Phone-hacking scandal: Keep up at the back!

It's quite confusing, isn't it? Let Matthew Bell guide you through the twists and turns of this Shakespearean drama

Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be a short interval. The curtains are down, the stage cleared, and it's time to stretch your legs and get an ice-cream. Act III of the News International phone-hacking scandal is over and, frankly, we could all do with a break.

The saga is a long way from over. But what a riveting first half it's been, sending shock waves through Westminster, Fleet Street and the Metropolitan Police. Heads have been rolling like guillotine day at the Bastille. Each news bulletin brings a story that, a month ago, would have been inconceivable. But for those of us with lives to be lived, keeping up with every last twist and turn has been a bit, well, trying.

The overture to this power pantomime has been rumbling on since 2007, when the News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire went to prison for hacking Prince William's phone. But it wasn't until three weeks ago, on 4 July, that the drama really kicked off.

Act I, Scene I opened with the explosive revelation that the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had also had her voicemail intercepted by a clutch of low-life hacks. The action moved fast: the Soham girls, 7/7 survivors, and relatives of serving soldiers – all were revealed to be possible victims of illegal activity. Rebekah Brooks was disgusted; Andy Coulson was arrested; Clive Goodman was rearrested. Four days later, James Murdoch announced he was closing the News of the World, hoping to limit the saga to just one act, preferably with a happy ending – the sale of BSkyB to News Corp.

But no. Act II proved to be just as eventful. Rupert Murdoch flew in to manage the crisis. Britain's most senior police officers were hauled in for questions by MPs who delighted in this, perhaps getting an eye for an eye after the expenses scandal.

Things got stranger with the beatification of St Hugh of Grant. You couldn't get him off the airwaves. At one point, he said that asking Rebekah Brooks to clear up News International was like asking Hitler to sort out the Nazi party. Steady! Even Gordon Brown was roused from his brooding. But he got it wrong, and conveniently forgot that, like everyone else, he sucked up to the Murdochs when it suited him.

By the end of the second week, nine people in all had been arrested, and Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton and Tom Crone had all sensationally quit News International. But still, nobody had admitted to actually knowing of any illegal activity having happened under their watch. Of course not!

By last Saturday, the scandal was officially recognised as Shakespearean; at least it was by users of Twitter, who began posting memes about "The Taming of the Screws" and "Hackbeth". "Is this a blagger I see before me?", asked one; "Now is the winter of our discontent, Made spurious summer by this son of Oz," declaimed another, trumped only by: "When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in front of Tom Watson at the DCMS Committee on Tuesday?"

Act III opened on Sunday with the surprise arrest of Ms Brooks, who was held in a London police station for nine hours. Her lawyer complained about the damage to her reputation. Still, she wasn't in overnight, like the time she clobbered her then husband, Ross Kemp (allegedly!).

The tale took a darker twist on Monday, when the former NOTW reporter Sean Hoare was found dead. He had contradicted the official line that hacking was the work of one rogue reporter. Mr Hoare, who had problems with drink and drugs, said Andy Coulson "was well aware that the practice exists". It's still not known how he died.

Then came the Mystery of the Computer in the Car Park, when police were handed a laptop and a phone, found in a bin near Ms Brooks's home. Her husband Charlie asked for them back, but it was no good.

On Tuesday came the moment all rival newspaper owners had been waiting for – Rupert's day in court. Well, not quite – he was up against a bunch of corduroyed backbenchers. But they performed well, especially Tom Watson, who has more or less lived for this moment for years.

Predictably, everyone was suffering from the amnesia that descends on anyone who is asked what they knew about phone-hacking. Rupert put in a good performance as Lear, a tired old man with a kingdom in chaos. He suddenly remembered what he had been coached to say, that this was "the most humble day of my life". He banged the table, sensing perhaps that James's Harvard MBA management-speak about "quantum of damages" had sent everyone to sleep.

There was no snoozing in the row behind, as Wendi Deng showed, by karate-chopping the man with the foam pie heading for her husband. This incident proved to be the most revealing moment of the day, as cameras caught James's cringing reaction as the attack happened.

On Wednesday, it was the Prime Minister's turn to take centre stage. Someone told him it might be a good idea to come back from Africa – that continent's problems were nothing compared to the great London soap opera. He finally made an apology of sorts for having appointed Andy Coulson as his director of communications. With 20/20 hindsight, he said, he wouldn't have appointed Mr Coulson. Not because he was a criminal, mind you, but because it had been such a bother being dragged into all this. And besides, he seemed to say, Andy is still innocent.

How does he know? For it then emerged that Mr Coulson was never given top-level security clearance before being appointed by No 10, an admission that could prove dangerous for the PM. News International then stopped paying Glenn Mulcaire's legal fees, which, if he starts talking, could prove dangerous for them. And things got bleak for James Murdoch when two former employees spoke out against his evidence. Colin Myler, the last editor of the NOTW, and Tom Crone, former head of legal affairs, issued a terse two-paragraph statement saying they had shown him what has been christened the "For Neville" email in 2007. That really could prove dangerous for him.

As the curtain came down on Act III, the Prime Minister was saying that James Murdoch "clearly" needs to explain himself. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Act IV will be long and tortuous, as everyone from the FBI to Strathclyde Police launches an inquiry, or in the Met's case, an inquiry into their inquiry. Act V is several years away, as today, James and Rupert Murdoch are still on the board of News Corp, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are still free to roam the streets, and the Prime Minister is still in office.

Expect plenty more to exit the stage yet ... perhaps pursued by a bare Page Three girl.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Digital Marketing Assistant

£17 - 27k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Marketing Assistant to join ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor