When I went to China on a private visit in 2008, Helen Clark sent me a text message telling me on no account to leave my cellphone or computer unattended. Over the last few years I noticed baskets in Ministers’ offices for visitors and officials to deposit their cellphones before they went in to see the Minister. A fascinating tale of systematic phone hacking unfolding in Britain indicates that Helen and her Ministers may have had reason to be careful.
The Murdoch tabloid News of the World systematically invaded the lives of princes, politicians, pop-stars, and subsequent lawsuits have revealed an unhealthy relationship between press, police and politicians of the right. Andy Coulson resigned as editor of News of the World when the story first broke, became David Cameron’s comms adviser, and has now resigned from that position as more was revealed. Evasion, criminality and cover-up are all involved. Guy Rundle writes it up at crikey.com.au here; I’ve quoted it in full as its a good summary.
The flat feet of the Plod crept a little closer to the centre of News Corp in the UK this week, as two employees from News of the World were arrested by police, as a renewed investigation into the News Corp’s phone-hacking scandal gathered pace.
Former assistant editor Ian Edmondson and current chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck turned themselves in to police two days ago. Their homes and offices were then searched.
The byzantinely complex hacking scandal began in 2005, when royal reporter Clive Goodman published breathless exclusives based on “contacts” about Prince William getting free use of a TV editing suite. When Wills tried to work out the contact, the tech-savvy TV producer involved realised his phone had been hacked.
Further investigations led to Goodman being charged and ultimately jailed for phone hacking, together with Glenn Mulcaire, a detective-cum-fixer who did the actual hacking.
Goodman said he acted alone, and News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned for having missed “a rotten egg” — and immediately became comms director for David Cameron.
No one believed that Goodman and Mulcaire were a rogue pair for a second, but it took three more years before The Guardian was able to reveal that the scale of hacking was much broader.
The police had claimed publicly that only nine phones had been hacked. It became clear that the police knew of far more hacked numbers, and had neither investigated them, nor passed info on to the pollies and celebs hacked.
The process was about more than getting hold of Sienna Miller’s partying plans — they hacked into the phones of people such as the parents of Madeleine McCann, whose celebrity came about through personal tragedy.
The Guardian reports revealed that News Corp, while claiming that the incidents were the work of rogue elements, had been making confidential out-of-court settlements with dozens of people who had been hacked — and even The Guardian piked on revealing that News had authorised a payment as early as 2008.
The police continued to refuse to re-open the investigation and denied there was additional evidence. Then, a separate investigation by The New York Times turfed up Sean Hoare, a former News of the World gun showbiz writer wrecked by drink and drugs, who claimed Coulson and the whole editorial staff had detailed knowledge of the hacking.
These revelations caused the opening of a parliamentary select committee into the matter, and finally a new police inquiry. Cops always have close relations with tabloids; with News of the World (and News) they were near-conjoined. Before the re-opening of the police inquiry, the head of the first inquiry had made his excuses and left to become a News Corp columnist! You couldn’t, as they say, make it up.
But now they couldn’t cover it up, either. The re-opened investigation found, surprise, that there were filing cabinets full of evidence of additional hacking. So too did News International, finding “thousands” of emails it could previously not locate — ahead of a possible open-ended subpoena on its offices.
Investigations by the legal teams of Sienna Miller, John Prescott, George Galloway and others had already found the evidence separately. And these confirming discovery put the police in an impossible position. They now had to actually do something, and this week’s arrests were the result.
Since several witnesses attest to Edmondson’s connection to Mulcaire, prior police knowledge of the level of conspiracy has become established.
This has put the most high-profile cop associated with the scandal in the spotlight — John Yates, whose plan B was to claim that earlier announcements that only “12” people had been hacked illegally was as a result of advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.
Yates claimed that they had passed on a narrow reading of the act concerned — that it is only illegal to listen to someone else’s messages if they have not yet heard them — thus limiting the scope of his remarks. The CPS has replied, saying they said no such thing, and have documents to back it up — which may implicate Yates in having misled parliament.
News Corp meanwhile aren’t taking any chances. Mysteriously, as the inquiry draws closer, James Murdoch has been appointed to head News US operations, rather than UK ones, taking him out of the country. Coulson (now resigned from No.10) is overseas.
In other words they made their excuses and left, leaving flame-haired former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks as the fall-girl, waiting to explain to a new inquiry what she meant when she told an old inquiry that News would pay police for information (a crime) “if it was in the public interest”, before Coulson more or less slapped his hand over her mouth.
There is lots more to come. There are many more to go. You couldn’t make it up. You don’t need to.
The Guardian broke the story and you can find more here. Hugh Grant also has a piece in the latest New Statesman sub-titled “the bugger bugged”; he taped a journalist who had sold him to the papers spilling the beans.