Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fox Hunting For Rupert The Bare

Rupert Murdoch's FOX News channel had a 'black ops' department which may have illegally hacked private telephone records, a former executive for the station has alleged. Dan Cooper, who helped to launch FOX News as managing editor in 1996, said that a 'brain room' carried out 'counter intelligence' on the channel's enemies from its New York headquarters. Just like the CIA only, you know, with a bigger budget. He was allegedly 'threatened' after it was discovered that he had spoken to a reporter, he claimed. Another former senior executive - this one anonymous - said the channel ran 'a spying network' on staff, reading their e-mails and making them 'feel they were being watched.' The channel, which had come under pressure amid allegations that outlets owned by Murdoch may have attempted to hack the voicemail messages of victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist atrocities, firmly denies all the allegations. Cooper, who left FOX News soon after its launch, provided a quote for a 1997 article about Roger Ailes, FOX News's president, by the journalist David Brock in New York magazine. The quote was not going to be attributed to him, but he alleges that before the article was published, Cooper's agent received a telephone call from Ailes threatening to withdraw FOX's business from all his clients. 'There are only two possible ways Ailes found out,' Cooper suggests. 'Either Brock told him or they got hold of Brock's phone records and saw I spoke to him.' He first alleged that the records were obtained by researchers in the 'brain room' in 2005 in an article on his website about the launch of the channel. 'Most people thought it was simply the research department of FOX News,' he wrote. 'I knew it also housed a counter intelligence and black ops office. So accessing phone records was easy pie.' Cooper said this week that he helped to design the high-security unit. 'It was staffed by fifteen researchers and had a guard at the door. No one working there would engage in conversation.' Cooper said he was 'willing to consider the possibility' that Brock named him, but added: 'I assume he operates under journalistic ethics and protected a confidential source. Brock told me at the time that Ailes told him he would "never work again" if he wrote the article.' Brock now runs Media Matters, a Left-leaning American media watchdog. A spokesman for the group said: 'He declines to comment.' Another former FOX News senior executive, who did not wish to be named, said that staff were forced to operate under conditions reminiscent of 'Russia at the height of the Soviet era. There is a paranoid atmosphere and they feel they are being watched,' said the former executive. 'I have no doubt they are spying on e-mails to ensure no one is leaking to outside media. There is a unit of spies that reports up to the boss about who was talking to whom. A lot of people are scared that they're going to get sidelined or even that they're going to get killed.' A FOX News spokesman said: 'Each of these allegations is completely false. Dan Cooper was terminated six weeks after the launch of the FOX News Channel in 1996 and has peddled these lies for the past fifteen years.' The FBI is reported to be investigating allegations that journalists on the News of the World tried to hack 11 September victims’ voicemail. Both former FOX News executives said they thought Ailes would never have let his reporters do likewise.

Labour have seized on remarks by the lack of culture secretary as an 'admission' that David Cameron had discussed the BSkyB takeover bid with News International. Cameron faced repeated questions on the issue earlier and told MPs he'd had no 'inappropriate conversations.' However, the vile and odious rascal Hunt said later that 'the discussions the prime minister had on the BSkyB deal were irrelevant.' Labour's Ivan Lewis said that Cameron had previously 'refused point blank' to confirm conversations had taken place. 'The prime minister now has far more questions to answer,' he told the BBC. The vile and odious rascal Hunt's aides later claimed that he had been talking about discussions in general - rather than any specific discussions with News International executives. Everybody else claimed that he had been talking out of his arsehole. As usual. News Corporation's bid for BSkyB - since withdrawn amid calls from all political parties in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal - was controversial. And wrong. It had been thought that it was on track to be waived through by the vile and odious rascal Hunt, after he said that he was 'minded' to accept assurances that Sky News would be spun off as a separate company - rather than refer the bid to the Competition Commission. Several Labour MPs attempted to pin Cameron down on what, if anything, he had discussed with News International executives such as well known Crystal Tipps-lookalike Rebekah Brooks about the deal. During repeated questions he did not deny outright ever mentioning the bid - but insisted he had had no 'inappropriate' conversations about it. Which led to further questions on the definition of what it an 'appropriate' conversation and what is not. One MP even asked if Cameron had mentioned the word 'BSkyB' to Mrs Brooks or Rupert or James Murdoch - which Mr Cameron greeted with an exasperated sigh and the comment 'I have.' He insisted that he had taken himself out of the decision-making process entirely - and that his Labour predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had enjoyed a closer relationship with the Murdoch empire than him. But in a later debate, the vile and odious rascal Hunt appeared to confirm that conversations had taken place, telling MPs: 'The discussions the prime minister had on the BSkyB deal were irrelevant. They were irrelevant because the person who had the responsibility, the person who was making this decision was myself. I was making it on my own. This was not a matter of collective responsibility, this was a quasi-judicial process.' Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw noted it was 'the first occasion in six hours of debate where there has been any admission the prime minister had any discussion whatsoever about BSkyB.' But Lewis said that the vile and odious rascal Hunt's comments were important - because the decision had been meant to be in his hands alone, free of any influence from the prime minister, and entirely transparent. He said Cameron should publish the dates and nature of any conversations which did take place: 'And then we can make a judgement about whether they influenced Jeremy Hunt's decision-making process.' The vile and odious rascal Hunt, he continued 'did not refer this matter for an independent inquiry to the Competition Commission which is what we wanted all along - he hung on to the decision making process in quite an unusual way - and that's why, throughout this process, people have questioned its transparency and independence. What he has said tonight just fuels that suspicion and concern that it hasn't been independent at all.' He questioned how the vile and odious rascal Hunt would know about the prime minister's conversations - if they had 'never spoken' about the issue. A spokeswoman for the vile and odious rascal Hunt told the BBC that he was 'not specifically' referring to 'discussions with Rebecca [sic] Brooks or other News Corp executives,' but had included 'comments the prime minister had made in public,' suggesting that News Corp should abandon the bid. The spokeswoman said that the vile and odious rascal Hunt had 'no information' about 'any discussions the prime minister had on the issue.' Or didn't have. as the case may be.

