Sunday, July 17, 2011

In The Days Between The Hours, Ivory Towers, Bloody Flowers

A senior Scotland Yard officer has told the Sunday Torygraph that News International executives – including Rupert Murdoch's son James – are being investigated for any, alleged, role in covering up the extent of 'industrial scale' hacking that went on at the News of the World. And, potentially, at other news International media outlets too. There's only one problem with this, of course - who is going to believe anything they're told by a policeman these days in relation to News International? The Metropolitan Police, the Torygraph claim, want to know why a series of e-mails, dating back to 2006, were only made available to detectives in January of this year, prompting the current inquiry which has led in the past two weeks to the closure of the News of the World, the resignations of Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, the arrest of Andy Coulson and the scrapping of News Corporation's proposed takeover of BSkyB. The 'source' allegedly said: 'News International appears to have covered up this scandal. That is, potentially, a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. It would have to be proved that James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks or any other senior executive knew the information handed over in 2011 was actually in the system in 2006 and suppressed it. The way they are sacking people at the moment, you can't rule out further information coming out.' News International has confirmed that a series of e-mails had been read by senior executives – a 'source', the Torygraph allege, declined to say whom – before being sent in 2007 to an outside law firm where they remained for four years before being handed to police. In the meantime, James Murdoch signed cheques for between eight hundred thousand and one million smackers to Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, and Max Clifford, the publicist, which critics say effectively bought the silence of both men over allegations that their phones had been hacked. James Murdoch said last week that he would not have signed the cheques if he had known then what he knows now. He, Brooks and Hinton have all denied any knowledge of 'widespread wrongdoing.' In a series of further developments James Murdoch's position as chairman of BSkyB is reported to be 'under review' after the board agreed a special session to discuss his future. Leading shareholders are reported to be calling on News Corp, the parent company, to sell its British newspaper titles because of fears that the scandal will spread to America. Rupert Murdoch's bid to purchase Formula One could also be derailed, according to Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's supremo. Lawyers acting for David Beckham have contacted police, in the growing belief that the footballer and his wife, Victoria, were targeted by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who worked for the News of the World. Sir Paul McCartney's press aides claimed that Macca was also hacked at the time of the former Beatle's split from his second wife, Horrible Heather. There are also suggestions that Jude Law, the actor, was allegedly hacked by the News of the World whilst he was visiting the US, opening the way for potential prosecutions in America where News Corp has much more to lose than in Britain. It has also been reported that Andy Coulson dined with the senior police chief investigating the phone hacking of Prince William in 2006 in the middle of the inquiry. On Tuesday, Rupert and James Murdoch and Brooks will give evidence to the culture, media and sport select committee over their role in the scandal and attempt to explain why News International had previously told the committee - on several occasions - that the hacking was the action of 'one rogue reporter.' On the same day, Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, will be grilled by the home affairs select committee on the police's failure to fully investigate the hacking in 2005 and 2006 and then again in 2009. He will be asked why he employed Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World who was arrested last week, as a media adviser. Sources have told the Torygraph that Sir Paul's job as Britain's most senior police officer is now 'under threat' and his performance at the committee may be the deciding factor in whether he survives or not. On Saturday night, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, both offered him what the Torygraph describes as 'only lukewarm support.' Senior officers at Scotland Yard are said to be 'furious' that they are taking a large share of the blame when News International blocked inquiries. The 'source' allegedly said that News International had given 'assurances' that they were co-operating fully in the initial investigation and that, as a result, it was impossible for police to obtain court orders allowing them to seize further material that would have proved a wider conspiracy. In January this year, News International passed on three e-mails dating back to 2006 which give details of phone hacking carried out by Glenn Mulcaire. The e-mails, detailing his alleged hacking of Tessa Jowell and an aide to John Prescott, led to the subsequent arrest of Ian Edmondson, the newspaper's news editor. Further arrests of Coulson, Wallis, the paper's chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and various others followed the emergence of those e-mails and another batch handed over to the police in June. All of those arrested deny any wrongdoing. The settlements made to Taylor and Clifford in 2008 and 2009 were in the magnitude of ten to twenty times what other phone hacking victims have received for breach of their privacy. The Scotland Yard 'source' allegedly said: 'The payments to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford would be corroborating evidence of a cover-up. You would say, why are you paying them ten times the going rate?' Late on Saturday, a senior News International 'insider' allegedly admitted those who had known about two thousand five hundred e-mails discovered in 2006 'will be asked to account for it by various authorities at some point in the future.' The 'insider', the Torygraph claims, added: 'The people who were there in 2006 will have to account for what went on in 2006. I know who read the e-mails for sure and there are some people who claim they didn't, and that's fine, and there are people who will admit they did.' Philip Davies, the thoroughly odious Tory MP for Shipley, who sits on the culture committee, said that previous evidence given by News International executives, including Brooks, was 'an absolute farce.' He said: 'I want to know why we're only learning about the extent of the phone hacking now. I don't understand why nothing else was uncovered before. How can such smart and savvy people accept the fact that Clive Goodman was acting alone?' According to a senior News International 'source', Hinton, the then chief executive, oversaw an initial internal inquiry into hacking which concluded that Goodman was solely responsible. Rupert Murdoch said that the outside law firm, Harbottle & Lewis, which had possession of the e-mails, had made 'a major mistake' in underestimating the importance of their contents. The lawyer involved said that he was hamstrung by client confidentiality in responding to the claims. It also emerged last night that Hugh Grant, the actor, and the Jemima Khan have both lodged a legal claim against the Met for failing to disclose details of evidence that their phones were being hacked by the News of the World.

