Jack McConnell is to sue News International following revelations he and his two children could have had their phones hacked, reports Ed Jacobs.
As Alex Salmond used an interview on the Today programme on Saturday to defend his dealings with Rupert Murdoch, Scotland’s Sunday Mail yesterday revealed former Labour first minister, Jack McConnell is to sue News International following revelations he and his two children could have had their phones hacked.
It has emerged that their numbers were found in the notebooks of the former News of the World investigator Gelnn Mulcare.
Issuing a short statement in response to the development, Lord McConnell explained:
“I would prefer not to comment on details, but I can confirm that we are speaking to solicitors.”
The news came as Mr Salmond took to the airwaves on Saturday to defend his links to the Murdoch empire following a torrid week which saw the publication of a wealth of emails by the Leveson Inquiry giving the impression of a first minister prepared to do Murdoch’s bidding over the BSkyB bid.
While David Cameron used his interview on the Andrew Marr programme this weekend to admit the relationship between politicians and the media had got “too close”, Salmond continued to argue he wanted to maintain a “good” relationship with Murdoch et al.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today on Saturday the SNP leader declared:
“I think Rupert Murdoch is one of the most substantial figures in journalism for the last 50 years so it would strike me as important to have a good and business-like relationship with him.
“He also, in BSkyB at least, employs 6,200 in Scotland.
“I want to have a good and professional relationship, I think that’s the best way to describe it.”
• Murdoch goes Salmond-fishing 3 Mar 2012
• Salmond courts Murdoch 28 Feb 2012
• The 25 questions over the SNP’s Murdoch links 19 Jul 2011
Contrasting the news of McConnell’s phone being hacked with Alex Salmond’s reluctance to admit any wrongdoing, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran has concluded the SNP leader doesn’t quite get what he is playing with.
In a strongly worded statement, Curran argued:
“People will be horrified to hear of this intrusion in to the lives of Jack and his family, and our thoughts are with them all. The news that they are victims of phone hacking is very distressing.
“This revelation intensifies pressure on Alex Salmond significantly, and he needs to make clear whether he knew of the police findings.
“But either way, it is unbelievable that after one first minister was hacked by Rupert Murdoch, his successor is still defending him today.
“I don’t think Alex Salmond actually understands what he is playing with here. Even after the sick revelations about hacking the phone of a missing teenager this summer, he became the only leader in Western Europe to invite Rupert Murdoch round for tea.
“The development makes Mr Salmond’s decision to act as an undercover lobbyist for the Murdochs look increasingly unwise.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour has now formally called for an inquiry into the conduct of one of Salmond’s special advisers in managing relations between his boss and the Murdochs.
In an email (page 80, pdf) dated February 11th 2011, News Corp’s director of public affairs (Europe), Frederic Michel, told James Murdoch:
“I met with Alex Salmond’s adviser today. He will call Hunt whenever we need him to.”
It has since emerged the adviser in question was Geoff Aberdein.
In writing to the Scottish government’s permanent secretary, Sir Peter Houdson, to investigate whether Abderdein had breached the Scottish Ministerial Code (pdf), Labour’s chief whip at Holyrood, James Kelly, pointedly observed:
“It is difficult to see the difference between the case of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s adviser Adam Smith who quit and Alex Salmond’s adviser, Geoff Aberdein, who hasn’t.
“In his resignation statement Smith said he had exceeded his boss’s authority with his claims to the Murdochs so he quit. In evidence to Leveson, it was heard that Aberdein told the Murdochs Salmond would lobby the UK government on the Murdochs’ behalf whenever they wanted him to. Salmond denied that.
“If the first minister is to be believed that means Aberdein exceeded his authority yet he hasn’t resigned.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government responded:
“Contact between Mr Aberdein and News Corp representatives has been within the Special Adviser Code of Conduct – we will respond to the letter once it has been received.”
Arguing, meanwhile, that the Murdochs were simply playing with Alex Salmond, the political columnist Iain MacWhirter this weekend noted in the Sunday Herald:
“When Alex Salmond pleads that his lobbying on behalf of Rupert Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB was all about ‘Scottish jobs’, he was guilty either of astonishing naivety, or breathtaking cynicism. Of course, it wasn’t about jobs, at least not principally. Effectively, it was about helping Murdoch to gain ever greater power over British public life, and Salmond knew this perfectly well.
“His own SNP MPs in Westminster have been vehemently opposed to the BSkyB bid on precisely these grounds. Yet, behind the scenes, here was their leader doing Rupert’s bidding, offering to push the Murdoch line to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt (although the crucial phone call never took place).
“No deal was struck about The Sun supporting the SNP at the last election – again, at this level you don’t actually do deals. It’s all about tacit understandings. Murdoch saw Salmond’s flaw the moment he met him: his vanity. By bigging him up in tweets and by teasing him with the odd positive article in The Sun, he played the first minister for a fool – as Labour’s Scottish leader, Johann Lamont, put it best at First Minister’s Questions.
“He was suckered into compromising himself. Lured into the Murdoch web and then wrapped in incriminating emails.
“I don’t actually believe that Murdoch had it in for Salmond or wanted to destroy his integrity. It’s not entirely clear why he wanted the FM’s backing. Salmond’s support might even have been counterproductive, given that UK ministers regard him as a devious and unreliable separatist.
“Murdoch was probably just playing with him, like he plays with politicians in Westminster. Enjoying the dance, wondering just how far they will go to abase themselves.”