to have been flawed. He appeared before the Home Affairs Committee last week, but his evidence was judged by MPs to be "unconvincing".
Sir Paul Stephenson was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner until he resigned on Sunday night. He fell on his sword after it was alleged he’d taken hospitality from Neil Wallis, a man who had previously worked for Andy Coulson at the News of the World.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is now investigating how both men handled the phone-hacking scandal.
Dick Fedorcio, the Met's director of public affairs, will also stand in the same hearing. On Tuesday he was referred to the IPCC over his relationship with Neil Wallis.
Almost immediately after their appearance, another committee will begin taking evidence. Rupert Murdoch, his son James and their sacked chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, will appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee at 2.30pm.
Their appearance comes as a poll revealed two thirds of Britons believe James Murdoch should resign following the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
Later on this afternoon the Home Affairs select committee will hear from former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Ken MacDonald, Current DPP Keir Starmer and the Solicitor representing Milly Dowler’s family, Mark Lewis.
The full line-up is:
- 12pm: Sir Paul Stephenson (Home Affairs committee)
- 12.45pm: Dick Fedorcio, public affairs director at the Met (Home Affairs committee)
- 1.15pm: John Yates (Home Affairs committee)
- 2.30pm: Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch (Culture, Media and Sport Committee)
- 3.30pm: Rebekah Brooks (Culture, Media and Sport Committee)
- 5.30pm: Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions (Home Affairs committee)
- 6pm: Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions (Home Affairs committee)
- 6.20pm: Mark Lewis, lawyer for the Dowler family (Home Affairs committee)
It’s a big day not just for the MPs sitting on these two committees. It’s the biggest test of the ability of backbench MPs to hold outsiders to account since the committee system was reformed last year. No longer chaired by party stooges and filled with MPs who could be expected to toe the line, the new committee model was created with the express aim of strengthening Parliament.
Much will depend on the performance of the two committee chairmen, Labour’s Keith Vaz and the Tory John Whittingdale. Vaz was widely praised for his handling of John Yates’ evidence last week. He was congratulated by MPs from all parties after their meeting last Tuesday when the police chief was grilled.
But perhaps the greatest pressure falls on John Whittingdale. Facing up to one of the most powerful media barons in the world would be no small order under any circumstances, but Whittingdale has two further challenges; firstly Rebekah Brooks remains on police bail, and those conditions may place limits on what she’s prepared to say.
Whittingdale will also have to prove himself genuinely independent of the Conservative Party. There will be pressure upon him and other committee members to conduct a forensic and detailed examination of the activities of Andy Coulson during his time at the News of the World. The answers could further destabilise the position of David Cameron, who is planning to fly back to Britain tonight, cutting short his tour of Africa to respond to the latest political crisis in London.
The evidence given today could have profound implications, not just for the Murdochs and the Metropolitan Police, but also for how damaged the prime minister will be as a result of his links to Brooks and Coulson.
|@ LouiseMensch : I can say that very many people wanted to end the session right there, and Mr. Murdoch personally insisted on answering my questions.|
Check out our bloggers' reactions to the hearings.
|@ SkyNewsBreak : Protester has been suspended from the Labour Party following attack on Rupert Murdoch|
"For those people who watched the broadcast they would have seen me ask about the culture in the newsroom with some incredulity that it was all the news desk apparently, it was boys behaving badly without editors knowing because I know that on difficult stories, editors always ask you where did the story come from? They might not ask you the source but they always ask you to stand it up, particularly if it’s got legal ramifications and the news desk is part and parcel of the operations, the heartbeat of a newspaper and for an editor simply not to know what was going on I still find very difficult to believe."
She says she believes the committee covered a lot of group. "It was a good day for parliament."
He says: "We don't want a press where dubious and illegal things go on with the complicity of the police."
"The thing which immediately was clear was that predictions in both the cases of Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks that somehow they would be restrained from answering and might sort of try and plead the fifth that did not take place. Obviously there are ongoing police investigations and potential criminal proceedings but none the less they did appear to want to try to be as helpful as they could...