Elisabeth Murdoch not only said Rebekah Brooks had 'fucked' News Corp, she also blamed her brother James, according to their father's biographer Michael Wolff. Referring to the alleged remark first reported in the Torygraph, Wolff said on Twitter: 'Reports Elisabeth Murdoch said Rebekah Brooks "fucked the company" are incomplete. She said: "James and Rebekah fucked the company." She said this on Sunday night at a book party for Philip Gould hosted by Matthew Freud and James Harding.' Wolff's intervention has given some credibility to the story, which was initially dismissed by 'sources close to Elisabeth' as 'a gross lie placed by someone with an agenda.' The 'source' allegedly added, 'Lis in no way holds Rebekah responsible.' If Wolff's statement is accurate then that denial is, technically, true. Although it probably, in the interests of accuracy, should include the word 'just' in there somewhere. Incidentally, if you haven't caught it already, dear blog reader, it's also worth watching Wolff's analysis of what fate may befall the Murdochs next week. Because it's jolly entertaining: 'As what he terms the "Murdochalypse" continues. Referring to the their appearance on Tuesday at the Commons culture, media and sport select committee Wolff says: "Rupert is loopy and James is arrogant. So I think the chances for a really combustible moment are very high."' Wolff, a man who spent around ninety hours with Murdoch senior for a biography he wrote on the billionaire tyrant, notes that there seems to be a way to predict what the media emperor will do next: 'As for RM's disavowel regarding selling London papers so far everything they say won't happen, happens.'

There were strong rumours on Saturday evening on Twitter that the New York Times may have a major scoop on the allegations that News of the World journalists tried to hack the phones of 9/11 victims. Michael Wolff tweeted: 'Rumor [sic]: New York Times has something juicy tomorrow on #NOTW. Could be 9/11 connection.' In the event, the New York Times did have a major scoop but it was nothing to do with 9/11. Rather, they published a detailed summary of the questionable relationship between News International and senior officers at Scotland Yard. Headlined "Taint From Tabloids Rubs Off on a Cozy Scotland Yard", Don Van Natta Junior's report can only serve to further damage the reputation of both the Metropolitan Police and Rupert Murdoch's company across the Atlantic. 'For nearly four years they lay piled in a Scotland Yard evidence room, six overstuffed plastic bags gathering dust and little else. inside was a treasure-trove of evidence: eleven thousand pages of handwritten notes listing nearly four thousand celebrities, politicians, sports stars, police officials and crime victims whose phones may have been hacked by the News of the World, a now defunct British tabloid newspaper. Yet from August 2006, when the items were seized, until the autumn of 2010, no one at the Metropolitan Police Service bothered to sort through all the material and catalog [sic] every page, said former and current senior police officials.' Philip Sherwell, the Torygraph's US editor, asks: 'The show goes on at FOX News, but for how long? As the audience sits down in an American cinema to watch the latest release from one of the Hollywood studio behemoths, Twentieth Century Fox, the words "A News Corporation Company" flash by almost unnoticed in the opening credits. And among the millions of viewers who tune in to television shows ranging from Glee and The Simpsons to American Idol, House and Bones, there is little interest in the owners behind the FOX Broadcasting Company. But that could all be about to change as a result of the phone hacking and bribery scandal that is spreading across the Atlantic to the US, home to the most lucrative chunk of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire.'