The full extent of the alleged cover-up at the News of the World could be closer to being disclosed after News International bowed to extreme pressure and lifted a gagging order which it had imposed on its lawyers. In the latest development in the phone hacking scandal, Rupert Murdoch's company agreed to release details of its dealings with Harbottle & Lewis, the lawyers who for four years held company e-mails containing details of alleged wrongdoing at the Sunday tabloid. Documents held by Harbottle & Lewis, who also act for some member of the Royal family, have been described as 'the smoking gun' which could prove that senior figures in Murdoch's empire were aware of hacking but either tried to cover it up or, at least, did nothing about it. Despite protests from MPs and pressure from the law firm itself, News International had initially refused to release Harbottle & Lewis from legal obligations of confidentiality to a client, meaning that the lawyers could not co-operate fully with police and parliamentary inquiries. Last night however the company relented and said that it would allow the lawyers to disclose at least 'some' of the information they hold to detectives and MPs. While the move could help to solve the mystery of the company's response to the scandal, it remained unclear how much information would be disclosed, and whether it would be put in the public domain. E-mails and other documents held by Harbottle & Lewis are at the heart of suspicions that NI executives knew for several years that criminal behaviour was more widespread at the newspaper than merely a lone 'rogue' reporter, but chose not to act. In 2007, following the jailing of Clive Goodman, an internal inquiry was ordered. It was overseen by Jon Chapman, NI's then-director of legal affairs and Daniel Cloke, the human resources director, who collected two thousand five hundred e-mails between journalists on the paper. Les Hinton, one of Murdoch's closest colleagues, who quit last week, is said to have supervised the process. Some of those e-mails were passed to Harbottle & Lewis, which was asked to examine them. The lawyers reported back that the e-mails did not appear to show that journalists on the paper's newsdesk were aware of phone hacking by Goodman or Glenn Mulcaire. Rebekah Brooks, Hinton, and other executives used the Harbottle & Lewis report to argue to MPs that Goodman had been a rogue reporter, a stance the stuck to until January of this year when further evidence came to light which appeared to cast doubt on this defence. Lord Macdonald of River Glaven (eee-aye eee-aye oh), a former director of public prosecutions who reviewed some of the e-mails for NI in May of this year, said that they contained 'blindingly obvious' evidence of criminality. NI claimed to have retrieved the e-mails from Harbottle & Lewis in April and finally passed some of them to police on 20 June. The firm has yet to explain the delay fully. But its full correspondence with the lawyers remained sealed. Some MPs believe that the law firm was asked to answer only very narrow questions about the e-mails, allowing the lawyers to give NI what appeared to be a clean bill of health over hacking and other crimes. The culture, media and sport committee this week pressed James Murdoch to reveal the precise instructions that were given to Harbottle & Lewis in 2007. On Wednesday morning, the firm told the committee that NI was still refusing to release it from its obligations, drawing criticism from both Conservative and Labour MPs. Cameron said that information held by Harbottle & Lewis should be given to the police and the forthcoming public inquiry into media standards. After those comments, News Corporation announced that it had authorised the law firm 'to answer questions from the Metropolitan Police Service and parliamentary select committees in respect of what they were asked to do.' A statement added that the company would 'co-operate fully with all relevant investigations and inquiries in the News of the World phone hacking case, police payments and all other related issues across News International, as well as conducting its own inquiries where appropriate.'

The police team investigating phone hacking has been boosted from forty five to sixty officers, Scotland Yard has said. Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers said the move came after a 'significant increase in the workload' over the past fortnight. Meanwhile, the investigation into alleged misconduct by newspapers may be spreading beyond News International. Police have asked for files of an earlier inquiry into the use of private investigators, the BBC has learned. According to BBC Radio 4's The Report, the files from Operation Motorman, which was run by the Information Commissioners Office in 2003, were requested three months ago. They contain four thousand requests from three hundred journalists and thirty one publications for confidential information from a private investigator, which in many cases had been obtained illegally. The investigation found the Daily Scum Mail had made the most requests, followed by the Sunday People and the Daily Mirra. The Daily Scum Mail said the information obtained may have been for reasons of public interest and Trinity Mirror Group said that its journalists worked within the law and the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct. On the hacking probe known as Operation Weeting, Akers said that there had been a 'surge of enquiries and requests for assistance from the public and solicitors. I have said all along that I would keep the resources under review and this has led to the increase. Similarly, if the demand decreases, I will release officers back to other duties.' The expansion in officer numbers comes after a Commons home affairs committee report praised Akers' decision that all potential victims of phone hacking by the News of the World should be contacted. But the MPs said they were 'alarmed' that only one hundred and seventy people had so far been informed and noted that 'up to twelve thousand eight hundred people may have been affected.' They warned that if the process dragged on it would 'seriously delay' the start of Lord Justice Leveson's public inquiry announced by Prime Minister David Cameron. After Akers' announcement, home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz said: 'This is excellent news. The extra resources will assist to help move things along much more quickly.' In other developments, Labour MP Nick Raynsford claimed that when Andy Coulson was still working at Downing Street, the cabinet secretary had been alerted to evidence of illegal phone hacking, covert surveillance and hostile media briefing against a senior government official - a claim the cabinet secretary denied. But the Cabinet Office later completely reversed its position, conceding that a meeting on the matter did take place last summer.

