Stephen Glover: These arrests reveal that Murdoch is no longer running the show

Media Studies: The detaining of five senior Sun employees has turned a crisis into a calamity

Nothing like this has happened to a newspaper before. Two weeks ago the executive editor of The Sun, Fergus Shanahan, was arrested with four other former or current journalists on the paper. That was bad enough, but the arrest on Saturday of five senior employees, including joint deputy editor Geoff Webster and chief reporter John Kay, has turned a crisis into something close to a calamity.

Amazingly, these Sun journalists, arrested over alleged corrupt payments to the police, are being shipped by their own parent company, News Corp. The so-called Management and Standards Committee (MSC), which has been passing emails to the Operation Elveden police investigation, is answerable to the board of News Corp, rather than to Rupert Murdoch, the company's chairman, or James Murdoch, chairman of News International, the British operation.

The MSC is run by Lord Grabiner a Labour peer and QC; Simon Greenberg, head of corporate affairs at News International; and his friend, Will Lewis, general manager. So independent are they that they did not give Rupert and James Murdoch or Tom Mockridge, chief executive of News International, or Dominic Mohan, editor of The Sun, prior notice of the arrests two weeks ago, and it is doubtful whether they did so on Saturday.

Mr Lewis, a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and one of the most ambitious men on the planet, is believed to be the Torquemada of this operation. He presumably thinks he is serving the interests of Rupert Murdoch, who has to show the board and shareholders of News Corp that he is rooting out every rotten apple. According to journalists on The Sun, as well as the National Union of Journalists, Mr Lewis and his fellow inquisitors are involved in a "witch-hunt".

It is illegal to pay police or other public servants for information, though in some cases a public interest defence might be entered. After all, The Daily Telegraph paid £150,000 for a computer disk made by officials which revealed the scandal of MPs expenses. (The paper's then editor was Will Lewis.) We don't know what the arrested Sun journalists are supposed to have done since no charges have yet been brought against them.

But the actions of the Management and Standards Committee could compromise the anonymity of sources if proceedings are brought. A police officer, a member of the armed forces and a Ministry of Defence employee, all of them unnamed, were arrested along with the five Sun journalists on Saturday, and an unidentified police officer was arrested with the four journalists two weeks ago. These and other sources will have spoken to The Sun on condition of anonymity, yet the MSC is evidently prepared to break a sacred undertaking.

What is clear is that Rupert Murdoch is no longer running the show. Before flying to London, he told Mr Mockridge he has no intention of closing The Sun, but it may no longer be within his power to stop it. This story is spinning out of his, or anyone else's, control. We don't know whether charges will be brought against the Sun journalists, but it seems clear that Operation Elveden, which will soon have 61 police officers at its disposal, is looking for scalps.

The closure of The Sun is not unimaginable. If Mr Murdoch can shut down the News of the World, he can shut down The Sun. But it seems more likely that he will be forced by News Corp to dispose of the daily red top, which is becoming an embarrassment to the company. In that case, the obvious buyer would be the pornographer Richard Desmond, owner of the Express titles and Channel Five, which would be a far worse outcome. The Times and The Sunday Times would have to be sold since they are kept going by cross subsidy from The Sun. We may be witnessing the implosion of the Murdoch empire in Britain, which I don't welcome because I believe that what follows will be worse.

Whatever happens, the whole of the media is likely to suffer as a result of The Sun's excesses. The sight of policemen and other public officials being arrested, and in due course probably exposed and charged, is bound to deter other public employees from talking to the media on any terms. Much of what we know about the secret workings of government, the criminal justice system, the police and other public bodies we learn only because officials are prepared to talk privately to the media, usually without payment. This invaluable interchange is now being threatened.

Damning admission that will soon be forgotten

One person who may be relieved by The Sun's dramas is James Harding, editor of its stablemate, The Times. Last week he admitted to the Leveson Inquiry not only that evidence of his paper's involvement in email hacking was withheld from the High Court, but also that he became personally aware of it before the judge concerned had delivered his ruling, and yet failed to inform him. In normal circumstances this might be considered quite a damning admission. As it is, it will be soon forgotten.

s.glover@independent.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Guru Careers: Sales Director / Business Development Manager

£35 - 45K + COMMISSION (NEG): Guru Careers: A Sales Director / Business Develo...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Sauce Recruitment: Senior Management Accountant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for a independently owne...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness