Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Then You Can Tell Me About Your Prison Stay

And, still it comes ...
Slaphead Nick Robinson mentioned earlier this week that News International executives were 'bracing themselves' for even worse revelations than those already made against their company. Those involving the hacking of mobile phones belong to the families of child murder victims and those who had died in terrorist atrocities. Tonight, they arrived. A newspaper will claim tomorrow that phones owned by relatives of dead British soldiers were allegedly hacked by the News of the World. The Daily Torygraph claims that the phone numbers of relatives of dead servicemen were found in the files of the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. This comes after the Prime Minister said earlier today that he would set up a public inquiry into alleged phone hacking. Rupert Murdoch, the paper's owner, has called the claims of hacking 'deplorable.' Speaking before the claims about soldiers families but after those about terrorist victims, he said: 'Recent allegations of phone hacking and making payments to police with respect to the News of the World are deplorable and unacceptable.' In a statement, Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, News International's parent company, said: 'I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively co-operate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks's leadership. We are committed to addressing these issues fully and have taken a number of important steps to prevent them from happening again.' What, like stopping doing them, possibly? After details of the Torygraph story emerged, a 'senior source' at News International told the BBC's balding political editor Robinson: 'The military is a cause central to the heart of News International. If this story is correct we are absolutely shocked and appalled that that tradition has been besmirched. The News of the World and the Sun have prided themselves on their support for Help the Heroes, campaigns for the military covenant and other military causes.' Yeah, yeah, 'the paper that supports Our Boys' and all that, we know. So, if these claims are true, which they may not be, but still, if they are, then that would very much suggest that, actually, you've abused the one section of your readership that you really don't want to piss off, the armed forces. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard has reportedly told the chancellor, George Osborne, that his name and home phone number appeared on notes kept by Mulcaire and former News of the World reporter Clive Goodman, a spokesman for the chancellor said. A story about Osborne's private life was publishing in the News of the World in 2008 although whether any details from that were obtained through hacking is, at this time, unknown. The prime minister has expressed disgust at claims that the voicemail of murdered girl Milly Dowler was hacked, and some messages deleted.

Cameron was forced to promise to set up a public inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World during a stormy Prime Minister's Questions in the House earlier on Wednesday. The prime minister, with a massive sweat-on over just how close to himself this scandal was now reaching, said that claims the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked, were 'disgusting.' But, he told MPs, an inquiry could not take place until police investigations were concluded. Labour leader Ed Milimolimandi - for once proving that he is, actually, a vertebrate, said that Cameron was 'out of touch' with the public and that an inquiry should be set up sooner rather than later. The prime minister's spokeswoman subsequently told the BBC that there could even be two inquiries into phone hacking - one into the police handling of the original investigation in the middle of the last decade, and one into the actions of the media. Or, alternatively, there could be one all-encompassing inquiry, led by a judge. News International, the publisher of the News of the World, said that it 'welcomed' the idea of a wide-ranging public inquiry into standards in the media. But not, one imagines, a more narrowly focused enquiry into what the hell has been going on at Fortress Wapping for the last decade. As noted below, it's worth remembering that News International and its various executives have not always been so keen for everyone to know what they've been up to. Amid noisy scenes at Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron said: 'We do need to have an inquiry, possibly inquiries, into what has happened. We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities. We are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into. It is absolutely disgusting, what has taken place, and I think everyone in this House and indeed this country will be revolted by what they have heard and what they have seen on their television screens.' Which is all very true but it should be noted that hacking Milly Dowler's phone is not less illegal than hacking Andy Gray's or Sienna Miller's. All three are illegal acts covered by exactly the same law. Whether one should have got politicians so determined to act when the other two didn't might be understandable in terms of the general public, but it's still not right. A crime is a crime. He added, however, that any potential inquiry could not happen yet, saying: 'There's a major police investigation under way. It is one of the biggest police investigations currently under way in our country.' Cameron added that he would discuss the issue with Milimolimandi and other party leaders, along with Attorney General Dominic Grieve and the head of the Civil Service, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell. Milimolimandi told MPs he was 'encouraged' by Cameron's comments but added that it was 'possible for the prime minister to start the process now.' He recommended immediately appointing a senior figure, such as a judge, to begin work on looking at 'culture and practices' in the newspaper industry. Milimolimandi also urged Cameron to back his call for Rebekah Brooks, editor of the News of the World at the time of the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, to resign from her current job as chief executive of News International. The Labour leader also questioned Cameron's decision to hire another former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, Brooks' deputy and, subsequently, successor, as his director of communications, after Coulson resigned from the paper in 2007 over the phone hacking scandal. Milimolimnadi said that the prime minister has 'got to accept that he made a catastrophic error of judgement by bringing Andy Coulson into the heart of the Downing Street machine.' The prime minister, deflected this , saying that it was important to 'let the police do their work' - because, of course, they've done such a bang-up job so far - before making claims about Brooks and 'other individuals.' Coulson, of course, resigned from his government post in January this year, saying that the ongoing claims over phone hacking during his time as News of the World editor were making it impossible to do his job. As the Gruniad noted: 'Prime Minister's Questions, and the special debate held later, was like a conference on section eight six seven of Roget's Thesaurus. Here is just a selection of the words MPs used about the hacking: "absolutely disgusting", "revolting" (and that was just David Cameron), "appalling", "immoral", "scandalous", "dreadful", "against common decency and shared humanity", "unspeakable", "sordid", "outrageous", "beyond the pale", "criminal", "loathsome", "shameful, sickening and cruel."' Meanwhile, News International have passed e-mails to the police which appear to show that payments to police officers were authorised by Coulson during his tenure as News of the World editor. The BBC business editor Robert Peston said that this shows the investigation into alleged illicit techniques used by the paper to obtain stories went 'much wider than an examination of phone hacking.' Coulson resigned as News of the World editor when the tabloid's royal reporter, Clive Goodman, was jailed for conspiracy to access phone messages. Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was also imprisoned for six months on the same charge. But a Press Complaints Commission investigation into the affair, in May 2007, found 'no evidence' that Coulson or anyone else at the paper had been aware of Goodman's activities and, that same month, Coulson became Cameron's director of communications. Following the end of PMQ's MPs then held an emergency debate on the entire phone hacking fiasco. Labour's Chris Bryant questioned the role of the Metropolitan Police during the earlier investigation into hacking, and the information which officers had given ministers and others. He said: 'I think a lot of lies have been told to a lot of people. When police officers tell lies or, at best, half-truths to politicians, that's a major constitutional issue for us to face.'

