Global Politics

Former police officers reveals new information about News Corp's investigations

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News Corporation is again under fire again for the actions of its News of the World paper. A former police officer said he followed dozens of people for the paper.

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There’s more grist for the mill in the case of Britain’s discredited tabloid, “News of the World.”

New documents show the newspaper engaged in what some are calling “industrial scale spying.”

Following someone is legal, and in London, a lot of celebrities are used to being trailed by paparazzi looking for a scandal, a perfect shot, or both.

But new revelations about who News of the World’s private investigator was following and why are raising new concerns.

“I’m very scared and nervous now when I go out of the house. I’m looking around, seeing if anybody’s there,” said a woman, who was followed.

You don’t know this woman. And that’s the point.

“It’s absolutely terrifying to think that someone can be watching you, following you around doing your everyday things and you haven’t got a clue that they’re there. And if it happened then, it could be happening now,” the woman said.

Derek Webb – a former police officer – was hired by the now defunct newspaper in 2010 to follow this woman.

She’s the ex-wife of a lawyer who was representing victims of the newspaper’s illegal practice of hacking into people’s voicemail. The lawyer, Mark Lewis, says the surveillance was aimed at his entire family in an attempt to find a way to discredit him.

“It’s horrific but it’s more horrific that it was my family, my children, my daughters were being infiltrated that people were watching them, taking pictures of them,” Lewis said. “It shouldn’t happen. It just shouldn’t happen.”

Webb told the BBC that over the past several years, he followed more than a hundred people for the paper. They include Princes William and Harry, their girlfriends, politicians, sports stars even the parents of actor Daniel Radcliffe.

“They employed my services more and more,” Webb said. “So I was getting work from them and they were very satisfied with the work. I chose to go down this route because they actually asked me. I was never going to stop doing this work. The only stop came when the News of the World closed.”

Let go without compensation, Webb is now telling his story.

And his targets are only now discovering they were being followed, filmed and photographed. Also on the list is member of Parliament Tom Watson.

Documents obtained by the BBC show Watson became a target in 2009. It was just days after he questioned an executive from News International about phone hacking during a parliamentary committee hearing.

"I think it shows an utterly relentless and ruthless organization, clearly highly politicized who would stop at nothing to cover this case up and I think it’s yet another revelation that I think will shock people when they get to know what it means," Watson said.

Former News of the World features editor Jules Stenson doesn’t deny what happened.

But he thinks there’s more to the story.

“Investigative journalism is messy,” Stenson said. “The first sort of goal of a big investigation is actually to find the people you’re chasing. The crooks and villains aren’t on the electoral roll. All we’re getting is one side of this from Derek Webb. I’ve never spoken to him, I don’t know him but he’s clearly a man with a grudge who's got a grievance against the company for not getting any compensation.”

But few, if any, of the people Derek Webb followed could be labeled as crooks or villains. That doesn’t make it easy for News International to defend itself. It has released a short statement admitting to the surveillance and noting that it is legal.

Still, it concedes last year's spying on lawyers and their families is deeply inappropriate and not condoned by any current company executives. That would seem to include James Murdoch.

He’ll be before members of Parliament Thursday, recalled over apparent inconsistencies in earlier evidence he gave about phone hacking. Now, Murdoch is likely face even more pointed questions about whether and how his employees tried to discredit anyone they considered an enemy.

 

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