Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s head of communications for most of his time as prime minister, said he believed British newspapers other than those owned by News Corp. had broken the law to get stories.
Appearing before an inquiry into U.K. media standards prompted by the hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s phone, Campbell conceded he had no firm evidence to support his suspicions. He pointed to Associated Newspapers Ltd.’s Mail newspapers and Trinity Mirror Plc’s Mirror as having obtained stories that left he and his colleagues “scratching our heads saying, ‘How the hell did that get out?’”
Campbell said that, in light of the number of stories about Cherie Blair that were published, he accused her assistant Carole Caplin of leaking stories several times. Caplin has since been told her phone was hacked, he said. His testimony is the latest to suggest other newspaper groups were involved in the kind of illegality that led New York-based News Corp. to close the News of the World tabloid in July.
“The Mail has continuously refuted any allegations of phone hacking, or paying anyone else to hack phones,” Oliver Lloyd, a spokesman for the Daily Mail, said in a telephone interview.
Rupert Smith, a spokesman for Trinity, said all the company’s journalists “work within the criminal and the PCC code of conduct.”
“With Cherie Blair in particular, she was turning up at places and the press was finding out about it,” Campbell said. “We were very concerned about how many stories about Cherie and Carole were getting out to various bits of the media.”
Campbell cited the Mirror’s 1999 scoop that Cherie Blair was pregnant as an example of a story he couldn’t figure out how the paper obtained.
Campbell said he saw invoices showing the Mirror paid Jonathon Rees, a private detective who was jailed for planting drugs on someone, to investigate him.
“I do not know the stories he was pursuing, so cannot judge either whether a ‘normal’ journalist would have been unable properly to investigate,” Campbell said in written evidence to the inquiry.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain today said he had hired Charlotte Harris, a lawyer at Mishcon de Reya, to represent him over allegations his computer was hacked. His office said in an e-mailed statement that he had spoken to police about the claims today.