As the New Statesman noted, 'The high moral ground in the House of Commons has been somewhat harder to climb in recent years, particularly for those who claimed it as a second home. But it was suddenly back within the reach of all thanks to the News of the World for doing what it does best - exposing a scandal at the heart of the establishment. In one fell swoop MPs shook off three years of being accused of having their hands in their constituents pockets to unite in condemnation of at least some of their accusers.' The debate began with Chris Bryant claiming that the News of the World, in addition to Milly Dowler and the families of some of the victims of 7/7, also hacked into the phones of Madeleine McCann's family and even police officers in charge of investigating hacking by the newspaper. These were the 'immoral and criminal deeds of organisation that was appallingly led,' he said. In an impressive speech - his second in two days - Bryant noted that tomorrow 'it will be six years since the 7/7 bombings. Today we hear that several people involved in the bombings had their phones hacked by the News of the World, as well as the phone of Milly Dowler, and phones related to Madeleine McCann.' These are not just 'the amoral actions of private investigator tied to a rogue News of the World reporter,' he continued. 'These are the immoral actions of a bankrupt culture. Journalists and investigators should be ashamed, as should the people who ran the paper. Editorial negligence is tantamount to complicity. If Brooks has a single shred of decency, she would resign: and were it a minister she would be demanding their head on a plate.' Byrant went on to allege that the News of the World targeted the case of murder victim Danielle Jones. Danielle was last seen on 18 June 2001. Her uncle, Stuart Campbell, was subsequently convicted of her abduction and murder. Bryant told a hushed House of Commons: 'The private voicemail mail of victims should never be a commodity for a cheap story.' Bryant went on to suggest that the culprits at the News of the World should be jailed. He told MPs: 'My hope is that people who have committed criminality at the News of the World end up going to prison. The last thing I would want is for this debate to interfere with a criminal investigation. I noted the Prime Minister's rather vacillating response earlier. But I believe it is perfectly possible to hold a public inquiry at the same time as a police investigation - in fact I think it is essential that the investigation is supplemented by an inquiry. I worry that the police investigation may have the rug pulled from under it, if people involved shred the evidence.' Bryant said that the police and press had become too close. He said of the Met: 'It pains me to say this but I think the honest truth is a lot of lies have been told to a lot of people. When police officers tell lies, or at least half-truths to ministers of the Crown and then Parliament ends up being misled, I think that is a major constitutional issue for us to face. I hope there will end up being a full investigation into that element and we will come to the truth. But at the moment what hangs around is a very dirty smell and we need the Metropolitan Police to be trusted, not just in London but across the whole of the United Kingdom. That's why we need to fight for this.' Bryant was followed in the debate by Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General. He congratulated Bryant on raising the issue noting that many people will agree with him. The suggestion that Milly Dowler's phone was hacked must 'fill people with revulsion,' noted Grieve but he added that there is a limit to what he could say in the House because criminal investigations are underway. Much of the work of the inquiry announced by David Cameron would only be able to start after the criminal proceedings have finished, he suggested. In the meantime, the government will 'seek to do all it can to progress matters further.' It would consult on the terms of reference and on whether to have one inquiry, or more than one. 'I'm sure the whole house shares the concern over the allegations of phone hacking and the many other matters that he raised during [Chris Bryant's] powerful speech this afternoon. The suggestion that Milly Dowler and the phones of 7/7 victims were hacked must fill any right thinking person with revulsion. Phone hacking is a serious crime. The courts have previously upheld custodial sentences. It is precisely because of the gravity of the allegations that the Prime Minster announced that there would be a fully independent inquiry or inquiries into the matter.' Kevin Brennan, a Labour MP, interjected to ask Grieve if the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt has the power to refer the BSkyB takeover to the Competition Commission. Grieve said that the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt did refer the matter to the Competition Commission. After he did so, a series of assurances were given by News International, Grieve added. A bit, perhaps, like all of the 'assurances' which News International previously gave that suggestions of widespread phone hacking at the News of the World were not true, one wonders? Former Labour minister Jack Straw said that the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt now has 'new information' about News Corporation which he could not have had when he made his original decision. Given that, as a matter of law, it must be open to the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt to reconsider his decision. Grieve said that the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt is 'in the chamber and will respond if he wants.' The vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt, predictably, said nothing. The New Statesman described the scene: 'At this, the Commons camera cut to the elfin figure of Mr Hunt who was sitting one assumes quasi-judicially just down the front bench from the PM with the nervous look of someone to whom the parcel has just been passed as the music stopped.' Senior Conservative Nicholas Soames suggested that there is 'serious evidence of criminality at News International.' He asked would the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt consider 'a pause' in the takeover? Grieve replied that the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt would, no doubt, 'reflect carefully on this.' (He did not say it in such a way as to suggest there is any chance in the slightest of the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt doing any such thing although the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt himself was noted to be occasionally nodding during Soames' question. Maybe he was asleep. Perhaps we'll never care.) Chris Bryant then noted: 'I know that the News of the World is hanging Andy Coulson out to dry but the buck has to stop at the top. On Rupert Murdoch’s stewardship of his media empire,' he added: 'At least Berlusconi lives in Italy. But he [Murdoch] does not even live, or pay taxes, in this country. No other country, even America, would allow that.' Why is Rebekah Brooks still in her job? Bryant asked. 'God knows if it were a minister she would be demanding their head on a plate.' Labour's Frank Dobson asked Grieve to confirm that, with News International's 'record of wrongdoing,' if they were to apply to run a minicab firm in London, they would not be given a licence to do so. In one of the most amusing exchanges of the debate, he added: 'If they're not fit and proper people to run a minicab firm, how can they be a fit and proper outfit to take over a monopoly of a whole television channel?' Grieve said that, under the Broadcasting Act, it is up to the Competition Commission to decide if people are fit to run a broadcasting operation. Which was a bit of buck-passing to match anything News International have come up with over the last few days. 