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If we cannot rely on the police to profect us, who can we rely on? Serious questions must be answered; Newcastle East MP Nick Brown found himself the target of phone hacking as a result of his friendship with Gordon Brown. He tells ADRIAN PEARSON why he believes new privacy laws are needed even as the Murdoch empire crumbles.

Byline: ADRIAN PEARSON

LIKE everyone else, I have been shocked by the extent and the severity of the revelations about criminal wrong doing at News International.

The allegations that the Dowler family and the relatives of victims of the London bombings had their phones hacked have highlighted the extent of the unethical behaviour at the News of the World.

There are serious questions to be answered also by the Metropolitan Police, not least why Scotland Yard did not carry out a full inquiry when full details started to come into the public domain in 2009.

It also remains to be established as to why links between senior police officers at the Metropolitan Police, and senior management at News International were so close, and why police officers were being paid by inquiry agents working in turn for newspapers.

If we cannot rely on the police to protect us, who can we rely on? The implications of this are very serious. The reputation of the Metropolitan Police is at stake.

By April this year only 36 people had been informed by the police that they might have been victims of News of the World operations. The Met are now apparently working through a list of more than 3,000 names, including many prominent figures in the public life of our country.

In 1996 I picked up my landline telephone, and heard the last conversation, that I had just concluded, played back to me. There cannot possibly be an innocent explanation for this. I was told at the time by British Telecom that the line showed every sign of having been intercepted, but we never found out who'd done it.

Over the years, MPs have been warned about the misuse of scanners to intercept mobile phone calls. Prince Charles was famously the victim of this. A Northern Ireland Minister fell victim to the same sort of thing. He inquired, on his mobile phone, "Has the cow gone yet?" She hadn't, and the subsequent press coverage didn't help his ministerial career.

Later, MPs were being warned about direct access to our voicemails if we hadn't set a protection code. We now know that this was being practiced on an industrial scale.

There are a whole separate set of questions about access to confidential information, including our telephone numbers, and the PIN code that goes with them.

Private detective agencies, like Glenn Lawson of Abbey Investigations, a Tyneside based firm, are able to obtain information about you that you might think and hope was confidential. Back in the early 2000s the going rate for such information was just pounds 20 a hit.

Corrupt serving police officers and corrupt local government officers would look up details on the police and Department of Social Security, as it was then, databases on request and sell it.

The sort of people who purchase this information are credit agencies, insurance companies, firms of solicitors, finance companies and media organisations. Of course they all say that the information has to be obtained by legitimate means, but it almost certainly isn't.

How can anyone have confidence that their medical records, for example, are securely held when information from Government databases can be bought and sold so easily? I know a little bit about this because Glenn Lawson, the Tyneside private detective, commissioned a database search on me, on behalf of clients that he won't name.

There were three MPs, including me, on a long list of people on whom information was sought. They drew a complete blank on the three MPs, but that still doesn't make it right. The police tried very hard to bring the case to trial, and didn't succeed because of rulings made by the judge.

If the law in this area doesn't work it will have to be reformed. I share the general public's anger at the failure of some sections of the police and the judiciary to protect us from this sort of thing.

As far as News International is concerned, and it is not just them, the allegations have had an immediate impact. The News of the World has closed and senior figures at News International have resigned.

NewsCorp have dropped their bid for the 61% of BSkyB that Rupert Murdoch does not already own.

The most serious political impact is yet to be seen. In 2007 David Cameron hired Andy Coulson, the former editor of the New of the World, as his press secretary.

Mr Coulson left Downing Street in January, but has now been arrested following the new wave of revelations.

The Prime Minister has always denied knowing that Mr Coulson was so heavily implicated, but there are questions to be answered over what Mr Cameron knew and when. At the very least there are doubts about the Prime Minister's judgement.

Every day in the past two weeks has brought new revelations, and today Parliament is sitting for an extra day as we attempt to get a grip on the scandal.

We must all accept that in the past we as politicians have not done enough to face up to all of this, especially the need to make sure the public are adequately protected.

We must now collectively accept our responsibilities and bring in the fundamental reforms that are necessary to put this right, right across the piece.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 20, 2011
Words:897
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