Senior opposition politicians are calling on the government to respond to renewed accusations that Downing Street’s chief communications officer, Andy Coulson, encouraged reporters to illegally intercept messages from the cellphones of public figures when he was editor of The News of the World.
At the same time, a number of people whose phone messages may have been intercepted by The News of the World during Mr. Coulson’s tenure are accusing the Metropolitan Police of failing to fully examine all the evidence in its criminal investigation in 2006 and 2007.
Lord Prescott, a Labour politician who was the deputy prime minister under Tony Blair and who has been named as one of hundreds of people whose phones may have been hacked, said the police had never provided him with a sufficient explanation of what happened.
“I have been far from satisfied with the Metropolitan Police’s procedure in dealing with my requests to uncover the truth about this case,” Lord Prescott told The Observer newspaper. It was only after “repeated requests,” he said, that he learned that he might have been a victim of phone hacking. If the police continued to fail to be forthcoming, he said, he would seek a judicial inquiry into their handling of the matter.
Alan Johnson, a Labour member of Parliament and a former home secretary, announced that he would review the Home Office papers relating to the case to see whether the matter should be brought to the Inspectorate of Constabulary, which monitors the police. His recommendation would then go to the current home secretary, Theresa May.
Lord Prescott was responding to an article published by The New York Times Magazine online Wednesday and in print Sunday about the scandal. In 2007, The News of the World’s royal editor, Clive Goodman, and an investigator employed by The News of the World, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed after pleading guilty to having illegally intercepted voice mail messages of Prince William and Prince Harry and their chief royal aides.
Mr. Coulson, who was appointed editor of The News of the World in 2003, said that he had no knowledge of the hacking and that it was an isolated case, but resigned from the paper in January 2007 nonetheless.
Last year, The Guardian newspaper printed an article saying that hundreds of people might have been singled out by The News of the World and providing details about some of them, including Gordon Taylor, former chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, who reached a settlement of £700,000 with The News of the World over the hacking of his cellphone.
The Times Magazine article provided new details, quoting a former reporter, Sean Hoare, and a unnamed former editor at The News of the World as saying that Mr. Coulson was fully aware of the hacking. In an interview with BBC Radio 4 last week, Mr. Hoare called Mr. Coulson’s statement to a parliamentary committee denying that he knew about the phone hacking in his newsroom “a lie.”
More than a dozen reporters and editors formerly with The News of the World, interviewed for The Times article said their employer had fostered a culture of recklessness in which reporters were encouraged to use any means to get exclusive stories. The article also quoted senior Metropolitan Police officials saying that the police had failed to fully investigate The News of the World’s phone hacking in part because of Scotland Yard’s close ties to editors at the paper and executives at its parent company, News International.
Over the weekend, Tessa Jowell, a former Labour cabinet minister who is still a Parliament member, said that the police had told her that her phone messages had been intercepted at least 28 times while she was in the government. And The Independent on Sunday reported that Lord Mandelson, another senior Labour politician, also had his messages intercepted.
John Yates, the assistant commissioner of the Met, said in a statement Sunday that the police would consider reopening the criminal inquiry if fresh evidence of wrongdoing emerges and would consult prosecutors about whether further inquiry was appropriate. Mr. Yates said the police had asked The Times for material it collected during its reporting of the magazine story, including notes from its interviews with Mr. Hoare.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said, “Scotland Yard has declined our repeated requests for interviews and refused to release information we requested months ago under the British freedom of information law. After our story was published, Scotland Yard expressed renewed interest in the case and asked us to provide interview materials and notes; we declined, as we would with any such request from police. Our story speaks for itself and makes clear that the police already have evidence that they have chosen not to pursue.”
Tom Watson, a Labour member of Parliament and a member of the parliamentary committee that investigated the phone hacking, wrote a letter to the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, saying “the historic continued and mishandling of this affair is beginning to bring your force, and hence our democracy, into disrepute.”
For its part, the British government said it considers the matter closed and will not investigate Mr. Coulson, who was hired as the Conservative Party’s chief spokesman in May 2007 after his resignation from The News of the World. A spokesman at 10 Downing Street said last week that Mr. Coulson “totally and utterly” denied knowing about phone hacking while he served as editor. Alan Duncan, the international development minister, appeared on television on Saturday night on behalf of the government, accusing the Labour Party of acting for purely political reasons.
Speaking of senior Labour leaders who have called for a new investigation, Mr. Duncan said: “The Labour Party — in a concerted campaign through Ed Miliband, Lord Prescott and Alan Johnson — have piled in to attack Andy Coulson about something that happened years ago in order to try to attack the government.”
Meanwhile, The News of the World denied the Times’s allegations and accused it of publishing the magazine article in an effort to discredit a newspaper belonging to a “rival group” — that is, the media empire of Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch is the chairman of News Corporation, whose many media holdings include The News of the World, The Times of London and The Wall Street Journal.
Five people whose phones were hacked have filed lawsuits this summer against News of the World’s parent company and Mr. Mulcaire. And a growing number of public figures who believe their phone messages may have also been intercepted but who feel the police did not do enough to investigate say they intend to sue The News of the World. Others, including Brian Paddick, a former deputy assistant commissioner with the Metropolitan Police, say they intend to seek a judicial review of the police’s handling of the criminal investigation. An application for that review is expected to be filed later this week.
Senior Labour leaders also said they intended this week to seek a new inquiry by the standards and privileges committee in the House of Commons.
The publication of the Times Magazine article has starkly exposed the fault lines in the media and political landscape in Britain. Papers supporting the government — including The Times of London and The Sun, both Murdoch-owned — have devoted little space to the new accusations. But media outlets critical of the government, including The Guardian, The Independent and the BBC — which itself is in a bitter feud with Mr. Murdoch’s company, which has extensive television holdings in Britain — have covered The Times’s article, and the subsequent calls for new investigations, extensively.
In an editorial, The Financial Times said that there should be an independent review of The New York Times’s accusation that “the police may have dropped a valid investigation.”
The Financial Times also called on Prime Minister David Cameron to investigate the matter. “Was he not reckless to have employed Mr. Coulson, given the murkiness of the allegations surrounding The News of the World?” the paper asked.