Magazine article The Spectator

What the Papers Won't Say

Magazine article The Spectator

What the Papers Won't Say

Article excerpt

The omert?of Britain's press and politicians on phone-hacking amounts to complicity in crime

Let's try a thought experiment. Let's imagine that BP threw an extravagant party, with oysters and expensive champagne. Let's imagine that Britain's most senior politicians were there - including the Prime Minister and his chief spin doctor. And now let's imagine that BP was the subject of two separate police investigations, that key BP executives had already been arrested, that further such arrests were likely, and that the chief executive was heavily implicated.

Let's take this mental experiment a stage further: BP's chief executive had refused to appear before a Commons enquiry, while MPs who sought to call the company to account were claiming to have been threatened. Meanwhile, BP was paying what looked like hush money to silence people it had wronged, thereby preventing embarrassing information entering the public domain.

And now let's stretch probability way beyond breaking point. Imagine that the government was about to make a hugely controversial ruling on BP's control over the domestic petroleum market. And that BP had a record of non-payment of British tax. The stench would be overwhelming. There would be outrage in the Sun and the Daily Mail - and rightly so - about Downing Street collusion with criminality. The Sunday Times would have conducted a fearless investigation, and the Times penned a pained leader. In parliament David Cameron would have been torn to shreds.

Instead, until this week there has been almost nothing, save for a lonely campaign by the Guardian. Because the company portrayed above is not BP, but News International, owner of the Times, the Sunday Times, the News of the World and the Sun, approximately one third of the domestic newspaper market. And last week, Jeremy Hunt ruled that Murdoch, who owns a 39 per cent stake in BSkyB, can now buy it outright (save for Sky's news channel). This consolidates the Australian-born mogul as by far the most significant media magnate in this country, wielding vast political and commercial power.

Every summer Murdoch, now 80 years old, pays one of his rare visits to London, the social highlight of which is the annual News International party. An invitation carries the same weight, say insiders, as a royal command.

In the phrase of one of his executives, to turn it down is a 'statement of intent'.

At Murdoch's side at last month's bash at the Orangery in Holland Park was Rebekah Brooks, close friend of the Prime Minister and chief executive of News International. She was also editor of the News of the World in 2002, when Milly Dowler's phone was apparently hacked by one of the private investigators hired by the newspaper. Mrs Brooks took effective personal charge of Murdoch himself, occasionally leaving her proprietor's side to hurtle into the throng and recruit the most powerful guests for face-time with the boss.

Later she joined Murdoch, News International editors and Gabby Bertin, David Cameron press secretary, for a private dinner.

Brooks is already at the heart of one investigation into News International, concerning payments to police officers. She is also deeply implicated in the second, the voicemail hacking scandal known as Operation Weeting. This is now understood to have 70 police officers devoted to it, making it the largest investigation in the Metropolitan Police's modern history. Yet until recently, Brooks had maintained there was no illegal hacking before 2006.

This claim - like so many other News International claims - is now falling apart.

Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator imprisoned for hacking that year, is now believed to have targeted Milly Dowler's phone. This development is seismic. It suggests police could be sitting on an as-yet unpublished list of victims over an extra four years of Mulcaire's phone-hacking career.

So one point is beyond debate. News International's leading profit centre, the News of the World, was dependent on a very ugly culture of lawbreaking, hacking and impunity. …

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