Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve fears Murdoch company may have hacked his phone

'A mass spy operation against politicians is not acceptable,' Former attorney general Dominic Grieve told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston

The former Tory minister Dominic Grieve fears his voicemails may have been improperly accessed, that his phone was hacked, by News Group Newspapers, when he was attorney general.

Mr Grieve told me in an interview that he may take legal action against the newspaper publisher, which was at the time controlled by Rupert Murdoch. He said "yes" when I asked him whether he was considering going to court.

"I intend to contact News International and inquire of them what this was all about and point out to them what I think it was about," he said.

He learned about the alleged interference with his voicemails from a call log obtained from News Group by lawyers acting for Chris Huhne, a former Lib Dem minister who has recently settled a phone hacking case with the publisher of the Sun, Sunday Times, the Times and the defunct News of the World. A series of MPs and ex ministers are still suing News Group.

Mr Grieve said: "Newspapers do not have the right to spy by unlawful means on anybody. And certainly a mass spy operation against politicians is not acceptable."

Credit: ITV News

Grieve has learned from published court documents that there were a series of calls to his mobile number between May 14, 2010 and May 21, 2011.

The calls originated from what was then the Wapping headquarters of News Group Newspapers. In the court documents, the numbers are referred to as being associated with the News Group "hub" phone.

Grieve said to me that these were the "most extraordinary series of phone calls which appear to me to have absolutely no legitimate justification", partly because he had "zero contact" with anyone from the organisation.

He has no memory of speaking on the phone to anyone from News Group at the time - whether a journalist or an executive.

"My understanding is that the pattern is suggestive of calls being made to ascertain whether I'm answering and then calls being made to potentially access my voicemail," he said.

Grieve added it was rare for journalists from any newspaper to contact him in any case, because they knew that as the government's senior legal adviser he was unable to speak to them.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

Voicemail interception is when a hacker listens to phone messages without the permission of the phone owner. It was the scandal which destroyed the News of the World - whose royal editor Clive Goodman was convicted of hacking in 2006.

In 2011, the Guardian made the shocking disclosure that the News of the World had attempted to access the mobile phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and it emerged that hacking had occurred on what some called an industrial scale.

The former editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson, who was also David Cameron's director of communications in the 2010 government, was jailed in 2014.

If the call data is suggestive of phone hacking, what would News Group have wanted to learn from his voicemails?

"It's possible" Grieve said, "that they thought there was some extraordinary story that might emerge by accessing my voicemail.

"But it seems rather more likely that they were interested in what was going on within government. So that this was in fact a pattern of behaviour of trying to extract information that might be potentially of commercial interest to them," he added.

Credit: ITV News

What might that "potentially" useful information have been?

"The Attorney General is kept informed by the Crown Prosecution Service of all high profile issues and investigations and prosecutions that may take place," Grieve said.

"I was aware that there was an inquiry taking place [into phone hacking] and that there was the possibility of prosecutions".

Grieve said: "I do find it quite interesting the first phone call is on the 14th of May. It's almost immediately after my appointment [as attorney general]. It's almost as if somebody had decided 'let's check this is still his telephone'."

A spokesperson for NGN said: "There is no evidence of phone hacking in Mr Grieve's case. He has had sight of billing data which shows records of calls to Mr Grieve's mobile phone from a large media organisation.

"There is nothing unusual about journalists contacting a politician and this is not evidence of voicemail interception."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…