David Cameron has broadened the terms of the inquiry into the conduct of the media to include the BBC and social media. The prime minister was setting out the formal terms of reference of the inquiry to be led by Lord Justice Leveson. The inquiry has become something of a behemoth, leading Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat media spokesman, to assert that he could not see how it could be completed within its timetable of a year. Cameron also announced in the Commons that he would like to see politicians taken out of all future decisions on media takeovers, and the media regulator, currently Ofcom, given powers to intervene not just at the point of a takeover but also when a paper or media group developed a more dominant position. He gave details of a panel of advisers for Leveson including Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, Sir Paul Scott-Lee, the former chief constable of the West Midlands police, Lord Currie, the former Ofcom chairman, Elinor Goodman, the former political editor of Channel Four News, George Jones, the former political editor of the Daily Torygraph and Sir David Bell, the former chairman of the Financial Times. Cameron did not appoint a tabloid journalist, even though many of the issues apply to the redtops. The inquiry has been asked to make recommendations for 'a new, more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media and its independence including from the government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards.' The second part of the inquiry will look at the failures of the police investigation into unlawful conduct at News International, the extent of unlawful conduct at News International and other media organisations, the extent to which police received corrupt payments, and the extent of management failures at News International and other news organisations. Foster expressed concern that one motive for the extension of the terms of reference, judging by the remarks of Tory MPs, may be 'to clip the BBC's wings.' Leveson said: 'The inquiry must balance the desire for a robustly free press with the rights of the individual, while at the same time ensuring the critical relationships between the press, parliament, the government and the police are maintained. At the heart of this inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?' He confirmed hearings would be held in public and he is expected to call for the first tranche of evidence within weeks. 'I must emphasise that this inquiry cannot cut across or prejudice the ongoing criminal investigations or any subsequent prosecutions. It is for that reason that the specific questions identified in part two of the terms of reference almost inevitably cannot presently be pursued,' he said. Giving his most detailed thoughts so far on the future of media regulation, Cameron said media ownership rules could be changed to avoid any organisation holding too much sway. He said: 'We need competition policy properly enforced. We need a sensible look at the relevance of plurality and cross-media ownership. Above all we need to ensure that no one voice, not News Corporation, not the BBC, becomes too powerful. I think we should be frank: I think in this country sometimes the left overestimates the power of Murdoch, the right overdoes the left-leanings of the BBC. But both of them have got a point and never again should we let a media group get too powerful.' He said that changes should be considered so that politicians were removed from making decisions about media ownership. It should be considered whether the 'plurality test' should be a constant issue, rather than only arising when a takeover is considered. Leveson's inquiry should consider whether the size of a media organisation could be capped, Cameron added. 'While plurality is difficult to measure, especially in the modern Internet age, we shouldn't rule out the idea of limits and I think it is right the inquiry should look at this issue.' The idea of trying to define plurality numerically has been promoted by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, and the business secretary, Vince Cable. Politicians from 'governing parties eager to hold on to power' or 'opposition parties yearning to win power' should not duck issues of media regulation, Cameron added. He said parliament needed to proceed on a cross-party basis, otherwise each party would promise media outlets the 'lowest common denominator. If I say "independent regulation," there's a danger someone else will say "self-regulation" and so on,' he said. 'We could end up constantly competing with each other in a kind of regulatory arbitrage over who can be the softest and most appealing to newspapers, television stations and owners.' He said there had come a time in recent years when the income of the BBC was 'so outstripping that of independent television, there was a danger of BBC News becoming rather dominant.' Cameron also said he had asked the cabinet secretary to write to all permanent secretaries to ask them to review the way contacts between the media and their staff and other professional groups that work with their departments are regulated and recorded. 'We see there is a problem with the police and the media. We need, I think, to get ahead of there possibly being problems with other groups as well,' he said.

BSkyB could suffer from its association with News Corp if 'consumer disgust' does not die away, analysts have warned. Sky 'sources' allegedly indicated that only a tiny number of subscribers had cancelled because of the link to News Corp so far, but Tom Huxtable, managing director of brand communications agency Twenty Three Red, said that the company had already been affected on a corporate level - as reflected by the volatility of its share price - and now the focus was on how consumers would act. 'The big question is whether people will move away from Sky because they feel disgusted by the parent company,' he said. 'There's a definite trend of consumers not wanting to be associated with companies that reflect badly on them or don't reflect their values. However, the attraction for a vast part of its subscriber base is Sky Sports, and it's unlikely that many of them will switch. What's more likely is that those who haven't made their mind up yet could now opt for an alternative.' Chief executive of The Centre for Brand Analysis and chairman of Superbrands Stephen Cheliotis said that although damage so far had been 'relatively limited,' advertisers would be watching keenly. 'There will be a percentage of people who will change their behaviour, and a sizeable majority who won't - advertisers have to think about where their audience sits. It's too sweeping a move for them to say "let's not touch anything News Corp owns with a bargepole" - but at the same time, you can't say it's all been contained by the newspapers.' Cheliotis, whose firm ranks companies according to the power of their brand, said that he expected both News Corp and BSkyB to drop from their current positions. But Liberium Capital media analyst Ian Whittaker said neither advertisers nor subscribers had pulled back from the company, suggesting it was stable - although he noted that could change in the future. The 'worst-case scenario' would be if News Corp was forced to sell part or all of its thirty nine per cent holding in BSkyB. 'But for that to happen, Ofcom's decision would probably depend on whether criminal charges are brought, which could take a long time,' he said. 'As things stand at the moment, it doesn't look as though the BSkyB brand has been tarnished.'

Poor old Nick Clegg. While the TV news channels cleared their schedules for hours of live coverage of Tuesday's select committee hearings and Wednesday's Commons statement, on Thursday morning his press conference only got about twenty five minutes before both the BBC and Sky seemed to, simultaneously, get bored and cut away to other news stories. Clegg was still talking about the Eurozone crisis when we left him. As the image faded away the last words out of his mouth were thought to be, 'no, don't go, I've got some good stuff coming up about AV...'

Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers are set to lose exclusive access to British athletes ahead of the 2012 London Olympics after the phone hacking scandal that led to the News of the World's closure. Team 2012, the Visa-backed project supporting potential British Olympians, had signed up News International as its official partner. But Team 2012 has said in a statement that 'as a result of the closure of News of the World the contract can no longer be fulfilled as originally envisaged.' News International's remaining publications – the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times – would have been able to use the slogan 'Official Newspaper of Team 2012,' but Team 2012 says it is now looking for potential new media partners because they do not wish to be associated with News International.

