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Honours probe police hacked No10 computers




Honours probe police hacked No10 computers
Honours probe police hacked No10 computers



http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/01/21/npeers21.xml 

By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter and 
Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor
Sunday Telegraph
22/01/2007

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 
withheld.

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 
information.

More than 90 people have been questioned by Scotland Yard, including at 
least 14 under caution, as part of the investigation. No charges have 
been brought.

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 
re-interviewed.

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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