'Not my problem, guv, I'm just the Attorney General. Don't look at me, I'm irrelevant.' Concluding his remarks, Grieve said that the allegations are 'very grave'. He had 'no doubt' that public interest will only be served by a full inquiry into the phone hacking scandal, but he asked for some 'forbearance' among MPs who want a swift resolution. Lib Dem Greg Mulholland said that the current system of press self-regulation had 'utterly failed.' Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, agreed that the current Press Complaints Commission arrangements have 'not delivered.' These are issues which should be dealt with as part of the inquiry, she added. Cooper called for an impartial inquiry, saying that it 'goes to the heart of our democracy.' She said: 'The very idea of targeting victims and their families is shameful, sickening and cruel. People are rightly angry. Why were these allegations not investigated sufficiently at an earlier stage? The current Metropolitan Police criminal investigation needs to be forensic and furious in the pursuit of truth. We need to know whether the actions of journalists or private investigators have interfered with police inquiries - not just in Milly Dowler's case, not just in Daniel Morgan's case, but more widely.' Cooper glanced across the chamber at the lack of culture secretary the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt as she said that she hoped he 'has been listening to what MPs have been saying about his flexibility to deal with the BSkyB takeover' - it is vitally important the public have confidence in the deal, she added. Cooper then asked who, exactly, in government will be in charge of 'setting up' any inquiry and what role David Cameron would, potentially, play? She referred to Andy Coulson, Cameron's former communications director, and said that the inquiry cannot be compromised by 'any perception of impartiality' concerning ministers. Tory MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture committee, gave a precise run-down of his committee's various dealing with the News International since the first phone hacking allegations first broke in 2006. He went through a bitter list of the numerous times that News International executives had misled him and his committee with denials. He said that just as he and other members had been 'appalled' by the House of Commons expenses scandal which brought the entire to shame, so journalists up and down the country are 'equally appalled' at the activities of some members of their profession, to general agreement from the House. The revelations mark a 'low point' of the phone hacking saga but not the 'end point,' he feared. Whittingdale said that he suspects the News of the World was not a 'rogue newspaper' any more than Clive Goodman had been 'a rogue reporter' and that other newspapers were most likely involved. The press needs to be 'held to account,' he adds. Then it was the turn of Tom Watson, the Labour MP who, along with Bryant, has done more to keep this story in the public domain than any of his colleagues. He has been vitriolic about the phone hacking saga from the outset and showed no sign of letting up when he joined the Commons debate. Having become the second person in the debate to note that Andy Coulson has, effectively, been 'fed to the wolves' by News International, he dismissed Rebekah Brooks's pleas of ignorance: 'News International has entered the criminal underworld. Rebekah Brooks was not only responsible for wrongdoing, but I believe she knew about it. The story of Rebekah Brooks being far from events is simply not believable. Her culpability goes beyond blame, it is about direct knowledge of unlawful behaviour. Yet the chief suspect has become the chief investigator. MPs have an over-familiar relationship with Rupert Murdoch's newspaper group and that has to stop.' He criticised Brooks for putting herself in charge of the News International probe into her own time as editor on the paper. Watson continued that Brooks was editing the News of the World when it carried a story that explicitly referred to a message left on Milly Dowler's mobile phone. The idea that she was 'far removed' from this was 'simply not believable.' Watson went on - using parliamentary privilege - to make allegations about 'unlawful tactics' being used at the newspaper. Labour's Steve Rotheram, Liverpool Walton MP, emotionally noted that News International has a history of rank and disgraceful duplicity with regard to 'the truth' and reminded members of the House that the Sun had lied to the country at the time of the Hillsborough disaster. Watson noted that most of Liverpool now boycotts the Sun and added that there are now campaigns on Twitter and Facebook to boycott its sister paper, the News of the World. Then Watson went for the jugular: 'I want to inform the House of further evidence that suggests Rebekah Brooks knew about the unlawful tactics of News of the World as early as 2002, despite all her denials yesterday. Rebekah Brooks was present at a meeting with Scotland Yard when police officers pursing a murder investigation provided her with evidence that her newspaper was interfering with the pursuit of justice. They gave her the name of another executive at News International, Alex Marunchak. The meeting, which included Dick Fedorcio of the Metropolitan police, told her that News of the World staff were guilty of interference and party to using unlawful means to attempt to discredit a police officer and his wife. She was told of actions by people she paid to expose and discredit David Cook and his wife Jacqui Hames so that Mr Cook would be prevented from completing an investigation into a murder. News International were paying people to interfere with police officers and were doing so on behalf of known criminals. We know, now, that News International had entered the criminal underworld. She cannot deny being present at this meeting when the actions of people she was paying were exposed. She cannot deny now being warned that under her auspices unlawful tactics were being used with the purpose of interfering with the pursuit of justice. She cannot deny that one of her staff, Alex Marunchak, was named and involved. She cannot deny, either, that she was told by the police that her own paper was using unlawful tactics, in this case to help one of her law-breaking investigators. This, in my views shows her culpability goes beyond taking the blame as head of the organisation. It is about direct knowledge of unlawful behaviour. And was Mr Marunchak dismissed? No. He was promoted.' Families, he said with seemingly genuine emotion in his voice, had trusted Brooks. 'But in her world, no one could grieve in private, no one could shed their tears without surveillance.' Watson concluded his astonishing seven minute speech by suggesting that he intends to reveal more information about the News of the World later this week. He said that he now thinks the conviction of SMP Tommy Sheridan for perjury is 'unsound.' Watson also said that James Murdoch and Brooks 'need to say what they know about the attempted destruction of material [presumably relating to News of the World e-mails] at the HCL storage depot in India. The whole board of News International is responsible for this company. I believe Mr James Murdoch should be suspended from office while the police now investigate what I believe is his personal authorisation of the cover-up of this scandal. Mr James Murdoch is the chairman. It is clear now that he personally and without board approval authorised money to be paid by his company to silence people who have been hacked and to cover up criminal behaviour within his organisation. This is nothing short of an attempt to pervert the course of justice.' Next to speak was Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes - who, of course, is alleged to have his own phone hacked by News of the World. He said it was bad enough that ordinary members of the public were having their information 'picked over,' but now it emerges that it was people 'at their most traumatised' who had been exploited in the interests of a story. 