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MP claims NotW sleuths targeted royals, politicians, Blair

Kate Middleton's privacy penetrated, claims paper

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Private detectives working for the News of the World targeted Tony Blair, the royal family and senior politicians, including a former Home Secretary, an MP claimed in the House of Commons Wednesday.

Meanwhile, quoting "close associates" of Jonathan Rees, a private investigator who worked for the tabloid around 2005, the Guardian newspaper claimed that several specific royals had had their banks accounts hacked into, as had Kate Middleton while she was Prince William's girlfriend.

The paper also accuses Rees of spying on other extremely high-profile individuals, including Tony Blair; former home secretary Jack Straw; the Duke and Duchess of Kent; and John Yates, the Scotland Yard assistant commissioner who was placed in charge of a phone-hacking inquiry around this time.

The MP, Tom Watson, said that Scotland Yard has evidence against the investigator but is not acting on it because it falls outside the scope of its current investigation, Operation Weeting, which is focused on phone hacking. Watson raised the allegations against Rees in a question to the prime minister on Wednesday (extract below) and later in a question to the home secretary, Theresa May. In both cases the senior ministers declined to answer the questions, citing an ongoing police inquiry.

As the prime minister has previously said, the hacking inquiry should go where the evidence takes it. The Metropolitan Police are in possession of paperwork detailing the dealings of criminal private investigator Jonathan Rees. It strongly suggests that, on behalf of News International, he was illegally targeting members of the royal family, senior politicians and high-level terrorist informers, yet the head of Operation Weeting has recently written to me to explain that this evidence may be outside the inquiry's terms of reference. Prime minister, I believe powerful forces are involved in a cover-up; please tell me what you intend to do to make sure that that does not happen.

Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Kent, also allegedly had their bank accounts penetrated by Rees. The private investigator allegedly hired a specialist computer hacker to steal information about British intelligence agents who had infiltrated the IRA, according to the Guardian, which further alleges that Rees and his associates had broken into the home of celebrity targets to steal confidential papers. The paper said social engineering involving phoning up phone firms and utilities while posing as targets in order to extract confidential data also made up part of the mix.

Rees was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to seven years behind bars for planting cocaine on a woman. Earlier this year he was cleared of the murder of Daniel Morgan, who died from axe wounds to the head in a pub car park on 10 March, 1987. After the trial it emerged that Rees had worked for a firm established by Morgan, called Southern Investigations, for a number of media clients.

The Daily Telegraph reports that upon his release from prison on the cocaine fit-up charge in 2004, Rees was employed by The News of the World at the time the paper was edited by Andy Coulson, who resigned after the phone-hacking scandal first broke and went on to become David Cameron's media adviser. Coulson resigned in 2007 after the NotW's royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, and another private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed for hacking into the voicemail message of members of the royal household.

It has since emerged – through a serious of private lawsuits brought by actress Sienna Miller, football players' union boss Gordon Taylor and others – that wrongdoing at the paper was widespread. Police were obliged to re-open an inquiry earlier this year, amid much criticism that the original probe had been limited to one or two scapegoats, and under pressure from a dogged investigation led by The Guardian. Former NotW assistant editor Ian Edmondson, who was suspended by News International earlier this year, chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, and former news editor James Weatherup have each been arrested and questions by police over allegations of conspiring to intercept voicemail messages as part of the renewed police inquiry. All three have been released on police bail pending further inquiries.

Rees worked freelance for both the Mirror Group and the News of the World from the mid 1990s, The Guardian adds.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: "Since January 2011 the Metropolitan Police has received a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy which fall outside the remit of Operation Weeting. These allegations are currently being considered."

A spokesman for News International, which publishes the News of the World, told the Telegraph that Rees and Southern Investigations had worked for a "whole variety of newspaper groups".

"With regards to Tom Watson's specific allegations, we believe these are wholly inaccurate," he said. "The Met Police, with whom we are co-operating fully in Operation Weeting, have not asked us for any information regarding Jonathan Rees." ®

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