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 year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
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

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?