The phone hacking trial reveals the normally hidden relationship between newspaper barons, journalists and the cops. Simon Basketter lifts the lid on the corruption at the heart of the British establishment, the cosy relationships and the abuses of power.
On 15 October 1994 News of the World features editor Rebekah Brooks hid in the toilet dressed as a cleaner at News International’s Wapping printers.
She was stealing the first copy of the Sunday Times newspaper, which contained a serialisation of a new book on Prince Charles.
Both papers were owned by Rupert Murdoch. But that sort of behaviour got promotions.
Yet this is not a story about journalists behaving badly. The phone hacking scandal has shown up the cosy relationships between the police, the press and politicians–and their abuse of power.
News International’s chief executive Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson both edited the News of the World at the height of the hacking scandal.
Brooks was found not guilty of conspiring to hack phones last month. Coulson was convicted. Both are friends with David Cameron.
Coulson was Cameron’s chief spin doctor. Cameron appointed him with full knowledge of his role in the hacking scandal.
These posh cliques assume that they can all look after each other and that the rules don’t really apply to them.
When Rupert Murdoch was asked for his top priority as the phone hacking allegations exploded in 2011 he said, “This one,” gesturing at Brooks.
A decade earlier at a drive-through McDonald’s News of the World journalists handed over wads of cash to police officers for information.
Over £100,000 was handed to a handful of officers during 2003 alone. Two were convicted last month.
Top cops knew about the bribes. Senior politicians in all major political parties knew about the corruption.
The News of the World published a story about Prince William injuring his knee after listening to his voicemails.
The paper probably would have sailed through the problem, helped by its political and police connections–if it hadn’t involved the royals.
Its royal correspondent Clive Goodman was arrested. Together with a private eye, Glenn Mulcaire, he was jailed for hacking the prince’s messages and several other people’s.
Coulson resigned. But he, Brooks and the company denied that hacking went beyond the private eye and the one rogue reporter.
Oddly the police seemed to agree. Despite bags of evidence taken from the private eye, they closed the investigation.
During the trial that closed last month it emerged there were over 5,500 victims of phone hacking. Some 2,000 still haven’t been told they were hacked.
The victims weren’t all celebrities. Trade unionists, families of murder victims–anyone the Murdoch press saw as fair game was targeted.
Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered, had her phone hacked.
The News of the World ran a campaign to out paedophiles on the back of the case. Rebekah Brooks gave Sara Payne the phone–apparently so she could stay in touch with supporters.
The paper also hacked the phone of murdered Milly Dowler–and later told police.
According to Andrew Neil, former editor of The Sunday Times, “One thing everybody’s missed is that in the battle of Wapping, when we were fighting the print unions, our lives became dependent on the police.
“And during these times, a special bond was formed so that the News of the World and the Sun ended up with closer relationships with the Metropolitan Police than any other newspaper group in the country.”
Not everyone missed it. Brooks and Coulsons’ lawyers demanded –unsuccessfully–that trade unionists be excluded from the jury in the hacking trial as they would be biased against them.
Brooks had previously told a parliamentary committee, “We have paid the police for information in the past”. This confession of a crime under parliamentary privilege wasn’t investigated.
Meanwhile, police inspectors retired and became well-paid columnists on Murdoch’s papers. Journalists became PR hacks in the Metropolitan Police public affairs department.
The cops used systematic bribery to provide stories for the media and to leak information to frame people and cover up corruption. The full extent of that bribery is still to be fully revealed.
A series of police investigations into phone hacking have all concealed more than they revealed.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Andy Hayman ran two of them. Hayman went on to be a columnist for News International. He wrote in Murdoch’s Times that “no stone went unturned” in one investigation.
The cops literally dined out on News International. The lower orders got the bungs and the top cops got dinner at the Ivy and cushy jobs for them and their families.
It wasn’t just the police. When Coulson edited the News of the World he hired now foreign secretary William Hague as a columnist.
When Tony Blair took over the Labour Party in 1994, he knew what had to be done. He had to fly to Australia, where Murdoch’s top executives and editors were gathering for an annual bash with the boss on his private yacht.
Murdoch’s cosy relationship with the British government reached its peak under Blair, who is the godfather of Murdoch’s second youngest child.
Cameron hired Coulson after he resigned from the News of the World.
George Osborne encouraged the appointment because Coulson had tread lightly over photographs of him in the News of the World. They showed Osborne with a woman working as a prostitute and a line of white powder in front of him.
The swirling Eton mess of the Chipping Norton set was simply the corrupt club turned into dinner parties. When Cameron entered Downing Street, an early visitor was Rupert Murdoch. He went in the back way so as not to embarrass Cameron too much.
As Lord Leveson noted in his rather tame investigation into press ethics, “It is the ‘without having to ask’ which is especially important here.
“Sometimes the very greatest power is exercised without having to ask, because to ask would be to state the blindingly obvious.”
Private investigator Steve Whittamore received over 13,000 requests from newspapers and magazines for confidential information.
Whittamore would then ask John Boyall, a former News International employee. Boyall would ask a recently retired police officer called Alan King. King would obtain the information from a civilian police worker, Paul Marshall.
All four pleaded guilty in 2005 to procuring confidential police data to sell to newspapers.
That is six years before the scandal forced David Cameron to call the Leveson inquiry.
Cash, cops and corruption… and the links to Coulson
Private investigator Jonathan Rees ran Southern Investigations. The News of the World paid him up to £150,000 a year to supply illegally obtained information.
Other newspaper groups also used Rees.
A huge raft of police officers took money to get information for the tabloids. Some were involved in large scale drug smuggling.
Rees was jailed for seven years in 2000 for planting cocaine on a woman to discredit her during divorce proceedings. When he got out, Andy Coulson rehired him.
If Brooks didn’t know about the corruption involving some of her most senior journalists, Scotland Yard informed her in 2006. At that point the News of the World got another investigator to spy on the cop running the inquiry.
Rees had other links to other corrupt officers. His business partner, Sid Fillery, was a former police officer.
Daniel Morgan was found dead in a pub car park in Sydenham, south east London, with an axe in his head in 1987. He had worked as a private detective with Jonathan Rees and planned to expose police corruption when he was murdered.
Fillery was an officer on the murder case–an investigation the Metropolitan Police had admitted was corrupt.
All in the past?
The bribing of officials didn’t all happen a long time ago. Those facing trial for taking money while in public office are being charged with a range of offences committed in 2012.
That is over six months after the News of the World shut down–and during the middle of the Leveson inquiry.
Even more to face hacking trials
There have been eight convictions over hacking since 2006, when private investigator Glenn Mulcaire and royal editor Clive Goodman were first jailed.
Five people pled guilty ahead of the Coulson trial.
They were Glenn Mulcaire for a second time, reporters Dan Evans and Neville Thurlbeck, and news editors Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup.
Andy Coulson was then found guilty.
Operation Elveden has seen 14 convictions of public officials for taking or seeking payments. Seven are police officers who sold information to the tabloids.
Former News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson faces trial for conspiracy to hack.
Andy Coulson and Clive Goodman could face retrials.
Some 59 people investigated by Operation Elveden are still to face trial.
One is over the Sun and Bettina Jordan-Barber, a former Ministry of Defence official who was paid £100,000 for stories.
Another 31 people are on police bail under Operation Elveden. A further 20 are waiting for decisions over other hacking investigations.
There is also a possible corporate prosecution.
And News Corp is undergoing a similar investigation in the US.