The Scum Mail on Sunday reports on what it is describing as 'the Chipping Norton set's final hurrah,' as Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth threw 'a decadent priory party with Mandelson, Cameron's cronies and BBC's Robert Peston hours before Dowler scandal broke.' One just knew that they'd manage to crowbar the BBC in there somehow! What's, perhaps, more surprising is that they didn't reveal the attendance of a variety of single-mothers on benefits and asylum seekers, too. You're slipping, Scum Mail. 'It was the highlight of the summer season for the Chipping Norton Set,' they crow. 'Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth and her PR tycoon husband Matthew Freud threw a party of decadent opulence and excess that saw the political and media elite flock to their twenty two-bedroom Cotswolds mansion Burford Priory yet again. Just twenty four hours later, the news broke that murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's mobile had been hacked by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper and his global empire was plunged into disarray.'

The Independent on Sunday is reporting that John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who heads the culture, media and sport Commons select committee which will be questioning Murdochs Jr and Sr and well-known Crystal Tipps-lookalike Rebekah Brooks later this week, has 'secret links' to the media mogul: 'Whittingdale,' they state 'admitted he was an old friend of Mr Murdoch's close aide, Les Hinton, and had been for dinner with Ms Brooks. The Independent on Sunday has also learnt that Mr Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth, seen as the future saviour of the company, has also met Mr Whittingdale a number of times. Among her three hundred and eighty six "friends" on Facebook, the only MP she lists is Mr Whittingdale. He is also the only MP among ninety three Facebook "friends" of Mr Hinton.' To be fair, yer actual Keith Telly Topping has over two thousand five hundred Facebook friends and the vast majority of those can't bloody stand him so, you know, that's no evidence of anything. Appearing on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Whittingdale gave a pretty reasonable account of the reality behind these revelations. 'I have 570 friends on Facebook,' he told Marr. 'Whether Rebekah Brooks is still one of them I rather doubt, since I've just summoned her to appear before the committee. I've been doing the DCMS brief for ten years, I've met almost everyone in the area. I've met Alexander Lebedev. I don't think I'm his friend on Facebook, because I don't think he's on Facebook!' The segment was also notable for Marr quoting Jeremy Clarkson's piece in the Sunday Times that the Chipping Norton set freely admitted to 'drinking cocktails made out of crushed socialists while Rupert Murdoch sat in a dormant volcano stroking a white cat!' (In the piece, Clarkson says he will reveal details about the 'infamous Christmas-time party' at Rebekah Brooks's house. The main topic, he claims, apart from the crushed socialists and the smashing of the trade union movement, was sausage rolls. The only argument, he adds, was between him and James Murdoch, about the environment: 'He likes it and I don't.') There was also a very good bit where Marr asked whether the committee would really have had the three News International bigwigs 'locked up in a cell under the Commons' if they'd refused to attend. 'I don't think anyone really knows,' said Whittingdale honestly, adding that it has been hundreds of years since such a circumstance has occurred. He subsequently noted that he believes there is a cell for such purposes, under the clock tower.

