By Ian Taylor
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Hacking away at the truth

This article is over 10 years, 10 months old
The dam has burst over revelations of phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News Group. Fresh revelations tumble daily from the High Court.
Issue 356

On just two days in mid-February we learned of a witness statement, previously withheld by police, that suggests an unknown number of News of the World (NoW) journalists used a private investigator to hack into celebrities’ phones. We also learned that the Metropolitan Police held evidence of hacking that it repeatedly claimed did not exist and that Scotland Yard had uncovered new evidence (don’t laugh) of illegal activity at the NoW.

Lawyers for former private investigator Glenn Mulcaire told the High Court that an unspecified number of journalists at the NoW were party to hacking. Mulcaire said he provided the results to the news desk, though he could not remember to whom. This contradicted claims made by company executives since the scandal first came to light in 2006 that only Mulcaire and a single journalist, Clive Goodman, were responsible. Both were jailed in 2007.

It was Mulcaire who, in January, identified a second journalist – NoW assistant editor Ian Edmondson – as having instructed him to intercept voicemails.

A day earlier, we heard the Met had handed over evidence it twice claimed did not exist in a High Court case brought by actress Sienna Miller’s stepmother, Kelly Hoppen, who claims NoW journalist Dan Evans tried to hack into her voicemail in June 2009. Hoppen was a friend of footballer Sol Campbell and film director Guy Ritchie.

The Hoppen case suggests a pattern of behaviour that continued after the initial exposure of phone hacking. Indeed, it undermines the testimony of News Group executives who assured a committee of MPs that the hacking was the work of a single “rogue reporter” at precisely the moment Evans was attempting to access Hoppen’s messages.

The Met’s excuse for its delay in producing evidence was that the material was “chaotic” and “indecipherable” – which begs the question, why was it necessary to black out most of the notes? Evans’s lawyers argued that the reporter had called Hoppen accidentally, that Evans remembered nothing, that his phone keys stuck and that he had made a single “rogue call”.

On the same day, Scotland Yard uncovered “new evidence” that former Sky football commentator Andy Gray’s phone had been hacked by the NoW. Gray is suing News Group, providing an interesting backstory to his sacking by sister company Sky Sports over leaked disclosures of rampant sexism

The cases stem from an earlier payout of £1 million by the Murdoch papers to gag victims of hacking, notably a £700,000 payment to professional footballers’ association chief executive Gordon Taylor.

In January, the accelerating rate of disclosures led David Cameron’s director of communications Andy Coulson to resign. Coulson had been deputy editor and then editor at the NoW until the Guardian revelations prompted his departure. He continues to plead ignorance – a claim that astonishes anyone with the smallest knowledge of how a newsroom works. Coulson insisted as much in court when called as a witness by Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan, himself the victim of a NoW vendetta.

The affair is clearly damaging to Murdoch. It also hurts Cameron – and not just because he employed Coulson – by skewing his relationship with Murdoch when the media baron wants government approval for a buy-out of satellite broadcaster BSkyB. This is already complicated by Cameron’s relationship with the Lib Dems, especially since the prime minister relieved Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable of responsibility for the BSkyB decision after the latter let slip he had “declared war” on Murdoch.

The scandal also threatens to shine a light on the relatively cosy way the police and some tabloid journalists work hand in hand. Scotland Yard stands accused of cutting short its investigation when evidence first came to light in 2006 and serially withholding information since. The New York Times quoted unnamed detectives last September who blamed the Yard’s relations with the NoW for hampering inquiries.

The phone hacking scandal thoroughly reflects the tawdry values of the tabloid press and those who own and run it in their class interests.

And it seems that neither the police nor the government are capable of holding Murdoch’s arrogant media empire to account, or even to enforce the laws they tell the rest of us to obey.

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