'It is the most unacceptable of behaviours.' Hughes noted that, in the event of criminal activity, for example a robbery, it is often the case that those who carried out the robbery are caught and punished whereas those who organised it and benefited from it get away scott free. This must not be allowed to happen in this case, he added, suggesting - to much laughter from the House - that an enquiry needs to establish the role and guilt of 'the big guys, or in this particular case, the big girls.' Hughes alleged that it has been known 'for years' there has been 'regular corruption' in the Met and other police forces - he said that there has been an 'endemic problem' with individual police officers receiving payments in connection with stories. He disagreed with Labour's Hazel Blears who spoke earlier saying that any police inquiry into police activities should be supervised by another force. Hughes said it, on the contrary, it should be overseen by someone unconnected to the police since, it would appear, the police cannot be trusted to police themselves. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Hughes became the latest of many speakers to urge the government to, formally, ask Ofcom to consider whether News Corporation are 'fit and proper people' to run BSkyB. He said that, as the MP for the constituency in which Ofcom are based, he would be asking them himself to make this assessment. The former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson spoke eloquently suggesting that David Cameron was right to say there would be a public inquiry - but was wrong to say that Rebekah Brooks should not resign. To some murmurs from MPs, he agreed that the prime minister did not actually use those exact words - but, he added: 'When Hansard is published tomorrow you can read between the lines.' Johnson congratulated the Gruniad for their dogged persistence in following the story when no other newspaper would touch it with a barge-pole. Johnson said the public mood at the time of previous revelations was that the hacking story was the 'obsession of one newspaper and a few backbenchers' - notably his colleagues Chris Bryant and Tom Watson - but that now this has changed utterly. He said that he had 'huge regard' for the Metropolitan Police, but asked if they were being 'dishonest, evasive or lethargic' about the hacking allegations. Someone in the House shouted 'or all three.' 'I think there was a certain lethargy that, with so much else going on, we've got two people banged up, do we need to go any further in to this?' Johnson concluded. There was a brief intervention from the Tory MP and former army officer Bob Stewart when the matter of Brooks's future was raised. If she did not resign, Stewart said, then it was the duty of 'the man above her to force her to go.' Coming from a sober Conservative member, this seemed to carry great weight. A much younger Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, made one of the most surprising and unexpected speeches beginning by warmly congratulated Chris Bryant on securing the debate and noting that the phone hacking scandal has 'escalated dramatically.' Goldsmith became the strongest Tory voice in favour of an immediate public enquiry with wide-ranging powers, saying 'what began as a conspiracy theory, is looking less and less like a theory.' He added that 'we have seen, I would say, systemic abuse of almost unprecedented power. There is nothing noble in what these newspapers have been doing.' Rupert Murdoch, he argued, 'is clearly a very talented businessman, he's possibly even a genius, but his organisation has grown too powerful and has abused that power. It has systematically corrupted the police and in my view has gelded this Parliament to our shame.' He agreed that the proposed BSkyB takeover needs to be 'put on hold until the dust has settled.' 'Who are these people who believe they can trample over the lives of ordinary people and use them for their own ends or own advancement?' Labour MP Clive Efford asked. He said that there is 'a corporate responsibility' at issue and applauded Ford's decision to withdraw its advertising from the News of the World. He urged customers of other companies who have not followed suit to boycott them. The Lib Dem Adrian Sanders made a quirky and humorous speech when he likened the Press Complaints Commission to 'a chocolate teapot' or, more bizarrely, 'a fishnet condom' to general approval from the House. He added that 'when Andy Hayman was chief of the Met, there was an air of Inspector Clouseau about it.' Labour's Paul Farrelly, another member of culture select committee, suggested that the Director of Public Prosecutions is 'equally culpable' as the police in failing to get to the bottom of the phone hacking allegations. He said that phone hacking is just one ruse used by newspapers - were there other forms of information being traded between the News of the World and police, he asked? Farrelly recalled a stinging editorial of rebuke aimed at himself and Tom Watson by the News of the World over their refusing to let the story go, noting that it had ran to eleven hundred words. 'The apology to victims of phone hacking, when it eventually came in April, was a mere four hundred words.' Farrelly said that the News of the World editor Colin Myler had singled out him and his Labour colleague Watson in an editorial for criticism and wondered what Myler's editorial would be saying on Sunday. He also has little time for the Press Complaints Commission adding that Britain has been at a 'tipping point' with the press before and nothing had happened - he said that newspaper proprietors need to look at themselves in the mirror and decide whether they liked what they saw. And, he noted, the former DPP, Ken (now Lord) Macdonald should 'examine his conscience' now that he has gone to work for News International. Farrelly was yet another MP to suggest that Brooks's position was now 'untenable.' Labour's Alun Michael said the Press Complaints Commission needed to be replaced. 'The PCC is well meaning, but frankly it's a joke, the public deserve better and the journalists deserve better. The PCC clearly has neither the will nor the ability to change things. What we need is an independent body, [one that is] robust and effective, and has the powers to investigate. That would be a major step forward.' Bryant got another pat on the back from across the Commons chamber - this time from Conservative MP Anna Soubry. She said that she put forward a private member's bill aimed at stopping the press naming people who have been arrested before they had been charged - but now she wondered if she had been courageous enough. Soubry, a former journalist herself, also said that the press has 'lost the moral plot,' but without an 'insatiable appetite for gossip and scandal' among the public, there would not be this problem. Damian Green, the Home Office minister, wound up the debate for the government. He praised the bravery of those MPs - like Bryant, Watson and Farrelly - who have been willing to campaign against phone hacking when no one was listening. He also said that the police investigation could lead to further arrests.

