The Blog

MPs are Spoiling for a Fight With the Police Over Phone Hacking

Are the Metropolitan Police "evasive, dishonest or lethargic" - or perhaps all three? What surprised me during yesterday's Commons debate about phone hacking was how little faith the people who make our laws seem to have in the people who enforce them.

Are the Metropolitan Police "evasive, dishonest or lethargic" - or perhaps all three?

That was the question posed in the House of Commons by Alan Johnson - the man who was Home Secretary until May last year.

What surprised me during yesterday's Commons debate about phone hacking was how little faith the people who make our laws seem to have in the people who enforce them.

Criticism focused mainly on the News of the World and the newspaper industry in general. This was both predictable and deserved, however upsetting that may be for those of us who work for newspapers and have never been involved in hacking or similar practices.

But it's not just the media that MPs have in their sights. The police, and the Metropolitan Police in particular, should be worried.

Take Mr Johnson, who asked: "I have huge regard for the work of the Metropolitan police, but was it being evasive, dishonest or lethargic? I think it is one of those three."

When former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson piped up with "or all three!", Mr Johnson added: "Or was it being all three?"

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who led yesterday's debate, was clear. He said: "This issue is not just about what went on at the News of the World; it is also about the behaviour of the Metropolitan police.

"In the course of the limited investigation of 2006, which led to the conviction of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, the police secured a vast amount of information. They could have - and, I believe, should have - interrogated that information so that it became evidence.

"They could have approached all those affected. They could have contacted the mobile phone companies to ensure their customers were better protected.

"Unfortunately, they did none of those things."

Lib Dem backbencher Julian Huppert asked: " Does the Attorney-General agree that there are real issues not only about poor behaviour by the media, but about public trust in the police? Does he also agree that we have to be sure that the police will investigate people regardless of how powerful they may be and what the consequences may be, and regardless of whether they have been taking illegal payments from them? That is a serious issue and it does need an inquiry."

High profile Lib Dem Simon Hughes even compared the Met's approach to phone hacking to the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, when the force was accused of "institutional racism".

He said: "I am not alleging that there is institutional corruption in the Met police, but it has been widely known for years that there has been regular corruption on such issues in the Met police and in other police forces."

And Tory Anna Soubry told MPs: "I am absolutely confident that this new inquiry will look into the dealings of the police, because the spotlight is rightly now not just on our newspapers; it is moving on to our police. What has been going on concerns me greatly."

These are just a few of the comments made in the Commons yesterday.

The knives are out, not just for News International but also for the boys in blue.