David Cameron's decision to hire Andy Coulson as his communications chief 'dismayed' senior members of the Royal family and caused 'difficulties' in the Prime Minister's dealings with them, according to the Daily Torygraph. The appointment of the former editor of the News of the World was viewed by members of the Royal household as 'a mistake that would come back to haunt him.' One 'well-placed source' said that it was 'fair to assume' senior members of the Royal family had 'strong opinions' about the role of a man who had resigned after his staff hacked the phones of Princes William and Harry. 'Given that they were victims of phone hacking … it doesn't take a genius to work out that they would have found it a bit odd that the man who resigned over that ended up working in Downing Street,' the source allegedly added. Yesterday Buckingham Palace was forced to deny that the Royal family had tried to 'warn' Cameron against employing Coulson, following claims to that effect by the Labour MP Chris Bryant. But, royal 'sources' admitted to the Torygraph that 'jaws hit the floor' when Coulson's appointment was announced and his subsequent role within Downing Street 'did create some difficulties.' His presence by Cameron's side caused such tension that when the prime minister and the Duke of Cambridge travelled to Zurich last November to lobby - unsuccessfully - for England's 2018 World Cup bid, Coulson had to take evasive action to avoid meeting the Duke. One witness quoted by the newspaper described how Coulson 'performed a U-turn' when he realised he was heading straight for the Duke in the England party's hotel. A 'well-placed source' said: 'When the prime minister's spokesman has to steer clear of the second in line to the throne that is not a happy position to be in.' Another 'source' allegedly said there had been 'disquiet' and 'surprise' in the Royal household when Coulson was hired. Clive Goodman, the News of the World's former royal editor, was baned up in pokey in 2007 after he and the Glenn Mulcaire were convicted of intercepting voicemail messages of three Clarence House aides. Two years later a Commons committee was told by a senior policeman of evidence that the phones of Princes William and Harry were also hacked by the News of the World. Part of the reason for the Royal household's alarm at Coulson's hiring was that royal aides were, from the very beginning, 'aware that the potential scale of the phone hacking went beyond the three original victims' to members of the Royal family, a 'source' allegedly said. Chris Bryant, who was himself a victim of phone hacking, claimed yesterday that: 'Members of the Royal family were very troubled about [Coulson’s appointment] and there were certainly attempts to make sure that the Prime Minister understood that.'
Downing Street said any such claim was 'complete rubbish.' A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said: 'On no occasion did any official from Buckingham Palace raise concerns with Downing Street and indeed it is outrageous to suggest this.' Or, not as the case may be. 'Sources', the Torygraph alleged, said it was 'extremely unlikely' that the Queen herself would ever have discussed Coulson's appointment with Cameron during her weekly meetings with the prime minister.

A newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, criminal shenanigans, a controversial relationship with Scotland Yard detectives and a furious response from the House of Commons. It all took place four decades ago but details of an extraordinary sequence of events involving the great train robber Rockin' Ronnie Biggs, the Murdoch empire and the Met police have only just been released by the National Archives. It was the spring of 1970 and a young Murdoch was just settling in as the owner of the Sun and the News of the World. From Australia came news that another of his papers, the Melbourne Daily Mirror, had been contacted by a lawyer, supposedly acting for Biggs, who had been convicted for his - relatively minor - part in the 1963 great train robbery and jailed for thirty years stir before going over the wall of Wandsworth nick in 1965 and vanishing. Biggs wanted to sell his story, using the money to set up a 'trust fund' for his three children. To prove that the story was genuine, Biggs had obligingly appended a fingerprint and signature to each page of the manuscript. But how to check that the dabs were genuine? This is when, according to Metropolitan police files just released, Scotland Yard became involved. The police were contacted by the the Sun's news editor, Brian McConnell, and invited to a meeting with the paper's editor, Larry Lamb, who had 'in his possession a document regarding a crime of importance and wished to hand a copy to the assistant commissioner crime.' At the subsequent meeting at the Sun, Lamb handed the documents to Commander Wally Virgo. Which is, surely, the sort of name you'd expect for a seventies porn star rather than a member of the Met. 'He also pointed out that each page bore a fingerprint and a signature and wondered if the Yard could oblige by authenticating same,' according to the police report of the meeting. 'He went on to say that he realised some parts of the documents were libellous but, having taken legal advice, his newspaper would not publish anything detrimental to the police.' But what about catching Biggs, at the time one of the most wanted men in the world? 'Mr Virgo made it clear to the editor that it was his bounden duty to pass any information he might receive notifying the whereabouts of Biggs to police and this the editor said he would be happy to do. Mr Lamb emphasised throughout that he had no personal contact with either Biggs or any person who might be considered his agent.' The Yard obligingly checked out the seventy seven typeset pages. A Commander Peat identified the fingerprint as 'probably' those of Biggs although he thought it could have been taken from a cast or stamp of the original. Mr Frydd of the Forensic Science Laboratory was very sceptical about the signatures which he deduced were 'not in the least bit likely to have been made by Ronald Biggs.' He concluded they had 'certain possible female characteristics.' Advice was taken from the Met solicitor who reckoned that they could not stop publication and, if they tried, it could 'lead to unfavourable comment about the police.' Virgo was deputed to return the documents and confirm their authenticity and publication went ahead. Then came trouble from Australia. A furious commissioner of police in New South Wales, Norman Allan, rang the Yard late at night on 19 April, having learned of the imminent publication of the memoirs in Australia. 'He expressed amazement that New Scotland Yard had supported this newspaper venture and felt that it was holding both his force and ours up to ridicule,' according to the Met record of the call. 'He pointed out that, whilst police in both countries could not find Biggs, a solicitor had been able to receive from him his story with his fingerprint and signature. He felt that the police by confirming the authenticity of the fingerprint were in fact enabling Biggs to obtain further money to assist in his escape. He did not for a moment believe that any money from the story would be placed in a trust fund for Biggs's children.' The publication of the story caused outrage in Britain, too. Arthur Lewis, the Labour MP for West Ham North, asked the home secretary, James Callaghan, whether he had 'considered the information showing that a newspaper has paid either Ronald Biggs or his agents money in relation to the mail bag robbery, whether he will take action against the newspaper concerned for aiding and abetting a convicted criminal.' Allan suggested that the Murdoch papers were 'giving comfort and aid to an escaped prisoner.' The CID seemed stung by any suggestion that they had been slow off the mark in pursuing this latest lead in the hunt for Biggs: 'Police efforts to re-arrest Biggs are as intense now as ever they were. No effort is spared to achieve this object.' They concluded, however, that no action could be taken against the Sun. What Lamb and his colleagues were not to know was that Virgo actually came from the top end of the Yard's 'dodgy geezer' scale and was soon to become a big story himself. He had been receiving two thousand smackers a month – plus a Christmas bonus – in bribes from Soho pornographer, Big Jimmy Humphreys, who kept a meticulous note of all of his payments to bent coppers. Virgo was subsequently arrested, charged, jailed for twelve years, cleared on appeal because of a misdirection by the judge, and then died a few years later. 'I don't think [corrupt police] really thought of it in terms of corruption,' said Peter Scott, the jewel thief dubbed 'king of the cat burglars.' 'They just thought it was a perk.' Lamb, who gave the world the Page Three model, died in 2000 and McConnell, who was shot and wounded when he came between a kidnapper and Princess Anne in 1974, has also gone to the great newsroom in the skies. Biggs had further dealings with the British media when the Daily Scum Express tracked him down to Rio de Janeiro in 1974 but he avoided extradition by fathering a Brazilian son. Then he got swindled into singing with the Sex Pistols and lived a faintly pathetic life in Rio's slums. Eventually, sick, old and - most importantly - broke, he flew back to England – courtesy of the Sun once more – to give himself up in 2001. He was released from prison in 2009 after suffering a series of strokes. In response to claims that Biggs's state of health had been faked, his lawyer stated, 'This man is going to die, there is going to be no Lazarus coming back from the dead, he is ill, he is seriously ill.' Two years almost to the day later, he's still alive.