The Gruniad followed up claims made by Tom Watson during the debate and revealed that, as editor of the News of the World Rebekah Brooks was confronted with evidence that her paper's resources had been used on behalf of two murder suspects to spy on the senior detective who was investigating their alleged crime. Brooks was summoned to a meeting at Scotland Yard where she was told that one of her most senior journalists, Alex Marunchak, had apparently agreed to use photographers and vans leased to the paper to run surveillance on behalf of Jonathan Rees and Sid Fillery, two private investigators who were suspected of murdering their former partner, Daniel Morgan. The Yard saw this as a possible attempt to pervert the course of justice. Brooks was also told of evidence that Marunchak had a corrupt relationship with Rees, who had been earning up to one hundred and fifty thousand pounds a year selling confidential data to the News of the World. Police told her that a former employee of Rees had given them a statement alleging that some of these payments were diverted to Marunchak, who had been able to pay off his credit card and pay his child's private school fees. A Gruniad investigation suggests that surveillance of Detective Chief Superintendent David Cook involved the News of the World physically following him and his young children, 'blagging' his personal details from police databases, attempting to access his voicemail and that of his wife, and possibly sending a 'Trojan horse' e-mail in an attempt to steal information from his computer. The targeting of Cook began following his appearance on BBC Crimewatch on 26 June 2002, when he appealed for information to solve the murder of Morgan, who had been found dead in south London fifteen years earlier. Rees and Fillery were among the suspects. The following day, the Gruniad allege, Cook was warned by the Yard that they had picked up intelligence that Fillery had been in touch with Marunchak and that Marunchak agreed to 'sort Cook out.' A few days later, Cook was contacted by Surrey police, where he had worked as a senior detective from 1996 to 2001, and was told that somebody claiming to work for the Inland Revenue had contacted their finance department, asking for Cook's home address so that they could send him a cheque with a tax refund. The finance department had been suspicious and refused to give out the information. It is now known that at that time, the News of the World's investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, succeeded in obtaining Cook's home address, his internal payroll number at the Metropolitan police, his date of birth and figures for the amount that he and his wife were paying for their mortgage. All of this appears to have been stolen by Mulcaire from confidential databases, apparently including the Met's own records. Mulcaire obtained the mobile phone number for Cook's wife and the password she used for her mobile phone account. The Gruinad states that paperwork 'in the possession of the Yard's Operation Weeting' is believed to show that Mulcaire did this on the instructions of Greg Miskiw, the paper's assistant editor and a close friend of Marunchak. About a week later, a van was seen parked outside Cook's home. The following day, two vans were there. Both of them attempted to follow Cook as he took his two-year-old son to nursery school. Cook alerted Scotland Yard, who sent a uniformed officer to stop one of the vans on the grounds that its rear brake light was broken. The driver proved to be a photojournalist working for the News of the World. Both vans were leased to the paper. During the same week, there were signs of an attempt to open letters which had been left in Cook's external postbox. Scotland Yard chose not to mount a formal inquiry. Why, you may ask? The Gruniad certainly are. Instead 'a senior press officer' contacted Brooks to ask for an explanation. She is understood to have told them they were investigating a report that Cook was having an affair with another officer, Jacqui Hames, the presenter of Crimewatch. Yard sources say that they rejected this explanation, for the simple reason that Cook had been married to Hames for some years; the couple had two children, then aged two and five and they had previously appeared together as a married couple in several published articles in newspapers and magazines. 'The story was complete rubbish,' according to one 'source' quoted by the Gruniad. For four months, the Yard took no action, raising questions about whether they were willing to pursue what appeared to be an attempt to interfere with a murder inquiry. However, in November 2002, at a press social event at Scotland Yard, Brooks was asked to come into a side room for a meeting. She was confronted by Cook, his boss, Commander Andre Baker and Dick Fedorcio, the head of media relations. According to a Yard source, Cook described the surveillance on his home and the apparent involvement of Marunchak, and evidence of Marunchak's suspect financial relationship with Rees. Brooks is said to have defended Marunchak on the grounds that he 'did his job well.' As though, that's an excuse for breaking the law. Scotland Yard took no further action, apparently reflecting the desire of Fedorcio, who has had what the Gruniad describe as 'a close working relationship with Brooks,' to avoid unnecessary friction with the News of the World. In March of this year, Marunchak was named by the BBC Panorama show as the News of the World executive who hired a specialist computer hacker to plant a Trojan Horse virus on the computer of a former British intelligence officer, Ian Hurst. Rees and Fillery were eventually arrested and charged in relation to the murder of Morgan. Charges against both men were later dropped, although Rees was convicted of plotting to plant cocaine on a woman so that her ex-husband would get custody of their children, and Fillery was convicted of possessing indecent images of children. Cook and his wife are believed to be preparing a legal action against the News of the World, Marunchak, Miskiw and Mulcaire. Operation Weeting is also understood to be investigating these events.

