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Tuesday, February 28, 2012 

Don't look a gift tabloid editor in the mouth.


Just when you thought that the whole phone hacking/police corruption/general clusterfuck debacle at Wapping couldn't get any more absurd, it does. It's not a well known programme, but apparently if you're a red-top tabloid editor with a penchant for all things equine, the Metropolitan police are quite willing to lend you a horse that has "reached the end of its working life". Sadly, the BBC is reporting that the horse has since died of natural causes, which means there won't be any attempt by a rival newspaper to buy up the rights and bring us an exclusive interview, more's the pity. It does remind me though as everything does for those brought up on a diet of 90s pop culture, of the Simpsons, specificially the episode where Homer offers to provide a "good home" for an uneaten outsize hoagie, leading him to request a minute alone with the sandwich while in bed with Marge. This leads inevitably to food poisoning, or in Brooks's case, the overwhelming stench of corruption sticking to her.

For as Nick Davies reminded us today, away from the hacked celebrities and brutal abuses by the press against some of the most vulnerable in society, the really astonishing aspect of the story remains the closeness between News International and the Met. They might well have lent out 12 horses in similar circumstances in 2008, but you doubt that any of the others went to such deserving causes as that of a tabloid editor. At the same time as they were making such obliging gestures to those they had become so chummy with, the Met was of course ferociously denying that any suggestion that they hadn't been entirely truthful with government ministers such as John Prescott, who was additionally criticised by Andy Hayman in the pages of the Times for continuing to maintain his phone had been hacked. Today Simon Hughes made clear how he'd been misled by the Met, telling the Leveson inquiry that he hadn't been informed of how the notes on him in Glenn Mulcaire's book suggested three journalists other than Clive Goodman had been involved in commissioning the investigation into him. Meanwhile, over at the High Court, redacted information released following the settlements with dozens of hacking victims revealed that apart from Goodman, there were five journalists chiefly responsible for commissioning Mulcaire.

Nothing more epitomises how damaging the collusion between the Met and NI seems to have been than the relationship the News of the World had with the private investigator Jonathan Rees. He was cleared last year of the murder of Daniel Morgan, his then partner in the PI agency Southern Investigations, after the prosecution offered no evidence. As the former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames details in her witness statement to the Leveson inquiry, the initial investigation into Morgan's murder was compromised by how the Met had been corruptly involved with the agency, as well as how Rees was a friend of Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery, who subsequently "medically retired" and became Rees' new business partner. Rees went on to become one of the chief PIs used by the red-tops, as was detailed when the Met planted a bug in his office. He was jailed for 7 years in 2000 after he agreed to plant drugs on a client's wife, in an attempt to influence divorce proceedings. Despite this, Rees was hired again by the Screws after he was released from prison in 2005.

Back in 2002, Hames's husband David Cook was tasked by the Met with fronting a new appeal for information on the murder of Morgan on Crimewatch. With Rees inside, it seems to have fallen to Fillery to make "life difficult" for Cook and Hames. Someone phoned the BBC and claimed Hames was having an affair. On one occasion it looked as though their mail had been tampered with. Then Cook noticed a van he thought suspicious in the park opposite. One van became two, then they started following him. The police stopped one of the vans for having a broken tail light, discovering they were leased to the NotW from Southern Investigations. Asked twice for an explanation, on the second occasion face to face with Cook, Rebekah Brooks maintained that they had been investigating whether Cook and Hames, despite having been in a relationship for 11 years, were having an affair. Even by the standards of the Screws, a police officer who has a minor presenting role on a television programme is a fairly low down target for an expose, not least when it could have been so quickly and easily discovered that were married without any surveillance taking place.

One point not noted by Hames today was that Alex Marunchak, the Screws hack with links to Filley and Rees, was revealed last year to have freelanced at the same time for the Met as an interpreter. Dick Fedorcio, the Met press officer involved, was also one of those with the force who thought there was no reason why Neil Wallis's work as a PR associate for the Met should have been declared. Despite how Cook was leading the reinvestigation into the murder of Morgan, it seems this was as far as the the matter meant. It was only this year that Operation Weeting contacted Hames to inform her of how Mulcaire had details on her that could have only come from her personal file at the Met, details which also made clear he and the NotW must have known full well that she was married. When the police it seems either couldn't or wouldn't investigate the hacking of a police officer whose husband was working on such a sensitive case over which corruption had already cast such a shadow, it's hardly a surprise it's eventually led to the inquiry some are still now decrying.

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