Thursday's Times cartoon by Peter Brookes is attracting a fair amount of online comment. In case you can't see it behind the paywall, dear blog reader, the cartoon shows three starving Africans, one of whom says: 'I've had a bellyful of phone hacking.' It is entitled: Priorities. Unicef ran an advert in Wednesday's Gruniad arguing that 'the story about phone hacking does matter, but there's another, far bigger and vital story that's going under-reported' – the famine in Somalia. In addition, the Daily Scum Mail has been making the case for some days that the troubles of the British and global economies are more important than the phone-hacking scandal and should be commanding more attention. But coming from a News International paper, a cartoon essentially telling the world to stop being interested in a story involving News International smacks more of crass and, frankly, sick self-interest than any inherent altruism. On a similar - and, in many ways, even more laughable - theme is the Sun's attempt to use the Horn of Africa famine as a shield for scrutiny of its parent company. It uses comments by a Unicef official to come up with the headline: 'UN: forget hacking, kids are starving.' One can see the UN man's point, but the Sun's appropriation of it seems utterly shameless. Particularly as the Sun's front page today can't find space for either story but can for a 'Sheen exclusive' entitled 'Charlie Couldn't Keep Up With Me In Bed.' The Daily Scum Mail, too, reverts somewhat to a semblance normal service with a full-page comment piece attacking the BBC's 'shameful bias' over hacking. But then, the Scum Mail are, themselves, a shamefully biased hateful organ of right-wing bigotry who once wrote, admiringly, about Adolf Hitler. And  Mrs Thatcher for that matter. So, frankly, if they told me blue was different from orange I'd want a second opinion. From somebody who isn't pond scum.

The BBC has released a brand new 'Original British Drama' trailer, packed with clips from many of the programmes it has coming up - including some exciting scenes from many of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's favourite dramas. We get to see some moments from BBC2's handsome new drama The Hour, the forthcoming Waking The Dead spin-off The Body Farm and David Hare's one-off film Page Eight (which stars Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz). There are also a few hints of what's coming up in Doctor Who, Merlin and [spooks]. Tasty.

A Bond actress and wife of the comic actor Leslie Phillips died after drinking chemical fluid and pouring it over herself, an inquest heard. Angela Scoular, sixty five, drank the fluid after battling with alcoholism, manic depression and worries over debts, Westminster Coroner's Court heard. The actress, who played Ruby Bartlett in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, suffered forty per cent burns to her body, throat and dietary tract with the mixture containing ninety one per cent sulphuric acid. Scoular, whose inquest was heard in her married name of Phillips, was pronounced dead at 5.34pm in hospital on 11 April, just over two hours after drinking the drain cleaner. Her injuries were non-survivable. She had battled alcoholism and depression for many years and was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008. She underwent radiotherapy, chemotherapy, had surgery to remove diseased tissue and was given the all-clear, but in the months before her death she feared that the cancer would return. The anxiety was compounded by drinking between one hundred and fifty and two hundred and ten units of alcohol a week and by manic behaviour. She spent money she did not have, incurred parking fines and was convicted of drink-driving. Several weeks before her death, when she was taking too much medication for bipolar disorder, she was arrested for drink-driving while on bail after crashing the couple's car in Wales. On the morning of her death, Scoular was given breakfast in bed by her husband. Phillips, a star of the Carry On and Doctor films, thought that she had stayed there and did not know she had got up. Unbeknown to him, his wife of thirty five years had found the bottle of acid and swallowed it. She ran outside, poured the acid over herself and slipped down the stairs to their house, fracturing her spine. Phillips, eighty seven, heard a noise at the door but thought nothing of it until he heard a passer-by outside and looked out of the window and saw his wife. He ran outside to her aid before returning inside where he phoned an ambulance and got towels and water for her. The actor, who was too ill to attend the inquest, said in a statement that their life together was happy. 'The only exception was her alcoholism,' he said. 'Angela had been an alcoholic since I met her. She did stop drinking from time to time but would return to drinking. She was a nervous type of person, not confident. But she was a kind, generous person who would help me with my work and I would help with hers. She was lovely when she was sober.' Phillips said that she had not been drinking that day and had not mentioned suicide recently. Scoular, who also appeared in the 1966 spoof Casino Royale and the TV series You Rang, M'Lord, tried to kill herself in 1992 when she cut her wrists with a knife. She was found by Phillips, who said that he saved her from being sectioned several years ago. The inquest continues.

New BBC Wales drama head Faith Penhale has appointed Caroline Skinner to take over as executive producer of Doctor Who. Skinner joins the production later this summer, replacing Piers Wenger. She will co-exec this year's Christmas special with showrunner Steven Moffat and Wenger, before the latter leaves to take up his new role as senior commissioner at Film 4. Beth Willis, who was previously Doctor Who's third executive producer, is also leaving in August, but the BBC has now said it is undecided about whether it will replace her on the show. Skinner, who joins from BBC London drama productions, will work alongside Moffat to shape the creative direction of the show, with series seven shooting next year. Moffat said: 'It takes a particular kind of person to work on this show - you have to be prepared to work every day of the week and, above all, understand that Doctor Who is completely impossible to make - and then make it anyway.' Skinner’s credits include House Of Saddam, Bleak House and the second series of Five Days for BBC1. Her work on the thriller led to her being nominated for a BAFTA for Breakthrough Talent, and the organisation recently named her as one of its Brits to Watch. Penhale, who was Kudos' creative manager before joining BBC Wales, said Skinner was an 'extremely talented executive' who would bring 'vision and drive' to Doctor Who.