Simon Greenberg continues to do the rounds of the TV studios. The News International Director of Corporate Affairs says there is 'clearly a political agenda' behind calls for Rebekah Brooks to go. Now that really is piss-funny, a member of News International, the company which owns FOX News, Sky News and the Sun criticising others for having a political agenda. Is that supposed to be dramatic irony, or what?

On the BBC, good old mad-as-toast Geoffrey Robertson QC pointed out to those who have said otherwise that not only is paying a police officer for information illegal, it has been so for one hundred and ten years. 'It's corrupt! It's bribery,' he noted. He described the police inquiry of 2003 as 'totally incompetent' adding that a public inquiry was needed, because otherwise it would be the police investigating police, and 'if there's one thing we know doesn't work, it's the police investigating the police.' He said that the various MPs arguing that a public inquiry cannot get under way while the police investigation is in progress are simply wrong. 'We have to be careful about saying it only happened in the 1980s,' he continued, in response to another interviewee who suggests that the industry has cleaned itself up in recent years. 'That's what the Catholic Church said about paedophile priests.'

News International has welcomed the public inquiries ordered by David Cameron into press practices and the conduct of the original police inquiry into hacking. But, as the Gruniad gleefully notes, News International 'have not always been as ready to acknowledge possible abuses by it's staff.' As this, lengthy, list of prior denials demonstrates.

