Saturday, 4 September 2010

'Inconceivable no-one else knew'

The News of the World phone hacking saga rumbles on.

Yesterday, several more media outlets started to report on the story including the BBC and (shock!) Sky News. However, it wasn't until 10.30pm that the Mail wrote anything about it, prioritising instead such important news as Kim Kardashian going out wearing a dress.

Questions have been raised about whether anything new has emerged. The answer is yes.

Firstly, the New York Times revealed that this year a News of the World reporter was suspended having been suspected of phone-hacking, a fact confirmed by the paper and the PCC on Thursday:

The [NYT] reported that the News of the World was conducting a new phone-hacking investigation and had suspended a reporter, after a "television personality" had been alerted by her phone company to a "possible unauthorised attempt to access her voicemail" and the number was traced back to a journalist at the paper.

It's as if the paper's insistence that phone hacking was a one-off that never happened before or since seems somehow questionable...

The Guardian reported that the journalist in question has worked for the paper since 2005. Although News of the World managing editor Bill Akass said there is an internal investigation and the allegation is subject to litigation, it's not clear if the police are involved. If not, why not?

The PCC's Director Stephen Abell said:

that the PCC was prevented from launching its own investigation because the allegation was "the subject of legal action".

Which is fair enough - for now. But we should remember what PCC Chair Baroness Buscombe said back in May:

"If there was a whiff of any continuing activity in this regard, we would be on it like a ton of bricks. I can absolutely assure you of that."

It will be interesting to see what the PCC's 'ton of bricks' turns out to be...

Mark Lewis, a lawyer who has acted/is acting for some of the targets of the hacking is not expecting much:

“The Press Complaints Commission has been consistent. Throughout it has taken no action. Excuse after excuse is offered but they have shown their true colours. The only way to get redress is through the Court.”

And from today's Guardian editorial:

The NYT article – based on first-hand research – convincingly demonstrates that the September 2009 Press Complaints Commission report into phone hacking was both feeble and wrong. The PCC must find a way of clarifying and correcting the record if it is to command respect.

Other new information came yesterday from Sean Hoare, a former News of the World reporter. He was fired from the paper for personal reasons, so has been dismissed for having a grudge, but during a BBC interview he said he hacked phones while working at the paper and that then editor Coulson 'lied' by saying he knew nothing of the practice.

The News International line that Clive Goodman, the paper's Royal Correspondent who was jailed for his role in the phone hacking, was the only journalist involved has always seemed unlikely.

After all, James Murdoch sanctioned a payment of £700,000 to former Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor to settle a privacy claim. If Goodman was the only News of the World journalist involved, why would the Royal Correspondent be interested in the phone messages of someone in football?

Or in the messages of MPs Tessa Jowell and Simon Hughes or model Elle Macpherson?

And then there's the so-called 'For Neville' email. Here's how the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee saw it:

On 29 June 2005, five months later, a reporter at the News of the World, Ross Hindley, sent an email to Glenn Mulcaire which opened with the words: "This is the transcript for Neville."[374] There followed a transcription of 35 voicemail messages. In 13 cases the recipient of message was 'GT', Gordon Taylor, and in 17 cases the recipient was 'JA', Jo Armstrong. No witness has sought to deny that these messages had been intercepted by Glenn Mulcaire, or that they had been transcribed by Mr Hindley.

[In-house lawyer Tom] Crone...asked the News of the World's IT Department to find out who else had received the email and was told that 'there was no trace of it having gone anywhere else'.[377] He also questioned the reporter:

"He had very little recollection of it […]. He does not particularly remember this job in any detail; he does not remember who asked him to do it; and he does not remember any follow-up from it. He saw the email and he accepts that he sent the transcript where the email says he sent it."[378]

415. We were unable to question the reporter, however. Mr Crone told us that Mr Hindley was in Peru: "He is on a holiday. He is going around the world. He is 20 years old."[379] "[…] about this time he had only just become a reporter; prior to that actually I think he had been a messenger and he was being trained up as a reporter,"[380] he added. We return to the veracity of this below.

416. The message above the transcript said it was 'for Neville'. In June 2005, there was only one Neville on the staff:[381] Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter. Mr Crone told us he asked Mr Hindley whether he had given him the transcript. "He said, "I can't remember." He said, "Perhaps I gave it to Neville, but I can't remember."'[382] Mr Crone said he also asked Mr Thurlbeck if he remembered receiving the transcript: 'His position is that he has never seen that email, nor had any knowledge of it.'[383]

(One of the questions for the police is why they never interviewed Thurlbeck, or indeed Hindley - if the newspaper maintains Goodman was the only one involved, how come he was transcribing phone messages?)

And this is what the Committee concluded from all that:

...there is no doubt that there were a significant number of people whose voice messages were intercepted, most of whom would appear to have been of little interest to the Royal correspondent of the News of the World. This adds weight to suspicions that it was not just Clive Goodman who knew about these activities...

Evidence we have seen makes it inconceivable that no-one else at the News of the World, bar Clive Goodman, knew about the phone-hacking. It is unlikely, for instance, that Ross Hindley (later Hall) did not know the source of the material he was transcribing and was not acting on instruction from superiors. We cannot believe that the newspaper's newsroom was so out of control for this to be the case...

Despite this, there was no further investigation of who those "others" might be and we are concerned at the readiness of all of those involved: News International, the police and the PCC to leave Mr Goodman as the sole scapegoat without carrying out a full investigation at the time.

Currently, several Labour figures - Jowell, John Prescott, Chris Bryant, Alan Johnson and Tom Watson (who sits of the Select Committee) - have raised concerns about the extent of the hacking and the police investigation. As Andy Coulson is now David Cameron's Director of Communications, it has become a political issue.

But it is vitally important that this does not become the overriding issue. There are crucial questions here about the role and behaviour of journalists, and about the actions of the police. It is imperative that those questions do not get buried under the political tit-for-tat.


  1. This is just like the surveillance unit in The Wire, if they were all cunts.

  2. Totally agree with your last para. I get the terrible feeling this is just going to be political ammunition that will eventually end in the demise of Coulson. More worryingly if there wasn't a political angle there would be almost no interest at all methinks.

    At least the 'gorgeous' quotes from George (Galloway) in The Independent's coverage cheered me up, he's absolutely not settling out of court on this one. See, he does has some use in lifes!

  3. Coulson is either incompetent because he didn't know what was happening right under his nose or he is a serial liar. Either way he should not be employed in a senior post paid for by the tax payer.

  4. I can't help feeling this issue would not be so big if Coulson was not in the position he was.
    It's all political point scoring to get the Tories.

    Of course it's a serious issue but if it didn't concern Coulson I am pretty damn sure it would not be attracting all these headlines. Like everything/everyone in the media, there is another less honourable agenda at play.


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