South Park has been renewed through 2013. Comedy Central has confirmed that the long-running animated series will come back for two more seasons, reports Entertainment Weekly. Furthermore, it has been revealed that the current season of South Park is due to return for seven new episodes starting Wednesday 5 October. South Park was recently nominated for an Emmy for 'Outstanding Animated Programme'. Since premiering in 1997, the series has received four Primetime Emmy awards, as well as a Peabody award from Comedy Central. In June, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone dismissed rumours that the show is nearing its end, insisting that they have yet to grow tired of the series. 'We love South Park, that's still our thing,' Parker said.

Sir Paul McCartney will feature as part of a special 9/11 documentary on Showtime later this year. The documentary follows McCartney in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The Beatles singer was on a grounded plane in New York City on the same morning. The Love We Make, directed by the legendary Albert Maysles, will be broadcast on Showtime on 10 September to mark the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. The black and white film documents the singer's personal journey in the days following the attacks, as well as his involvement in the Concert for New York City charity gig. 'It was an honour to be able to help New York and America at that time in its history,' McCartney said of the gig. 'There was a feeling of shock and fear in the air that I thought we could help alleviate with music. And the fact that so many people stepped up to join us made for a very uplifting evening for us all.' David Bowie, Jay-Z, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton will also feature in the programme, as well as former President Bill Clinton and actor Harrison Ford, according to Parade.

Nigel Havers and Sharon Small have reportedly signed up for roles in ITV's period drama Downton Abbey. The Mirra reports that the two actors have signed up to appear in the Lord Snooty Julian Fellowes written drama when it returns later this year for its second series. ITV ordered a second run and a Christmas Special following its phenomenal performance last year when ratings topped ten million viewers. According to the paper Havers will play aristocrat Lord Hepworth while Small will play Marigold Shore, maid to Lady Rosamond (Samantha Bond). 'After the success of last year's series bosses are determined to keep up the momentum by introducing high profile stars to keep viewers excited,' an anonymous 'insider' allegedly told the paper. 'There's massive anticipation ahead of the second series and bringing in well known faces like Nigel will help the show come back with a bang.' Havers appeared in Coronation Street last year as male escort Lewis Archer who was involved in a love triangle between Audrey Roberts (Sue Nicholls) and Claudia Colby (Rula Lenksa). He is perhaps best remembered for the 1980s film Chariots of Fire but his other roles include appearances in Lunch Monkeys, Manchild, Dangerfield, the long-running sitcom Don't Wait Up and The Good Guys. The actor has also made guest appearances in The Sarah Jane Adventures and Born and Bred. Sharon Small will be best known for her roles in the BBC dramas Mistresses and The Inspector Lynley Mysteries but her other roles include Murderland and Sunburn. Also joining the cast for the second series, as previously announced, are Maria Doyle Kennedy, Cal Macaninch, Iain Glen and Amy Nuttall. They will join returning cast members such as Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGowan, Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery.

Zooey Deschanel has said that she feels 'lucky' to have been cast in The New Girl. The actress and 'She & Him' singer plays Jess, a teacher who moves in with three male roommates following a break-up with her cheating boyfriend, in the new FOX sitcom. Deschanel told the LA Daily News that her new job in TV will provide a less hectic lifestyle than her film and music careers. 'I'm just happy to be in one place with a schedule. It's nice. I've been touring for two years. And that was really, really fun. But I'm really excited by this,' she explained. 'It's so rare to get a role like the one in my show. I don't see those kinds of roles in movies. I just feel lucky, actually.' The twenty nine-year-old added that she does not feel like she is in competition with her sister Emily, who is the star of Bones on the same network, saying: 'Things are only weird if you make them weird.'

Sarah Michelle Gellar has revealed that she believes every actress should visit the main hall of Comic-Con. The thirty four-year-old, currently making her new series Ringer, urged actresses attending this year's Comic-Con to try to step outside their assigned panels and take in the rest of the convention. 'I always say to actresses, if you haven't been - this is going to sound really funny - but get a mask and take a look around. I'm serious,' Gellar told The Hollywood Reporter. 'You get rushed into your panel and you come out of the backside, and you never actually see the main hall. It's pretty amazing.' The Buffy the Vampire Slayer veteran went on to hint that she may have disguised herself in the past in order to visit the floor of the San Diego convention centre. When asked if she had followed her own advice and donned a costume, Gellar answered: 'Possibly.' Gellar will return to television in the fall in the CW series Ringer, which she has described as a 'true film noir.' In May, the actress revealed that her daughter was responsible for her return to television, confessing that she wanted a role that provided her with the opportunity to act and be a parent at once.

And, speaking of faded nineties glam queens Shannen Doherty has announced that her upcoming wedding will be televised for a new reality series. Oh, how very tacky. The former Charmed actress recently became engaged to photographer Kurt Iswarienko, and the pair have signed up for a new reality series on US network WEtv. The weeks leading up to the wedding will be the main focus of the show, which will also include the ceremony itself, according to Entertainment Weekly. Studio executive John Miller said: 'She's insanely compelling. People will see a side of Shannen they never expected to see - unfiltered, honest and vulnerable.' The reality series, yet to be officially titled, will begin airing on the channel in January. Doherty has been married twice before, to Ashley Hamilton and Rick Salomon. Both marriages ended in divorce in less than a year. The actress said that she had hopes of getting married for a third time during an interview with People last year. Doherty had said: 'I would consider getting married again because I want kids. That's why I would do it. I believe in marriage as a whole because my parents were married for forty three years, so I have the best example in the world of what marriage can be.'

Rob Brydon has said that there are no firm plans for a second series of The Trip. Brydon and fellow comedian Steve Coogan played fictionalised versions of themselves in the BAFTA-winning six-episode BBC2 comedy. 'Who knows?' Brydon told ShortList when asked about a possible follow-up. 'I think the BBC would like more, so it's a question of if we can all agree and we think we can make it work. But there's nothing in the diary.'