Meanwhile, the Gruniad is reporting that News International intends 'to try to take the heat off beleaguered chief executive Rebekah Brooks' by claiming that the then-editor of the News of the World was 'on holiday' when Milly Dowler's mobile phone was hacked. The papers says it understands that the company 'has established that Brooks, News of the World editor from May 2000 until January 2003, was on holiday in Italy when the paper ran a story which referred to a message that had been left on the teenager's phone.' The article, which was about a message left by an employment agency on the murdered schoolgirl's mobile, was published on 14 April 2002. News International also believes that Brooks was away in the two weeks following the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham. It is thought that mobile phones belonging to the parents of the two girls were targeted in the days following their death. The Gruniad's Ian Katz suggests that this is 'largely irrelevant' because, according to 'one of his sources,' Brooks invariably got her office to fax her proofs of the paper whenever she was away. Nevertheless, this is likely to focus attention on Andy Coulson, who was Brooks's deputy at the time, and would normally have edited the paper in her absence. Coulson subsequently replaced Brooks as editor in early 2003 and has always maintained that he was unaware of any phone-hacking activity by the News of the World. News International declined to comment. On Tuesday night it passed a file to Scotland Yard which is thought to contain evidence that Coulson sanctioned payments to police officers. Coulson resigned as News of the World editor in January 2007, after Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for intercepting the voicemail messages of members of the royal household, saying that he accepted responsibility for what had happened even though he knew nothing about it. At that stage, and indeed for the next four years, News International continued to deny that any other phone hacking - apart from that for which Mulcaire and Goodman had been jailed - had taken place. Then, in January this year, they suddenly changed their tune. Coulson resigned again as Cameron's director of communications, also in January 2011, still maintaining that he was unaware of any phone hacking at the News of the World but arguing that continuing coverage of the scandal 'has made it difficult for me to give the one hundred and ten per cent needed in this role.' Whether Coulson's resignation and the sudden change in News International's story had any connection is not, at this time, known. News International is also investigating whether any News of the World journalists took cash that was meant to be paid to police officers in exchange for tip-offs and stories, and pocketing some of it themselves.

Another Gruniad contributor, Dan Sabbagh sent in a note about 'what's been going on in the News of the World newsroom this afternoon.' Sabbagh revealed that the current News of the World editor, Colin Myler, had addressed staff and section heads in the newsroom. 'Presume he didn't send an e-mail as [he] didn't want it leaked,' noted Sabbagh. 'My newsroom snout was there. Apparently it was sombre an [sic] emotional. Note where he places the blame! Myler said: "Like the rest of you I was appalled by these allegations. There is a great deal of anger directed towards this newspaper for past actions under a different regime. If these allegations are proved they would amount to the most devastating breach of journalistic ethics imaginable. These allegations about the News of the World are shocking, but they it is not the same newspaper that all of you, my colleagues, recognise today. There is an extremely painful period ahead for you all while we get to the bottom of these issues and atone for the wrongs of our predecessors.' Please do note the use of the phrase under a different regime. And reflect on the fact that the woman whose different regime this was is, currently, Colin Myler's boss, Rebekah Brooks. Just, you know, something else to think about.

Asked if David Cameron would continue to write occasional columns and opinion pieces for the News of the World in light of recent claims about the newspaper by a reporter, the prime minister's spokesman responded: 'We judge every media bid on its merits.' So, that'd be a 'no' then?

As the issue of the BSkyB takeover continues to be raised in the Commons, the broadcast regulator Ofcom has issued a statement confirming it 'has a duty to be satisfied on an ongoing basis that the holder of a broadcasting licence is fit and proper.' It says that while it is up to the police to investigate hacking, it is 'closely monitoring the situation.' However, late in the afternoon, the Gruniad noted that 'Government officials are playing down any prospect of the phone hacking affair stopping News Corporation being allowed to take over BSkyB. Ofcom has confirmed that, in theory, it could stop News Corp owning the broadcaster. And in the Commons Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, suggested that ministers did have discretion to block the bid. But government sources have challenged Grieve's interpretation of the rules and played down the prospects of an Ofcom intervention. For Murdoch, BSkyB is the real prize. The profits from BSkyB will dwarf anything he will ever earn from News of the World. If Rebekah Brooks's behaviour were endangering the prospect of the bid going ahead, one suspects she would be out of the door before you could say "Tom Watson." But at this stage it looks as if the deal will go through.'