"I mean Rupert Murdoch perhaps understandably said the News of the World was only a very small part of the global enterprise he runs, but none the less I think some members found it very difficult to believe that he was completely unaware of some of the activities which were being exposed and indeed the illegal activities and subsequent convictions."
The news that Neil Wallis was informally advising Andy Coulson without the knowledge of any of the other senior figures in the Tory party is a reminder of just how dysfunctional the Tory party machine was pre-election. It is also an indication of the license that Coulson was afforded. The Tories cannot say if anyone else offered Coulson this kind of ‘informal advice’.
The culture committee chair tells the BBC: "I think there will need to be a full investigation as to how this happened."
Brooks finishes her evidence session, asks to come back when she is free from "legal constraints".
"I have never been horse-riding with the prime minister", she adds: "The truth is that he is a neighbour and a friend but I deem the relationship to be wholly appropriate and at no time have I ever had any conversation with the prime minister that you in the room would disapprove of."
She adds that Andy Coulson's appointment was George Osborne's idea, not hers, and she did not discuss Coulson's suitability with David Cameron. "The idea came from George Osborne."
Brooks says she hasn't been to Number 10 whilst David Cameron was PM. But she's seen Cam numerous times.
"I was not aware Neville Thurlbeck [lead reporter] was a police informant."
"Who do I trust? The whole newsroom and the whole basis of the newsroom is based on trust."
"It would not have been the case that someone said 'oh yes, that came from an illegal voicemail interception',... at the time it wasn't a practice that was condoned or sanctioned at the news of the world under my editorship."
She says there would have been questions asked about every article in the paper: "There would have been a process around every story"
Now Therese Coffey is asking questions.
|@ EMMAGKELLER : Ladbrokes now 2/1 that Cameron will be replaced as Tory leader before next general election.|
|@ Ed_Miliband : Dramatic Day.Now David Cameron has a duty to uphold dignity of the PMs Office by answering fully the Qs he faces about this scandal #hacking|
More on Milly Dowler: "I don't know anyone who would think it was a right or honourable thing to do, now or at any time."
Brooks said she first heard that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked when the story broke in the media. "My instant reaction was one of shock and disgust that a family that had suffered so much already, that these allegations had added to their suffering."
From Number 10:
There have been some questions about whether the Conservative Party employed Neil Wallis. We have double checked our records and are able to confirm that neither Neil Wallis nor his company has ever been contracted by the Conservative Party, nor has the Conservative Party made payments to either of them.
It has been drawn to our attention that he may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. We are currently finding out the exact nature of any advice.
We can confirm that apart from Andy Coulson, neither David Cameron nor any senior member of the campaign team were aware of this until this week.
Brooks asked why News International was paying Glenn Mulcaire's legal fees and Andrew Sheridan's legal fees.
Brooks says Mulcaire's legal fees were paid because he was a co-defendant in a civil case.
On Coulson she says: "When (he) left the NOTW he had an agreement that all matters relating to this his legal fees would be paid."
|@ annajleach : there it is RT @kevinmarks: here's the voicemail quote from p279 of @piersmorgan's book that @LouiseMensch mentioned: http://bit.ly/nuyJPO|
|@ KateEMcCann : "every single one of them will be offered a job" < Brooks about former #NOTW staff, good news @dpcoverdale|
Brooks deals with the phrase "more to come" which she used when breaking the news of the closure of the NOTW to explain the decision.
The journalists were "very sad and baffled" by the decision, she said. "Once you have broken the trust with the readers there's not much going back."
Brooks: "I've never paid a policeman myself... I've never knowingly sanctioned the payment of a policeman myself."
In my experience the evidence police give to newspapers is free of charge.
Brooks asked whether it's credible that, as Paul Dacre said, the Daily Mail has never run a story based on phone hacking or blagging.
She said she didn't see the evidence but News International one of the only companies to openly welcome the PM's inquiry.
|@ paulwaugh : Brooks says NoTW managing editor Kuttner "may hv discussed payments to me..I can't remember"|
|@ arusbridger : Here's the list on page 10. NotW 5th on the list. Guardian not there. http://t.co/FWRGGQJ|
|@ Herring1967 : I think most political stories would get more coverage and attention if there were pies in them|