What now? More arrests expected in the days ahead

The net is tightening around past and present staff at Wapping – and journalists elsewhere may yet be in the frame

By Matt Chorley
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:34

After the extraordinary events of last week, what happens now?

The media, legal and political battles show no sign of abating this week. On Tuesday, Sue Akers, the Met police officer heading Operation Weeting into phone-hacking, will be grilled by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. Also appearing are Andy Hayman, the former assistant Met commissioner who led the first much-criticised police inquiry, and Paul Clarke, an ex-deputy assistant commissioner. Hayman, who now writes for the Murdoch-owned Times, will argue that, at the time of his hacking investigation, Scotland Yard was dealing with a series of major terror threats. On Wednesday, David Cameron meets Ed Miliband to thrash out terms of reference for the judge-led inquiry into hacking. And more people can expect the police to come knocking.

How many more arrests?

Sources warn that the first wave will take in "anywhere between five and 12" past and present staff from News International over the next week. "We haven't even begun looking at other newspapers," the sources say.

Where will the investigation lead?

While Operation Weeting probes phone-hacking, last week police launched Operation Elveden to investigate police corruption after News International emails appeared to show payments from reporters and private investigators to serving officers. At least four officers have been identified.

Andy Coulson says "There is a lot I'd like to say, but I can't." Is he talking to the police?

Despite being formally arrested and questioned for nine hours, it is unclear what Coulson told detectives about his time within the Murdoch empire. But his letter, released yesterday, shows he is sticking to his story, and suggests he will not allow himself to be used as a scapegoat.

Does shutting the NOTW make sense?

It will have been tough for Murdoch to close the first British paper he bought. The staff feel they are being punished for others' wrongdoing. But the NOTW is worth just 1.4 per cent of News Corp's market value. By dumping the "toxic" red-top, Murdoch hopes he can still get his hands on the big prize – BSkyB. Murdoch owns 39 per cent of the broadcaster, and has set aside £7.5bn to buy it outright.

Is the BSkyB sale now more or less likely?

The scale of the opprobrium heaped on the newspaper last week – and Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, signalling a delay in the bid – saw investors take flight, with £1bn wiped from BSkyB's market value. Now the media watchdog Ofcom is following developments closely to see if Murdoch senior and junior are at risk of failing the "fit and proper" test to run a broadcaster.

Is Rebekah Brooks simply a human shield?

She insists she is acting as "conductor" for the most serious allegations. However, there is a danger that her continued presence in Wapping is inflicting even greater damage on the business.

What did Brooks mean when she said things would be clearer in a year?

No matter what dirt has come out hitherto, far more is expected to be aired when at least five legal test cases reach the courts next year.

What about a cover-up?

First it was a rogue reporter, then it was a lack of evidence and emails that had gone missing. Brooks said she was on holiday when Milly Dowler's phone was hacked. On Thursday, James Murdoch admitted making statements to Parliament and authorising payouts to alleged hacking victims "without being in the full possession of the facts".

Does phone-hacking still go on?

Possibly. Phones are harder to hack because they no longer have default PIN numbers that allow access to voicemails – and they cannot be changed remotely. But experts warn that security is still not tight enough.

Is hacking ever legal?

Strictly speaking, no. Laws on intercepting communications offer no public-interest defence, but recognise "lawful excuse" – usually covering only investigations by police or the security services.

What about other papers?

In 2006, the then-Information Commissioner produced a report into a private investigator, showing almost 2,000 transactions, many of them unlawful, with journalists from several other newspapers – but not The Independent or Independent on Sunday. It is unclear how wide the net will spread.

What about other nefarious tactics?

Conversations can be intercepted in real time by "bugging" or "tapping". "Blagging" involves impersonating a person in order to access their personal information. Experts also target computers with spying technology. Failing that, there are old-fashioned methods, such as sending people round to people's houses to rifle through bins, theft or blackmail.

What about the missing emails?

Police are reportedly investigating evidence that a News International executive deleted millions of emails detailing daily contact between NOTW staff and outsiders dating back to 2005 in an attempt to obstruct the phone-hacking investigation. A News International spokeswoman said the latest claims, in The Guardian, about emails being destroyed were "rubbish".

Will Tommy Sheridan, the jailed firebrand Scottish politician, be sprung because Coulson is back in the news?

Possibly. Coulson told the former MSP's perjury trial that he was unaware of illegal activities or payments to police while NOTW editor. Now, News International emails allegedly link him with payments during that period. The Crown Office has ordered a "preliminary assessment" of trial evidence in light of the scandal.

Who else might be caught up in this?

Anyone who found themselves in the news in the last decade is a likely target – politicians, celebrities, sports stars, crime victims, criminals, royalty. The list includes murder victim Danielle Jones, Colin Stagg, wrongly accused of Rachel Nickell's murder in 1992, and Michael Mansfield, a lawyer involved in the Diana inquest.

Is David Cameron damaged?

Having a close aide forced out and later arrested on suspicion of bribing police is never good. But the PM's loyalty to Coulson is either impressive or foolhardy – and claiming "we have all been in this together" drew his political opponents into the furore, and painted himself as a victim of a wider culture. Ed Miliband will get initial credit for being ahead of the curve. Cameron could eventually turn it to his advantage to pose as the man who cleaned up the media.

Is Miliband right to declare war on Murdoch?

A high-risk gamble. But all of the NI titles deserted Labour 18 months ago, and he has found his voice on an issue that resonates with the public. Many on the left – and in the Lib Dems – have wanted to take on Murdoch for years. However, Miliband's chief spinner is Tom Baldwin, a former Times hack, and rumours have begun circulating about his journalistic past. There could be a sting in the tail: Murdoch allies have allegedly warned Miliband there will be "repercussions" if he doesn't back off.

Where does this leave the press?

The Press Complaints Commission is dead in the water. At present, the commission includes the editors of the Sunday Mirror, Sunday Telegraph, The Scotsman, Mail on Sunday and several regional titles, but the system of journalists sitting in judgment on complaints against other papers will have to change. The industry fears public opinion will give politicians the chance to impose statutory regulation.

Is the outrage overblown? Are there parallels with the fury against MPs?

For some politicians, this is retribution after feeling the wrath of Fleet Street over their Commons expenses. The outrage against red-top journalism has escalated because of the emotive nature of the victims, and – as with the expenses scandal – it reinforces preconceptions about the media. The backlash has begun: reporters on local papers say they have been abused when making routine calls, while even those connected with provincial politics have taken the chance to kick out at all journalists, regardless of their newspaper background.