That's not, necessarily, the view of the BBC's Robert Peston, who writes: 'There are three big things on my mind about the escalation of the crisis at the News of the World and News International over the alleged illicit way in which the Sunday tabloid obtained information. First, the disclosure that the News of the World appears to have paid tens of thousands of pounds to police officers for information over a period of years is redolent of a newsroom that seems to have been out of control. There was, according to sources, a macho culture at the News of the World from 2003 to 2006 or so when almost no practice was off limits, so long as the scoop was landed. What we now need to know is which officers received the payments that were detailed in the internal News-of-the-World e-mails sanctioning the payments. Was it a small number of officers? Was there a culture in the police force of receiving in effect "freelance income" for co-operating with journalists? Was it only the News of the World that made payments, or was this standard practice on other newspapers? The e-mails seems to show the then editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, authorising the payments. But which reporter or executive at the News of the World handed the cash over to police officers? Also who else at the News of the World or News International knew about the payments? Since they amounted to tens of thousands of pounds in total, it seems implausible that they were not approved at a higher level within the organisation. Second, the police have had the notebooks and files of Glen Mulcaire, the private detective employed by the News of the World to hack phones, since 2006. So why was it only last night, for example - and on the eve of a parliamentary debate about all this - that the police got round to contacting the victims of the 7/7 atrocities, to inform them that Mr Mulcaire may have hacked their phones? In the same vein, why have the families of the Soham victims and of Milly Dowler only recently been informed by the police that their voicemails too may have been intercepted? And what else is in the Mulcaire file about the techniques that many find truly shocking about how the News of the World behaved as though the only thing that mattered was landing the story, and never mind how it was obtained? Which brings me to my third big point. I don't see how News Corporation, owner of News International, can pursue its takeover of British Sky Broadcasting at this juncture - or at least that is the inescapable conclusion of conversations I've had with those close to the bid. On this last issue, and as I've pointed out before, Ofcom is under a legal obligation to ensure that the owners of broadcasters such as BSkyB are fit and proper. But pending the results of the police enquiry into alleged illegal behaviour by the News of the World, and pending a public disclosure by News International of the way that it has changed its structures and practices to ensure such abuses never happen again, Ofcom is not in a position to adjudicate whether News Corporation is fit and proper. That poses a dilemma for British Sky Broadcasting's independent directors. They know there is an increased risk of regulatory intervention by Ofcom to frustrate the takeover. Because of that execution risk, they would have to demand a much steeper price from News Corporation than would otherwise be the case. It is their fiduciary duty to do so - and News Corporation, run by Rupert Murdoch, will be well aware of that. Which means that even if - as is likely - the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt gives a green light for the bid to be launched in a couple of weeks or so, it would be both potentially expensive and very risky for News Corporation to press the button on the bid then. My conclusion from all this, which has been corroborated by talking to those close to the two companies, is that Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation will almost certainly have to delay their takeover of BSkyB - at least until it is apparent that the News of the World and News International have been cleaned up. And, in a worst case for Mr Murdoch and News Corporation, where the reputational damage to his organisation continues to magnify, the delay could become semi-permanent - if, for example, the perceived value of BSkyB rises beyond what News Corp would or could pay.'

Shares in News Corporation and BSkyB fell as the News of the World phone hacking scandal put Rupert Murdoch, and his bid to take control of the satellite broadcaster, under fresh scrutiny. News Corp shares fell on Wednesday by 3.3 per cent in early trading on Wall Street to $17.56, as US investors reacted to the latest developments. BSkyB shares fell as low as eight hundred and eighteen pence in London, a fall of more than three per cent. BSkyB shares came under pressure after Labour leader Ed Milimolimandi called, during prime minister's questions in the Commons, for News Corp's takeover offer to be referred to the Competition Commission, a move that could potentially thwart Murdoch's ambitions for world domination and ultimate rice pudding. The satellite broadcaster's shares had previously been changing hands for eight hundred and fifty pence on Monday afternoon, before the Gruniad revealed that missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler's voicemail had been hacked by News of the World journalists. The lack of culture secretary, the vile and odious rascal and spineless coward Hunt, gave the provisional go-ahead for the deal last Friday, subject to a final seven-day consultation over plans to spin-off Sky News as a separately listed company to allay plurality fears. But, as we all know, seven days in politics is a long time. The consultation closes at midday on Friday 8 July. Traders in the City believe Murdoch's bid to buy the sixty one per cent of Sky not already owned by News Corp will probably still succeed, but are also aware of the possibility of further evidence about phone hacking emerging. 'It's hard to believe that the phone-hacking scandal could directly put the BSkyB bid in jeopardy, but it all depends on what future front-page revelations we see, and the strength of the voices against News of the World,' said Joshua Raymond, chief market strategist at City Index. Raymond believes investors would push BSkyB's price below eight hundred pence if they believed the bid was under serious threat. Louise Cooper, market analyst at BGC Partners, said that City traders are confident the BSkyB deal will proceed. According to Cooper there has been heavy trading in BSkyB shares on Wednesday, nearly three times as much as usual.

Insane old ranting Tory gasbag Norman Tebbit has tried to include a political dimension in a story that, frankly, should be way above politics, suggesting that whilst there is 'no excuse' for the News of the World scandal the 'smug hypocrisy of the Left' is pretty revolting, too. Picking up where he left off in the 1980s, by appearing to ram his tongue so far up Uncle Rupert's chuff that there's no room for anyone else, he noted: 'It would take a strong stomach not to be revolted ...' Yeah, thanks for your contribution, Norm. I'll have to stop you there because ... well, I don't actually need a reason, I'm just going to stop you there.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, has explained why the group has stopped a Sky promotion on its website, saying: 'They were paying for an advertising campaign on Mumsnet which we have pulled because our members didn't want us to be doing business with a Murdoch enterprise on the back of the Milly Dowler News of the World allegations.' Ah, you've lost the mummies now, Rupert. Slippery slope, mate, slippery slope.

In the most outspoken criticism of the News of the World by one of its major advertisers, car manufacturer Mitsubishi has described the latest allegations about phone hacking by the paper as 'unbelievable, unspeakable and despicable.' The company earlier announced it had suspended 'all media and advertising spend' with the News of the World, and promised to donate any funds saved to the charity Childline.

The anti-Murdoch backlash, however, does seem to be real. Giles Coren has posted on Twitter that someone was rude to him in the butcher's because he writes for The Times!

The latest Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day is a special request for a Mrs Brooks currently of Oxfordshire but soon, perhaps, of Holloway.

No comments: