LONDON — The story so far: Clive Goodman, a journalist for Rupert Murdoch’s English tabloid, News of the World, was sent to prison in 2007, along with a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, for hacking into the voice mail messages of Prince William and Prince Henry. News International, the U.K. newspaper-owning subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation, has consistently claimed that the phone hacking was confined to a single rogue reporter, but evidence uncovered by the Guardian and The New York Times has suggested otherwise.
The last few days have seen a flurry of developments in the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal. Two senior News of the World journalists, the recently sacked news editor Ian Edmondson and Neville Thurlbeck, still the paper’s chief reporter, have been arrested, interviewed and had their homes searched by police. Edmondson was suspended in January when new evidence came to light suggesting that he had been involved in hacking the voice mail of actress Sienna Miller and some of her associates.
At the same time as these recent arrests, lawyers acting for Sienna Miller have obtained a court order requiring mobile phone company Vodafone to reveal the numbers of the persons who had hacked Miller’s voice mail and that of her publicist Ciara Parkes. And former MP George Galloway has said that he has been shown a document taken from Mulcaire’s home that included Galloway’s name, mobile number and security PIN details as well as the names of those who left messages for him and what those messages said. The only thing missing from the document was the name of the person, presumably a News of the World journalist, to whom it had been addressed; it was written on a corner that had been torn off.
In recent weeks there were claims that retired News International computer hard drives were languishing in a warehouse in London’s East End and that archived e-mails had been lost when transferred to India by News International’s IT provider, but now it has emerged that the archived e-mails have been tracked down. A High Court judge, Mr. Justice Vos, has ordered the “rolling disclosure” of hundreds of thousands of e-mails to interested parties, namely the various celebrities who suspect that their mobile phones were hacked for potentially compromising voice mail messages before and maybe even after the 2006 phone-hacking case.
Central to News International’s defense all along has been its assertion that royal reporter Clive Goodman had been acting alone back in 2006. No outsiders (and probably few insiders) actually believe this anymore. The archived e-mails include messages sent and received by Andy Coulson, the News of the World editor who has consistently claimed that illegal phone hacking took place entirely without his knowledge, and also messages sent and received by three former News of the World news editors—Edmondson, Thurlbeck and Greg Miskiw—whose names or initials appeared in paperwork confiscated by the police from Mulcaire.
Murdoch’s first line of defense against the reopened criminal investigation and the onslaught of civil claims against News International is the company’s flame-haired managing director, Rebekah Brooks.
Murdoch was once asked what he thought of Brooks, who has risen through the ranks of his U.K. tabloids, serving successively as editor of News of the World and the Sun. “She’s a larrikin,” he said, using a popular Australian term for a person who is mischievous and enjoys thumbing their nose at authority.
Now, a statement Brooks made to a Parliamentary committee eight years ago has opened up a new front in the phone-hacking war. She told Parliament’s culture, media and sports select committee in 2003 that “we have paid the police for information in the past.” This statement was let pass at the time because it predated the infamous Goodman case and the exposure of phone hacking at News of the World. But Keith Vaz, the MP who chairs the home affairs committee, has chosen to reopen this can of worms. He has written to Brooks asking for the answers to three questions: how many police officers did the Sun newspaper pay while she was editor, how much were they paid and when did the practice cease?
This has arisen because of something said to Vaz’s committee by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Yates. He led the investigation into phone hacking at News of the World, which concluded that none of its journalists—other than Clive Goodman—had been involved in phone hacking, a conclusion that has since been thrown into doubt by both Guardian and New York Times investigations. Yates told the committee that when Brooks had admitted that the Sun paid police officers for information back in 2003, the police had initiated research into the claim but had not launched a formal investigation.
The problem is that paying police officers is a criminal offense, just like phone hacking. Of course, going back many years, several newspapers kept police officers lubricated with pub drinks and generally well nourished while certain tabloids adopted a more explicit policy of putting indiscreet police officers on their payrolls. Brooks was being honest about such practices in her remarks back in 2003.
While the Metropolitan Police have, for whatever reasons, been slow to widen their investigation of phone hacking at News of the World, Parliamentary committees have shown that they are determined to embarrass Murdoch’s newspapers and hold them to account as much as possible. But Vaz’s questions represent a particular jeopardy for Brooks. If the practice of paying police officers was continued at the Sun under her editorship, Brooks might find herself implicated in a further scandal about illegal journalistic behavior while acting as News International’s chief flak on the phone-hacking scandal.