Journalists used hi-tech spying devices to track cars and steal information from mobile phones, the West Bromwich MP who led the opposition to Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire has claimed.
Tom Watson warned that there were more shocking revelations to come about the worst excesses of the newspaper industry.He said: “If you told me we were half way through it I’d be surprised.”In a detailed interview with , Mr Watson revealed that the last two years of his life had been spent patiently investigating the behaviour of Mr Murdoch’s newspaper stable, which includes The News of the World.
His campaign to reveal the truth was vindicated this month when it emerged the Sunday tabloid had hacked the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, sparking a wave of public revulsion which led to the newspaper’s closure.
Other allegations then emerged, including claims that royal protection officers sold private phone numbers for the royal household to the paper.
But Mr Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) said there were more details to come about the behaviour of the News of the World and other papers in Mr Murdoch’s embattled News International group.
He said: “I know of other technologies that people would be interested in like tracker devices on cars and scanners.”
The “scanners” involved are devices which can be placed unobtrusively in a room and used to extract information from nearby mobile phones, he said.
And Mr Watson said information was emerging all the time – as whistleblowers contacted him to reveal the full story about life in the Murdoch empire, including former News of the World staff who face losing their jobs after the paper was closed.
“Since I have been identified with the issue, there are number of whistleblowers and victims that have started to talk to me.
“In fact, I’ve picked up quite a few more this week, some of whom used to work for News of the World until very recently.”
The MP also questioned whether Mr Murdoch should retain the rest of his newspaper empire, such as The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times.
While insisting “what he chooses to divest himself of is up to him”, Mr Watson added: “Is he a fit and proper person to own a media group? Well, on current behaviour I would say no.”
Mr Watson is a member of the Commons culture, media and sport committee which has asked Mr Murdoch, his son James Murdoch, chairman of News International, and Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of The Sun and News of the World and chief executive of News International, to speak to MPs on Tuesday.
Mr Murdoch scrapped plans to take control of BSkyB after all three major parties rallied round a Commons motion calling on his business News Corp to withdraw its proposed £8 billion purchase of the 61 per cent of BSkyB shares that it doesn’t already own.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, who said a “firestorm” was engulfing the media and police, has announced plans for an independent public inquiry into phone hacking and other illegal practices in the British press, and into how the press should be regulated.But he has come under fire over his decision to appoint former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his head of communications. Mr Coulson resigned in January.
Mr Watson was praised by former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell – who worked closely with News International publications such as The Sun when he was Tony Blair’s spokesman – for his part in exposing the tabloid hacking scandal.
Mr Campbell, who was at the University of Birmingham to deliver a public lecture on happiness, said the MP can take a “huge amount of credit” for his dogged pursuit of News of The World.
“A few people can take an enormous amount of credit for just keeping going. Tom can certainly take a huge amount of credit for the way he’s pursued a campaign that is going to result in change.”
He added: “That’s what politics is about, about what you believe the values you hold and about how you express them in a way that will ultimately lead to change.
‘‘And there’s no doubt about this, the media settlement – the settlement between politics, the public and the media – is going to change.”