Torchwood's John Barrowman has insisted that sex scenes in the SF series are not 'gratuitous' after it was revealed the BBC would edit (actually, intial reported said 'cut' but they were in the Sun so it was always probably worth taking them with a pinch of salt) an explicit gay sex scene in a forthcoming episode. This week it was revealed the scene - which features Barrowman's character of Captain Jack - would not be shown 'in full' on BBC1. The scene will be shown on Starz in America, however the BBC felt that the scene needed to be edited because it would be broadcast only just after the watershed. The editing of the scene has not gone down well with some of the more vocal British Torchwood fans who are unhappy about the BBC 'censorship.' You know, the same people who bombarded the BBC with coffee when Ianto got killed eighteen months ago. Yes, 'The Special People.' To be honest, however, there are others, like this blogger for instance, who frankly couldn't give a stuff. I'm sure it was an entirely artistically valid taking it up the Gary Glitter. But, to be honest, I'm really not all that bothered if I see it, partially see it or don't see it at all. I've got more important thing to worry about than that, thanks. Barrowman has insisted that the scenes are part of the plot. 'It's not gratuitous sex,' he argued. 'It facilitates the story, so it's nothing they grab just to put on the camera and sensationalise it.' The actor also revealed that fans will find out more about Jack's history and his past love life in the new series. 'You go back into history with Jack and you discover an integral relationship that is part and parcel to what is happening. It's a massive story about his past and probably, if I can say this, one of his true loves. So there are relationships, but there are also some one-night stands. Some dirty.' Some unbroadcastable in their current form, it would seem! The BBC has responded to the complaints - by about sixty people at the last count - concerning the scene, which is part of the show's third episode. They claim, pretty much as many of us had already suspected, that in fact the changes are minor edits rather than cuts. 'It is not unusual for co-productions to have slightly different versions of a show to reflect its different audiences,' the corporation said. 'For episode three of Torchwood, as part of the usual discussions between broadcasters and the production company, small potential edits in two intercutting scenes of gay and straight sex were discussed and made by production.' The statement continued: 'This minimal edit makes little difference to the episode to be broadcast in the UK. Both scenes remain but run a few seconds shorter than the US version. In a later episode, a sequence of gay sex is important to the story and therefore both the US and UK will show the same version.' The BBC also rejected complaints which suggested that by making the edits it has 'interfered with the writers' on the show. Interfered, in what way and whether the writers were actually consulted before this claim was made, we do not know. 'Torchwood continues to be a series that will ask important questions of how we all live in today's society and the drama reflects life as we recognise it,' the broadcaster said. 'The BBC and Starz have both been huge supporters of the writers' vision for the series.' The editing (minor, or otherwise) of the scene is - to some - 'adding insult to injury.' At least, according to the Digital Spy website. I've never met any of these 'some' personally, but I am assured that they exist. Some fans of Torchwood were reported to be 'furious' (furious, I tells ya) that the BBC began broadcasting the series a whole six days after it premiered on Starz in America. And that they intended to hold their breath until something was done to remady this fiasco and discombobulation. The BBC argued - reasonably enough, you may consider - that it had a contact with Starz which meant it couldn't broadcast the SF series for at least twenty four hours after the American broadcaster and that the Thursday evening slot picked by the BBC was the best available for the show. And, again, some - long-term - viewers of the show have argued that they have more important things to be fussed about than whether others have less patience than them. It's six days not six months for Christ's sake. Want, want, want. Want it all, want it now, don't wanna pay for it. The Twenty First Century 'entitlement' movement in a nutshell, dear blog reader.

In an acting master class at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Christopher Eccleston was reportedly asked why he left a such a high paid job as Doctor Who. He responded: 'I left Doctor Who because I could not get along with the senior people. I left because of politics. I did not see eye-to-eye with them. I didn't agree with the way things were being run. I didn't like the culture that had grown up, around the series. So I left, I felt, over a principle. I thought to remain, which would have made me a lot of money and given me huge visibility, the price I would have had to pay was to eat a lot of shit. I'm not being funny about that. I didn't want to do that and it comes to the art of it, in a way. I feel that if you run your career we are vulnerable as actors and we are constantly humiliating ourselves auditioning. But if you allow that to go on, on a grand scale you will lose whatever it is about you and it will be present in your work. If you allow your desire to be successful and visible and financially secure – if you allow that to make you throw shades on your parents, on your upbringing, then you're knackered. You've got to keep something back, for yourself, because it'll be present in your work. A purity or an idealism is essential ... you've got to have standards, no matter how hard work that is. So it makes it a hard road, really. You know, it's easy to find a job when you've got no morals, you've got nothing to be compromised, you can go, "Yeah, yeah. That doesn't matter. That director can bully that prop man and I won't say anything about it." But, then, when that director comes to you and says "I think you should play it like this" you've surely got to go "How can I respect you, when you behave like that?" So, that's why I left. My face didn't fit and I'm sure they were glad to see the back of me. The important thing is that I succeeded. It was a great part. I loved playing him. I loved connecting with that audience. Because I've always acted for adults and then suddenly you're acting for children, who are far more tasteful; they will not be bullshitted. It's either good, or it's bad. They don't schmooze at after-show parties, with cocktails.' So ... it was all Keith Boak's fault, then?

Jason Isaacs has suggested that the BBC is 'on the fence' about commissioning another series of his drama Case Histories. The show, based on Kate Atkinson's novels, starred Isaac as private investigator Jackson Brodie. Isaacs admitted to the Digital Spy website that he is not sure whether Case Histories will return in the future. 'I don't know actually,' he said. 'If you want to, start tweeting the BBC, but I don't know. Case Histories I loved doing, and I don't know - the BBC I think are still on the fence. So a little bit of a nudge from the public and maybe we'll get to make some more.'

CSI is officially welcoming back a familiar face. The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that former series regular – and recent guest star - Jorja Fox will appear full-time on the CBS crime procedural. Fox first appeared as Sara Sidle on CSI in the second episode and departed early in season eight. She returned as a guest star the following year and has remained billed as such through her regular appearances in the latest two series. Ted Danson joins the veteran crime drama's twelfth season as its new team leader – replacing Laurence Fishburne – and also see the drama move from its long time Thursday night time slot to Wednesdays at 10pm beginning 21 Sept.