Meanwhile, over on Sky News, Liam Fox, the defence secretary, was being interviewed about the defence review. When asked about the phone-hacking scandal, he came up with an extraordinary series of comments, instantly turning himself into Chief News Corp Apologist Numero Uno. He said that politicians 'would be wise not to over-react,' condemned the 'hysteria' of the reaction and - sycophantically - praised the 'tremendous transparency' of the PM. PoliticsHome editor Paul Waugh was singularly unimpressed with the odious little creep: 'Funny the transparency re Coulson only came after last two weeks,' Waugh noted.

The former treasury minister Lord Myners has urged BSkyB shareholders to oust James Murdoch as its chairman amid growing questions about his survival prospects as News Corp's heir apparent. Myners said the company's next annual general meeting was an opportunity to end the notion that one of the largest media companies in the world could still be run like a dynasty. In the strongest sign yet that the battle to weaken the Murdoch family's grip on British media is bound for the Sky boardroom, the former Marks & Spencer and Gruniad Media Group chairman said shareholders should end the 'hereditary principle' which allows the Murdochs to control BSkyB. Speaking in the Lords on Friday, Myners said: 'All directors of BSkyB should stand for re-election at the AGM this summer, including Mr James Murdoch. The board should seek to persuade Mr Murdoch that it is no longer appropriate for him to chair this company. There are sufficient doubts about his business judgment.' James Murdoch has been non-executive chairman of BSkyB since 2007, when he was promoted from Sky chief executive to run News Corporation's European operations. Corporate governance rules issued in 2010 demand that all directors of the largest UK companies stand for re-election every year. Sky's annual meeting will take place before Christmas. Myners questioned James Murdoch's business sense, noting the tens of millions invested in MySpace, which was sold at a loss earlier this year; the loss incurred by buying a stake in ITV and the damages News International paid to Max Clifford and others, which could constitute a breach of US laws. The City grandee called on the investment and pension funds that voted against Murdoch's re-election at last year's annual meeting to do the same this year. They included Aviva, Baillie Gifford, Legal & General and Co-operative Asset Management. 'There is an opportunity here for the great investment institutions of Edinburgh, London and New York to show that they have had enough with the way that the Murdochs dominate BSkyB and they should ensure that the company has an independent board of directors and a truly independent chairman,' Myners said. Sky usually holds its annual meeting in October or November and a spokesman has confirmed it will take place before the end of the year. He said no decision had been taken on who would stand for re-election. 'The board has a strong governance framework and will consider the AGM resolutions in due course.' The UK Corporate Governance Code, updated in 2010, demands that the directors of the three hundred and fifty largest listed companies in the UK be re-elected annually. If companies choose to ignore the code they must explain why to regulators. Shareholder adviser PIRC has said that since the rule was introduced eighty per cent of companies have complied. It would be tough to win a vote against James Murdoch, according to media analyst Claire Enders. To oust the chairman fifty one per cent of votes would have to be cast against him. News Corp owns just over thirty nine per cent of Sky shares, but because only three-quarters of shares tend to be voted at Sky annual meetings it effectively has forty nine per cent of the vote. It would only take one other big shareholder to tip the balance in favour of the Murdochs.

Meanwhile, the career of Sir Paul Stephenson is reported to be 'hanging in the balance' after it emerged that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner enjoyed a five-week stay for free at the luxurious Champneys health farm in Tring which was promoted by the former deputy editor of the News of the World. A Met spokesman said that the treatment he received there after suffering a broken leg was paid for by Scotland Yard. He denied any suggestion of impropriety. The Torygraph reports: 'Sir Paul was already under intense pressure over the decision to hire Mr Wallis as a media consultant to the Met police for twelve months, until he quit in September 2010 amid further revelations of phone hacking. The appointment of Wallis was only declared last week and following his arrest, prompting serious questions over Sir Paul's judgment. The Sunday Telegraph can reveal today how Sir Paul was offered hospitality by News International on fifteen occasions between April 2007 and March 2010 — accepting fourteen of the invitations. In one instance, he met the senior executives three times in one week.'

