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.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
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: Digital Printing Trainee / Computer Graphics

£8000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have an interest in compu...

Recruitment Genius: Content / Copy Writer

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has bec...

Reach Volunteering: Trustee with experience in science communication

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: The Society for Expe...

Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin