Can Leveson Inquiry get any worse for key players?
This week's hearings have heard testimony of corruption at The Sun, public figures on the take – and now an attempt to subvert a murder case. And there is more evidence to come...
Following stints with Reuters and the Press Association, Martin Hickman joined The Independent as a news editor in 2001. He became the Consumer Affairs Correspondent in September 2005 and has run the paper's trenchant campaigns on packaging, bank charges and factory-farmed chicken. He writes on subjects as diverse as food, finance, energy and fashion. With Tom Watson, he is author of a new book on the phone hacking scandal, Dial M for Murdoch - News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain.
Wednesday 29 February 2012
Can the Leveson Inquiry get any worse... for News Corporation?
Of the 2,030 days that have passed since anti-terrorist officers raided the homes of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire on 8 August 2006, the past few have been among the worst for Rupert Murdoch.
Fortress Wapping, the headquarters of his British newspaper unit News International, was already being battered by three major Metropolitan Police operations – Weeting into phone hacking, Tuleta into computer hacking and Elveden into corruption of police and public officials. (In the space of a fortnight alone at the end of January and the beginning of this month, Elveden officers arrested nine senior Sun journalists.)
Then the bad news really started. On Thursday last week, a High Court judge released documents suggesting that from November 2009, News International's senior executives carried out a deliberate policy of deleting emails that might help people claiming their messages had been hacked by the News of the World. On Friday, The Independent established that a senior police officer had leaked sensitive information to NI's former chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, at the time of the first hacking inquiry in 2006.
On Monday, Scotland Yard disclosed that The Sun had been running a "network of corrupted officials". And Charlotte Church savaged NI for surveilling her family for years, witheringly revealing its intention to drag her mentally fragile mother into the witness box during her civil case and claimed the company was not genuinely sorry but "sorry they had got caught".
Among the greatest concerns for Mr Murdoch's fellow executives at NI's US-based parent, News Corp, is that under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act it will be charged for its newspapers' bribery of police officers in Britain. More worryingly, perhaps, for those in New York, is that News International's own behaviour in accusing London's police force of a corruption "witch hunt" may well have provoked the Met into unleashing such damning details of its alleged illegal payments to public officials.
News Corp executives have long been concerned about the fall-out from the hacking scandal at its shrinking and relatively unprofitable newspapers (at least compared to its pay-TV interests) and those concerns are likely now to have been heightened. Mr Murdoch is the chief executive and chairman and his family controls the voting shares. But his strong grip on power almost certainly will have been weakened.
Can the Leveson Inquiry get any worse... for the Government?
David Cameron's judgement was questioned earlier when he employed the former Murdoch editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications in 2007 – and then brought him into Downing Street last year – despite warnings about his past. But the issue has not resurfaced – yet. Much fiercer scrutiny will come when Lord Leveson begins the third module of his inquiry, into the relationship between the press and politicians.
But if the ever-increasing links between News International and the Metropolitan Police are mirrored in the Conservatives' relationships with NI – and the Prime Minister enjoyed a warm relationship with Rupert Murdoch, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks – he will be in trouble.
These allegiances would begin to look still more questionable should there be further revelations that MPs were spied upon by private investigators hired by the News of the World. Yesterday the Leveson Inquiry heard that the names of 44 current and former MPs, along with those of 10 peers – 14 of whom the police said were "likely victims of phone-hacking" – had been found in the records of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator at the centre of the scandal.
Can the Leveson Inquiry get any worse... or for the Met Police?
An ever greater cloud has built over Scotland Yard's failed investigation into phone hacking in 2006. Internal Met police documents disclosed at the Leveson Inquiry this week makes plain senior officers knew at the time that hundreds of individuals may have had their phones hacked by the News of the World, yet they prosecuted just Goodman and Mulcaire.
Even more strange is Assistant Commissioner John Yates' decision not to re-open the inquiry in 2009 following evidence that the NOTW had hacked into union leader Gordon Taylor's phone. Ian Blair, the former Commissioner, suggested in written evidence to Leveson that in courting News International, senior officers may have been taking their lead from politicians desperate for the group's approval – or at least to be spared its malice.
The question is whether it was cosiness – or outright corruption – that was to blame for the odd decisions taken by the Met before the launch of Operation Weeting in January 2011. The suspicion that there was something untoward has been heightened by the apparently widespread use of bribery at The Sun.
When – or if – cases come to court, the Met's reputation will be undermined by the disclosure that the favours of some of its staff could be bought for bundles of cash. The payments will take on much greater significance if they are found to have been to members of the Specialist Operations directorate which investigated hacking in 2006.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers' apparent willingness on Monday to provide details of the scale of The Sun's "network of corrupted officials" may reflect an anger within the Yard at the attack by the paper's journalists on Operation Elveden following its dawn raids during the last few weeks. The Met's past behaviour is now looking much dodgier – and its current conduct impressive.
For a guide to who's who at the Leveson Inquiry click HERE
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