There's a terrific piece by Chris Bryant on the 'pernicious' influence of Rebekah Brooks in the Gruniad: 'With the news yesterday that Neil Wallis walked out of News International and into the Met and Andy Hayman walked out of the Met into News International it is difficult not to conclude that NI under Brooks had managed to get its tentacles into every nook and cranny of the British state and turned the Met into a partly owned subsidiary. In all this the Murdochs, James and Rupert, have yet again shown their arrogance. First they tried a hush-money strategy, paying the best part of one million pounds apiece to Max Clifford and Gordon Taylor in exchange for confidentiality clauses, in the hope that none of what had gone on at the paper would come out. Next, once the Met had been forced to reopen the investigation in January this year, came the plimsoll line strategy, drawing a line round the ship and chucking people overboard as the water rose.'

In non-news International media news Doctor Who actor Matt Smith made a surprise appearance in a highly acclaimed immersive theatre production based on the TV show. Smith appeared in character in front of twenty five fans aged nine to twelve at a performance of The Crash of the Elysium at the Manchester International Festival. The show puts the audience at the heart of a Doctor Who adventure and are told it is up to them to save the world. Smith is normally seen on screens but appeared in person on Friday. The Crash of the Elysium, created by theatre company Punchdrunk, has earned a series of five-star reviews in national newspapers. The audience members are told to wear chemical decontamination suits as they are led through a series of rooms by actors dressed as soldiers, looking for clues and being chased by the Doctor's enemies. Smith said the show was 'a marriage made in creative space heaven. I've always watched Punchdrunk shows and marvelled at their inventiveness and individuality,' he said. 'Put that together with Doctor Who and there is a wonderful template to tell unique stories in unique ways. The Doctor would definitely approve.' The Crash of the Elysium is one of the highlights of the Manchester International Festival, which ends on Sunday and also involves new works by Victoria Wood - which'll be diarrhoea, just like everything else she's ever done - Damon Albarn - ditto - and Marina Abramovic.

It was billed as 'carmageddon', with chaos expected when a ten-mile stretch of one of America's busiest motorways was shut down for more than forty eight hours. The 405 highway was closed at midnight Friday so that a section of the bridge could be demolished, but so far, predictions of a traffic gridlock throughout the city appear to have been averted. The BBC's Alastair Leithead reports from Los Angeles.

The actress Googie Withers, best known for starring in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes and TV series Within These Walls, has died in Australia aged ninety four. She was born Georgette Lizette Withers in Karachi, then part of British India to an English sailor and a Dutch mother. She died at her home on Friday. She was the first non-Australian to be awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her last role was in the 1996 Australian movie Shine. Withers's family moved back to Britain from India and she began acting at age twelve. She had been given her nickname Googie by her Indian nanny. A student at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, she was a dancer in a West End production when she was offered work as a film extra in Michael Powell's The Girl in the Crowd. She arrived on the set to find one of the major players in the production had been dismissed and was immediately asked to step into the role. Withers appeared in dozens of films in the 1930s and 40s. She played Blanche in 1938's The Lady Vanishes, opposite Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. Later in her career she appeared in several television productions, including prison drama Within These Walls on ITV and the BBC's Hotel du Lac and Northanger Abbey. While filming The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947), Withers met her co-star, the Australian actor John McCallum. They were married on 24 January the following year. They remained married until McCallum's death on 3 February 2010. In 1958, Withers moved to Australia with her husband - he helped create the classic television series, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. The couple co-starred in ten films, and they lived together in Sydney until McCallum died last year at the age of ninety one. In 2004, Withers came back into the news when a character on the ITV soap Coronation Street, Norris Cole, said 'Googie Withers would turn in her grave.' Granada Television was subsequently forced to apologise a week later when they realised that she was, in fact, very much alive. Made a CBE for her services to acting in 2002, that year Withers, aged eighty five, appeared with Vanessa Redgrave in Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan in London's West End. She is survived by her three children three children, the actress Joanna McCallum, art director Nicholas and Amanda.

And, so to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. Which is, sort of, self-explanatory, really.

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