The news on the News of the World phone-hackling scandal has been quiet of late, but an update in the Guardian last night had it that a private investigator named Jonathan Rees, charged with illegally obtaining phone messages for a whole slew of politicians and public figures, allegedly included Kate Middleton and advisors to Tony Blair in his list of victims. Blair was the sitting prime minister at the time of the alleged hack.
The disclosure came from "close associates of Rees" that in 2004 Middleton had been a target of his surveillance. In addition, the associates told reporter Nick Davies, Rees targeted then-home secretary Jack Straw, trade secretary Peter Mandelson, and Blair's media adviser, Alastair Campbell. Reese, Davies reported in a separate story, was a freemason who used his connections to obtain information that he would sell up and down Fleet Street.
Rees worked freelance for the Mirror Group and the News of the World from the mid 1990s. His agency was earning up to £150,000 a year from the News of the World alone. In 1999, he was arrested and sentenced to seven years for conspiring to plant cocaine on a woman so that her husband would get custody of their children.
After his release in May 2004, the News of the World continued to hire him under the editorship of Andy Coulson, who went on to become David Cameron's media adviser. Rees's targets during this period included Prince William's then girlfriend, Kate Middleton.
Today, Labor MP Tom Watson, who yesterday warned of a "cover-up" in the investigation into Rees, took the Metropolitan police to task in his own Guardian column. "It is extraordinary that the alleged plot to target a sitting prime minister was not immediately investigated. I can't think of a single country where this would be the case. Since getting on the trail of the hacking scandal, I've had to pinch myself to check I haven't landed in a John Le Carré novel."
The case has been slow to take shape throughout its duration. As the Wire pointed out last month, "Critics say the investigation has taken so long because of the outsized influence of Rupert Murdoch, who owns several British newspapers including NOTW, on the British government." But Murdoch will have to compete for influence with higher and higher-powered politicians. Now that Mandelson has been named as a Rees target, the one-time trade secretary today became the highest-ranked politician yet to personally pressure the police into deepening the investigation. His involvement is "expected to be followed by other former senior cabinet ministers," the Guardian reported. Things are heating up.