It’s been a week since my last instalment of this riveting saga of dynasty, criminality and corruption at the heart of our government, and though things haven’t been playing out in the same tremendous rush of exposes – the firestorm as David Cameron called it – the phone hacking revelations at News International, and the subsequent coverup, will continue to rumble on, and explode in lightning strikes at unexpected intervals.
Some key developments worth noting to day though.
1. James Murdoch to be Recalled to Parliament
As I said on July 19th, the mere fact that James and his father Rupert were forced to come to the culture committee and explain themselves to MPs in the full glare of the cameras, was a key moment – optically, politically, and socially.
Finally the most powerful dynasty in the country were forced to appear before the elected representatives of the people.
It was moving, comic, unsatisfactory and still somehow momentous for most Brits. Murdoch’s power had always come from fear (of expose) rather than intellectual respect, admiration or warmth. And here he was, a befuddled slightly deaf old dynast, hiding behind process and PR lines (“The most humble day of my life”).
However, there are legal consequences for giving false testimony to Parliament, even if the testimony wasn’t taken under oath. The key issue here is what James did or did not know about the widespread phone hacking at News of the World when he paid off an amazing 1 million pound sterling settlement (plus fees) to one of the victims of what was always alleged to be a ‘rogue reporter and private detective.
James Murdoch is likely to be summoned to appear before MPs for a second time after a former director of legal affairs at News International joined other former executives in challenging his evidence to the Commons culture select committee.
The committee’s chairman, John Whittingdale, said it was “very likely” that the BSkyB chairman would be asked to appear in person again if his evidence was contradicted by the former News International executives.
MPs on the committee decided to write to Murdoch to ask him to explain in writing his remarks about his decision to approve a £700,000 payout to Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, to the select committee on 19 July.
Murdoch told the committee that, at the time of approving the payout, he had no knowledge of an email that raised questions about the News of the World’s central defence in the phone-hacking scandal – that it was the work of one “rogue reporter”.
The committee is also writing to Colin Myler, the NoW’s former editor, and Tom Crone, the paper’s former head of legal affairs.
2. But Chief In House Lawyer won’t Play Along
Now even the NotW”s former in house lawyer, Tom Crone, is querying James’ remarks that he knew of no other reporters involved in hacking.
Mr. Crone, who was the top lawyer at the tabloid, joined forces last week with its former editor, Colin Myler, to challenge the testimony Mr. Murdoch gave at a parliamentary committee hearing two days earlier.
The two men said that in 2008 they had informed Mr. Murdoch-who was then overseeing News Corp.’s European and Asian operations-of a key 2005 email that suggests that interceptions of voice mails at the paper went beyond a single reporter and a private investigator.
Mr. Murdoch, who is News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, said last week he first saw evidence of that in late 2010.
3. And now the Private Investigator begins to Sing
Just breaking, so I’ll have to link the last sources later, private investigator involved, Glyn Mulcaire, is trying to free himself of his legal restrictions. He’s already suggesting he was part of the management team.
TomSkyNews Tom Parmenter
BREAKING Mulcaire says any suggestion he acted unilaterally is untrue. This raises yet more big questions #hackgate
As his solicitor (lawyer) has just said:
Glenn Mulcaire has already expressed his sincere regret to those who have been hurt and affected by his activities and he repeats that apology most sincerely.
He was effectively employed by News of the World from 2002 to carry out his role as a private investigator.
As he accepted when he pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of phone interception he admits that his role did include phone hacking. As an employee he acted on the instructions of others.
There were also occasions when he understood his instructions were from those who genuinely wished to assist in solving crimes. Any suggestion that he acted in such matters unilaterally is untrue. In the light of the ongoing police investigation, he cannot say any more.
When your lawyers start complaining, and you lose control of one of your key employees who has now escaped his gagging clause, things can unravel fast (ask Richard Nixon)
4. The Drip Drip Drip of Victims continues
Meanwhile, though the legal manoeuvring takes place front of stage, Operation Weeting, the police investigation into the phone hacking continues to grind its way through the 10,000 names and numbers and personal details in Glyn Mulcaire’s notes. It’s worth noting several points here.
1. The police investigation, which is now staffed by 60 officers, is the biggest police investigation in the country.
2. So far, they have contacted only 200 or so victims – i.e. less than 2 per cent of the total.
3. Glyn Mulcaire was only one private investigator working for one newspaper.
This week came a further disturbing revelation. One of the victims turns out to be the mother of a murdered child, Sarah Payne, herself apparent a friend of the former Editor of NoTW and CEO of News International:
The phone-hacking scandal took a sinister new twist last night after it emerged that police have warned the mother of Sarah Payne that a phone given to her by the News of the World may have been targeted by a detective working for the paper. Sara Payne was given the phone shortly after her eight-year-old daughter, Sarah, was abducted and murdered in July 2000.
Police had previously told her that her name was not among those recorded by the NOTW investigator Glenn Mulcaire, but on Tuesday officers from Operation Weeting said they had found her personal details among the investigator’s notes; the information had previously been thought to refer to a different target.
Friends of Ms Payne said she was “absolutely devastated and deeply disappointed” at the disclosure. Her campaign to give parents the right to know if paedophiles were living in their area was championed by the NOTW, in particular by its former editor Rebekah Brooks.
In a sense, none of us should be surprised this has happened – though the cruel irony is that the phone that was hacked was given as a gift from News International. The organisation has, we already know, hacked the phones of murder victims, the families of dead soldiers, terror victims, celebrities, other journalists, lawyers and senior politicians.
5. Only Months to Go?
This is the scandal that won’t go away. And the Murdoch brand, o
nce the most feared in the land, has become toxic. Especially to the senior members of the British Government – the Prime Minister, The Chancellor and the Education Secretary – who racked up weekly meetings with senior Newscorp figures over the last year.
As Michael Wolff, Murdoch’s biographer, and someone with a keen eye for the family and corporate dynamics, said in the lecture in London today:
“I think this is an end game for the Murdoch family’s relationship with News Corporation,” Wolff said of the hacking scandal.
“I think that within the relatively short term – 60 days, 90 days – we’ll see it played out.”
He elaborated more in an interview with Reuters Insider TV, that News Corp would face a “lifetime of litigation” if the Murdochs remained in charge.
I think actually the Murdochs have to and will step out of not only day-to-day running, but they won’t have jobs within the company.
To restore credibility and to restore trust to this company, the newspapers have to go and the Murdochs have to go
I think at the end of the day, what we have here is that the Murdoch name is toxic. I think that this company, its shareholders, its directors, its other managers will want to get as far away from that name as possible.
DON’T FORGET: the FBI are still investigating both claims of hacking on US soil, and a potential breach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in the suborning of police officials. Another arrest or supoena from stateside could be the final blow to the credibility of the the Murdoch Dynasty, and the future of Newscorp. Keep the heat on.