Executives from O2, Vodafone and T-Mobile tell Leveson inquiry they feared prejudicing police investigation
Mobile phone companies did not notify customers their phones had been hacked by the News of the World for almost six years, the Leveson inquiry has heard.
Some of the nearly 200 victims identified by some of the country’s biggest mobile phone networks had to wait until January to have it confirmed that their voicemails had been intercepted illegally.
The country’s largest network, Vodafone, revealed at the Leveson inquiry on Thursday that it was given information by police in 2006 that helped it identify about 40 phone-hacking victims, but said it did not get in contact with those customers until January 2012.
Mark Hughes, head of security at Vodafone, said it was provided with “two suspect phone lines we now understand belong to News International” by the police and after an internal investigation found people using these numbers had accessed or tried to access 177 “unique voicemail numbers”.
The company was later able to establish that successful breaches of voicemails were made in 40 instances, Hughes added. However, Vodafone was “expressly told by police not to contact customers as we may prejudice any police investigation”.
A spokesman for Vodafone later said this had been a verbal request made in 2006, around the time of the arrests of the former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who worked for the now defunct News International Sunday redtop. Both jailed for phone hacking offences in January 2007.
The spokesman added that in 2010 Vodafone wrote to the police to seek permission to notify customers but Scotland Yard never responded.
The Metropolitan police began a new News of the World phone-hacking inquiry in January 2011, following criticism that the initial investigation in 2006, which led to the conviction of Goodman and Mulcaire, had failed to uncover the full extent of the practice.
Adrian Gorham, head of security at O2, told the inquiry his company identified 40 phone-hacking victims on its network. James Blendis, general counsel for Everything Everywhere, which runs Orange and T-Mobile, said there were 45 victims on the former network and 71 on the latter.
Blendis also revealed that “some of the numbers were other journalists at the News of the World” and that it was therefore unlikely they were phone-hacking victims in the real sense.
The Met revealed in December that it had identified up to 800 phone-hacking victims from evidence seized from Mulcaire in 2006 and some have been newspaper journalists on rival papers.
Gorham said his company contacted customers around the time of the discovery of the total number of victims, while T-Mobile and Orange customers had to wait until July last year to have it confirmed their voicemails were hacked.
Blendis said Everything Everywhere also wrote to police in November 2010 to request permission to contact the victims but it had “no response”.
“We didn’t chase. I think now we would probably be much more proactive,” he added.
Blendis said that in 2006 02 was concerned about prejudicing the police investigation. Some of the phone numbers that had been hacked belonged to News of the World journalists and the company feared it could have inadvertently tipped off people who were involved in the voicemail interception.
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