By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter and
Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
Detectives in the cash-for-honours inquiry were forced to "hack" into
Downing Street computers in the search for evidence, The Sunday
Telegraph has discovered.
Police used computer experts to obtain confidential material, and are
also believed to have approached Number 10's internet suppliers to gain
access to government email records.
Scotland Yard became suspicious that potentially vital information was
being withheld after it twice asked Downing Street for all emails,
letters and other material relating to the system of awarding peerages.
Concerns grew among officers that there had been a cover-up.
They were deeply frustrated by the "very slim" file of documents that
was handed over and decided to obtain further evidence by their own
devices, senior sources close to the inquiry have revealed.
It is understood that John Yates, the Metropolitan Police assistant
commissioner leading the investigation, authorised officers to use all
lawful and legitimate means to discover whether information was being
The revelation will intensify the deep divisions between Scotland Yard
and Downing Street over the investigation. Detectives are angry at what
they perceive as attempts to block the inquiry. Labour officials have
accused officers of being "theatrical" over the dawn arrest on Friday of
a senior government aide by four officers at her home.
The computer "hacking" at No 10 came before Ruth Turner, one of Tony
Blair's closest advisers, was arrested and questioned for several hours
in relation to the alleged abuse of the honours system.
Miss Turner, 36, who denies acting illegally, is the fourth person to be
arrested during the 10-month investigation but the first to be held for
allegedly perverting the course of justice, which carries a maximum
penalty of life imprisonment.
Legal experts say that high-level authorisation similar to the granting
of a search warrant is needed for remote accessing of computers. Neither
Scotland Yard nor the Home Office would confirm that such permission had
been given in the cash-for-honours case, but there is no suggestion that
any officer acted illegally or improperly.
The investigators did not have to notify No 10 if they were "hacking"
into its system. One legal expert said: "In some cases, a senior officer
can give permission. In other cases, you might need the authorisation of
an independent commissioner, who is usually a retired judge appointed by
the Home Office."
Computers belonging to senior Labour officials and aides have also been
seized during the inquiry. The police have used electronic experts to
obtain material from the files of two of the other people arrested, Lord
Levy, Labour's senior fund-raiser, and Sir Chistopher Evans, the wealthy
Labour donor. There is no suggestion that either man withheld
More than 90 people have been questioned by Scotland Yard, including at
least 14 under caution, as part of the investigation. No charges have
Senior officers are expected to meet officials from the Crown
Prosecution Service early this week to discuss the interview with Miss
Turner and to decide on the next stage of the inquiry.
More senior officials and aides are likely to be questioned over
allegations of a cover-up. If significant new evidence emerges, officers
will want to speak again with Mr Blair, who was first interviewed last
month. But any decision to question him further would not be taken
lightly. Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, may also be
News of inquiries into an alleged Downing Street cover-up has drawn
comparisons with the Watergate scandal, which led to President Richard
Nixons 1974 resignation.
One Westminster source said police inquiries seemed to have made a
recent breakthrough. "Quite clearly, in the past few days, the police
have found something quite significant, possibly a file dump of some
kind," said the source.
"They have been using specific software of the type they use in complex
fraud cases." Relations between Scotland Yard and Downing Street are an
all-time low. Serving and former officers responded to criticisms of the
police made on Friday by David Blunkett, the former home secretary, and
Lord Puttnam, who has worked with Miss Turner.
Roy Ramm, a retired Met commander, said: "No one is above the law. To
arrest Ruth Turner at Downing Street in the glare of the press would
have been theatrical and questionable. Her discreet arrest at home was,
by contrast, professional and routine."
Sir Chris Fox, the former president of the Association of Chief Police
Officers, said: "Hearing David Blunkett talk about this being theatrical
is nonsense and worrying. It seems that some Labour politicians are
trying to coerce a police inquiry."
Lord Thomas of Gresford, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman,
said: "Once the police had formed a reasonable suspicion of [Miss
Turner] perverting the course of justice, as they must have, it was
their duty to act swiftly and professionally to preserve any evidence."
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