New Dragons' Den judge Hilary Devey has been telling the Sun how she went from being so poor as a child that she didn't get Christmas presents, to becoming one of the country's richest women. Even though her personal wealth is estimated to be in the region of one hundred million smackers, Hilary is not ready to retire just yet. But she's conquered a string of personal set backs to get to where she is today, including failed marriages and the enduring the agony of her son's heroin addiction. Speaking to TV Biz, Hilary said of joining Dragons' Den, 'I have always been a fan of the show and I was so pleased when the BBC asked me to be on it.' She then moved on to discussing her private life and how she's overcome adversity, saying, 'I had no money and went without Christmas presents. I only owned three dresses even though it was important I looked smart every day. It was so hard. I never gave up because I always knew I would succeed but I had to sacrifice so much. I didn't, and I still don't, have a social life. I am always working.'

Filming has started on the sixth series of Skins, E4 has announced. The new episodes will feature the third generation of characters who were introduced to viewers earlier this year. Dakota Blue Richards, Will Merrick, Freya Mavor, Alex Arnold, Laya Lewis, Sean Teale, Jessica Sula and Sebastian De Souza will all return to the show. E4 revealed that the new series will feature 'new friendships, secret relationships and sexual awakening' and suggested that the bonds between the characters will be 'tested. I am delighted that the sixth series of Skins is now underway,' Channel Four's head of drama Camilla Campbell said. 'Having set up this new set of characters in the previous series, we can now go into more depth as to where their stories take us. With moral ambiguity, high drama, as well as a strong dose of comedy, Skins will not disappoint.' Richards has previously confirmed that new characters will be joining the series. The show has hired new writers Danny Brocklehurst, who has worked on Shameless and Exile, and Ashes to Ashes scriptwriter Jack Lothian. Skins novelist Jess Brittain and newcomer Laura Hunter will also join the writing team. The show's executive producer John Griffin said: 'We're hugely excited about the fantastic mix of writers we have for Skins this year, some of whom are first-time screenwriters. They've spent the past few months developing exciting and challenging stories for our characters and as filming gets underway we're all very excited to see them realised onto the screen.'

An EastEnders regular could become the third gay character on Albert Square, a report has suggested. Ben Mitchell (Joshua Pascoe) will reveal that he is totally gay after sharing a kiss with another teenager called Duncan, according to the Mirra. 'Since the day Ben returned to Walford, he's been a bit of a disappointment for Phil,' a 'show insider' allegedly told the paper. 'With his love of dancing and musicals, Ben was not cast from the same "tough guy" mould as his father. It's ironic that Phil's efforts to turn his son into a mini version of himself backfire spectacularly when he encourages Ben to go boxing with Duncan. But no-one could anticipate the chain of events this will spark around Walford as Ben tries to keep his sexuality secret from his father.' Ben and Duncan will reportedly be spotted by Patrick Truman (Rudolph Walker), but Ben threatens the shopkeeper fearing what father (Steve McFadden) will say if he finds out. The production source continued: 'Poor Ben is terrified of Phil's reaction but the truth will out, sooner or later.'

There's two really interesting pieces in the Gruniad this week, firstly Ben Dowell's article on the biggest mistakes made by TV critics and, secondly, a Mark Lawson egghead piece on Jeremy Clarkson.

BBC 'bosses' are to consider bringing back the test card overnight as part of a 'radical plan' to save £1.3 billion, it has been claimed. By the Daily Scum Mail so, it's probably a load of old crap. Daytime television schedules could also be slashed, expensive US imports reduced and major series repeated several times to cut the corporation's spending. Big budget sporting events including Formula 1 motor racing will also come under scrutiny as the corporation examines ways to reduce spending over four years. BBC executives are reported to be meeting the governing body this week to discuss the options as they look for savings in light of a licence fee freeze. One proposal on the table is to scrap much of BBC2's afternoon schedule, replacing game shows with repeats from BBC4 which would become largely an arts channel. This, as noted, is all according to the Daily Scum Mail who, obviously, have no spiteful and hugely sinister agenda whatsoever in 'reporting' this. One more 'drastic proposal' is for BBC1 and BBC2 to cease broadcasting at 1am for several hours overnight. If the plan went ahead it could see a return to the test card, the static image put on screen when channels were off air in the past. The BBC's distinctive 'Test card F' image first used in 1967 became an icon of postwar British life. Featuring an eccentric arrangement of boxes and lines, it is dominated by the image of then eight-year-old Carole Hersee, the daughter of a BBC engineer, with her toy clown, Bubbles, as she completes a game of noughts and crosses on a blackboard.

If his Facebook page is to be believed, the very funny Jon Richardson is taking over from the equally funny Kevin Bridges as the new host of Stand Up For The Week when it returns for a third series.

Simon Fuller, the man behind American Idol, is suing Rupert Murdoch's FOX TV network over an alleged breach of contract involving the US X Factor. In a lawsuit filed in in Los Angeles late on Wednesday, Fuller claims that he is owed an 'executive producer' credit and a fee for the US version of Simon Cowell's hit talent show, set to launch on FOX in September. Fuller says that he was 'contractually promised' the credit and fee in a 2005 agreement between the music mogul, Fox and Fremantle Media North America, the company which co-produces American Idol and The X Factor. The 2005 contract was made as part of the high-profile settlement when Fuller dropped a one hundred million dollar copyright suit against Cowell over similarities between the Pop Idol format on which American Idol is based and The X Factor. Fuller's spokesman said the mogul had 'prudently attempted to settle this matter privately but the other parties have refused to honour the original contract, leaving him no other choice but to pursue legal action.' However, FOX and Fremantle, a subsidiary of RTL, dispute the claim. They insist Fuller was never hired by the firms and did not perform 'any duties' on the US version of The X Factor, which features producer LA Reid and American Idol judge Paula Abdul. Fremantle and FOX said that the lawsuit was 'without merit' and accused Fuller of seeking payment 'despite his neither having been approved by the required parties, nor hired as such.' The lawsuit adds fresh animosity to the bitter rivalry between Cowell and Fuller. Cowell remained as a judge on American Idol despite the 2005 legal showdown – though the Syco producer left the show in January last year to bring The X Factor to the US.

For Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day we've got something a bit obscure from the 1960s.

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