'Like the Stasi', Tom Watson says of NotW surveillance

Nov 9, 2011

'I can only assume they were trying to dig up dirt – which has profound questions for our democracy'

THE LABOUR MP Tom Watson, who has led the campaign in Westminster to bring the Murdochs to book for the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, says he is considering his options after learning that the now defunct Sunday tabloid paid a private detective to follow him.

"It's the sort of thing you read about in Cold War novels," Watson told BBC Radio 5 yesterday. "They sound more like the Stasi than a free news organisation."

The Labour MP was on a list of 153 people targeted by private eye Derek Webb between 2003 and 2011 and obtained by BBC Newsnight.

Watson's name stands out because in 2009, when he was put under surveillance by Webb, he was - as he admitted to Michael Crick of Channel 4 News last night - a relatively unknown backbench MP.

Most of the names were high-profile politicians, sportsmen and other celebrities. They include Prince William, Angelina Jolie, David Miliband, Gary Lineker, Nigella Lawson, Prince Harry's former girlfriend Chelsy Davy and the parents of Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe.

Watson was followed for five days during the 2009 Labour Party conference in Brighton, just 13 days after he and fellow members of the Commons culture committee had grilled the then boss of News International, Les Hinton.

"I can only assume that this was done to try to dig up dirt, to try to discredit me as a member of that committee," said Watson. "And I think that has profound questions for our democracy."

The BBC has been keen to stress that, unlike phone tapping, the practice is not illegal. However, as The Daily Telegraph reports, "The industrial scale on which the covert surveillance was carried out raises further ethical questions about the newspaper's conduct in light of the phone hacking scandal".

The other 152 on the list will be watching to see what Tom Watson makes of the Derek Webb revelation when James Murdoch appears before the culture committee tomorrow.

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