Sunday, July 31, 2011

#Hackgate #Murdochs toxic betrayal #SaraPayne

Less than a month ago, not even the most feverishly imaginative journalist in the Fleet Street diaspora could have conjured up a dramatic front page featuring a picture of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks alongside her close friend Sara Payne above a headline: 'Named and Shamed: News of the World Targeted Sara Payne.'

The banner headline on Friday's London Independent was positioned above the facsimile of the 'Named and Shamed' front page of Rebekah's News of the World almost exactly 11 years ago listing the names and addresses of known sex offenders.

To quote WB Yeats, all is changed, changed utterly. Sara Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter Sarah was murdered by a sex offender in 2000, triggering Brooks's successful campaign for a Sarah's Law, wrote a valedictory piece in the final edition of the News of the World earlier this month in tribute to her "good and trusted" friends at the newspaper.

She had been assured by the police involved in Operation Weeting investigating the phone hacking allegations that she had not been hacked. As the Guardian revealed on-line on Thursday afternoon, she had been a victim of hacking by her so-called good and trusted friends at the NotW.

She is understandably devastated at the betrayal by the News of the World which gave her a mobile telephone to help her keep in touch with supporters.

Brooks, on police bail after being arrested for her alleged role in the extraordinary hacking odyssey, issued a statement saying the Payne allegations were abhorrent and particularly upsetting because Payne was a "dear friend".

Whether they remain friends was unclear last night, but what is certain is that this latest and most sensational development in what has been dubbed Hackingate confirms there is more to come before this drama plays itself out.

There is now a plethora of private, judicial and police investigations delving through reams of emails, phone records, illicit payment slips and witness statements in an effort to get to the bottom of a six-year eavesdropping operation involving up to 7,000 victims.

There are 60 police officers working on Operation Weeting. They have been sifting through the staggering pile of paperwork accumulated by private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. His Aladdin's Cave of information was the source for the Payne story.

Mulcaire, jailed with the NotW royal editor Clive Goodman in 2007 for hacking into the mobile phone of Prince William's private secretary, is in no mood to protect his past paymasters at News International. Until his ultimate bosses, James and Rupert Murdoch, gave evidence two weeks ago to the House of Commons' cultural and media committee, he was having all his legal fees paid by News International. Not any more. This is bound to have loosened his tongue.

And late last Friday, Mulcaire responded to a claim by the policeman investigating the death of Sarah Payne that he too was hacked, by lobbing a smoking grenade into the News International bunker. The investigator issued a statement making it clear that whatever he did he was acting under instruction. From who remains to be seen.

Likewise Goodman, who has been rearrested and lost his job as royal correspondent on the Daily Star, is in no mood to maintain any code of omerta.

He and Mulcaire were the ultimate fall guys. They went to jail to maintain the pretence that they were rogue operators. The contagion stopped with them. This is not the case now. Increasingly, the stain is spreading.

Last week, crime writer Wensley Clarkson, former news editor on the Sunday Mirror, told Newsnight that not only did all the newspapers hire private investigators to get information, so, too, did ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC.

And Clarkson said that if the phone hacking technology had been around when he was working on a newsdesk, he would have utilised it. While it is unclear how many non-News International titles resorted to phone hacking, there is little doubt that money was paid for the covert provision of ex-directory telephone numbers, addresses and car registration details.

And while the discredited Rebekah Brooks attempted to implicate other titles before her arrest, it was significant that on Thursday, the London Times, Murdoch's so-called quality title, was alone in pointing a finger at former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan.

The rest of Fleet Street has been blithely ignoring the growing allegations that Morgan may also have utilised phone hacking in pursuit of scoops.

The affable public schoolboy, who has built a hugely lucrative career in the United States as CNN's replacement for Larry King and as a panelist on America's Got Talent, is furious at the claims, saying: "My phone-hacking accusers are lying smearers".

On Twitter, he named the mischief-makers as Conservative blogger Paul Staines known as Guido Fawkes, former Mirror editor Roy Greenslade and Tory MP Louise Mensch who mistakingly claimed Morgan had admitted publishing an article based on phone hacking in 2002.

Two weeks ago, Mensch declined to repeat the allegations outside of parliamentary privilege when she was quizzed by Morgan on CNN.

Guido Fawkes posted on his site on July 12, referring to the Mirror in April 2002 when Piers was in charge.

He alleged that James 'Scottie' Scott, the Daily Mirror's showbiz reporter at the time, was listening into Ulrika Jonsson's voicemails when he was flummoxed by messages in her native Swedish.

As fortune would have it, he was apparently able to get a half-Swedish Mirror secretary to translate the mysterious voicemails. According to Fawkes, it was clear from the translations that the couple were having an affair. The male voice sounded just like the then England football manager Sven Goran Eriksson. The paper put the allegation to the sexy Swedish shaggers and they coughed to the truth of the allegation. It broke on April 19, 2002.

The paper's editor at the time, one Piers Morgan, was receiving flak for the fact that his '3AM Girls' gossip section lacked any bite compared to Morgan's old Bizarre column in News International's Sun. Morgan decided to let '3AM Girl' Jessica Callan break the story under her byline in order to try and rid the column of its banal reputation. The story won Scoop of the Year.

Last Wednesday, Morgan told ABC News: "I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone."

So far CNN has not lost faith in Morgan, but the controversy will not help foster his burgeoning US career.

Back in London, former News International employees have turned on boss James Murdoch. He has been accused of lying to the parliamentary committee about the extent of his knowledge of phone hacking at the News of the World. The paper's former editor, Colin Myler, and the dismissed lawyer, Tom Crone, have both gone on record contradicting his evidence. On Friday, committee head honcho, burly Labour MP Tom Watson, confirmed that the committee would be reconvened during the summer recess and Murdoch asked to explain himself.

Coupled with the chastened Scotland Yard's determination to get at the hacking operation root and branch, this augurs badly for Murdoch, his former chief executive Rebekah Brooks and former NotW editor Andy Coulson.

While Coulson did resign as editor in the wake of the Goodman/Mulcaire jailings and subsequently fell on his sword as British Prime Minister David Cameron's director of communications this year, he must fear the threat of porridge.

One well-placed investigator said last night: "There are going to be more arrests. There are people who sanctioned payments, authorised surveillance and were involved in the phone hacking who have not yet been arrested.

The Yard has not come out of this well so far, but Operation Weeting will get to the truth and those responsible will be named and shamed."

And what of Cameron?

Last night, he was starting his week-long £10,000 Tuscan holiday with his family. Can he survive the fallout from the scandal surrounding his acolyte Coulson?

With the Yard and Lord Justice Levenson commencing forensic probings of Hackingate, life is set to be uncomfortable for a premier who admitted to dozens of meetings with Rupert Murdoch and hired someone whose protestations of ignorance of organised phone hacking could yet be exposed.

Whatever the fallout, News International has been badly damaged.

Circulation of The Sun, Sunday Times and Times is dramatically down. Plans to start a Sunday Sun are on hold. Meanwhile, Associated Newspapers, whose Mail on Sunday has gained about 600,000 new readers, is at an advanced stage of launching a red-top Sunday to cash in on the 2.2 million regular buyers of the News of the World.

But the world of print has been irreparably damaged by this phone hacking scandal, whose monumental outcome remains ominously unclear. What odds is Paddy Power offering on further casualties in the shape of big names and even more newspaper titles?