The UK Phone Hacking Scandal
Members of the British parliament, MPs are by now debating over allegations of phone hacking by very important public figures at News of the World Newspaper, published by News International, a subsidiary of News Cooperation. The scandal, which originally appeared to be limited to the hacking of celebrities, politicians and members of the British royal family, has seen more revelations recently. Information filtering in suggest that some victims of the phone hacking include murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the 7/7 London bombings.
The scandal has led to a series of widespread public outrage, culminating to the boycott of leading advertisers and the eventual closure of the News of the World, on July 10, 2011, after 168 years of publication. Before its last outing, several high profile resignations and arrests were also made. Staff who quit the News Corporation in the wake of the scandal included Les Hinton, a subsidiary chief executive; News International’s legal manager, Tom Crone, and its chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, while Britain’s most senior police officer, Sir Paul Stephenson resigned his post, deneying any involvement in the scandal. Former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson and former executive editor, Neil Wallis and Brooks were arrested by the metropolitan police for questioning. Billionaire owner of News Cooperation, Rupert Murdoch and his son, James who are at the centre of the saga, were summoned to give evidence in parliament together with former News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks despite her arrest and questioning by police on Sunday.The first phone hacking scandal involving the paper was in January 2003, as Andy Coulson took over as editor of the News of the World following the move of editor, Rebekah Brooks to sister paper, The Sun. Brooks had been News of the World editor since May 2000, during which time allegations later surfaced that the tabloid accessed the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dower. Later in 2003, Brooks and Coulson appeared before a parliamentary committee, where Brooks admitted to paying police for information. In August 2006, Clive Goodman, royal editor at the News of the World, and his associates, Glenn MulCaire, a private investigator, and Davy Craig, editor of the Weekly News, were arrested over allegations of hacking the phones of the British royal family in 2005. Goodman and Mulcaire were subsequently charged; they pleaded guilty and were imprisoned on January 26, 2007 for four and six months, respectively. The paper’s editor, Andy Coulson resigned, insisting that he had no knowledge of any illegal activities.
Beginning on July 8, 2009, The Guardian made a series of allegations that the phone hacking activities at the News of the World went far beyond the activities for which the News of the World royal editor, Clive Goodman was jailed in 2007, those activities being limited to members of the royal household. The paper alleged that phone hacking victims included public figures such as former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson; Tessa Jowell when she was Olympics secretary; Boris Johnson, when he was the opposition’s spokesman on higher education and publicist, Max Clifford. Between 2009 and 2010, further revelations emerged regarding the extent of the phone hacking and the number of News of the World employees who may have been aware of the practices. By March 2010, the paper had spent over £2 million settling court cases with victims of phone hacking. The newspaper’s London office was searched by police during the investigation. Goodman was also suspended by the paper following the publication of an article on November 13, 2005, written by him, which claimed that Prince William was in the process of borrowing a portable editing suite from ITV royal correspondent, Tom Bradby. As a result of this publication, the prince and Bradby met to try to figure out how the details of their arrangement had been leaked, as only two other people were aware of it. Prince William noted that another equally improbable leak had recently taken place regarding an appointment he had made with a knee surgeon. After the discussion, the prince and Bradby concluded it was likely that their voicemails were being accessed. Their concerns were passed to the police, whose investigation began as a localised incident involving staff at Clarence House. The list of possible victims broadened to include ministers, a member of parliament, military chiefs, a leading media figure, top footballers and celebrities, but the only News of the World journalist to be eventually charged was Goodman.
To further complicate the scandal, News of the world reportedly employed the services of policemen men. The officer in charge of the police investigation, Andy Hayman, subsequently left the Metropolitan Police to work for News International as a columnist. This would later lead to the implication of the Metropolitan Police. In light of new allegations in The Guardian, in July 2009 the Metropolitan Police Service commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson asked his assistant commissioner, John Yates to review the original 2006 investigation for new evidence. In an eight-hour meeting, Yates reviewed the investigation but took no further action. In an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee in July 2009, he said of the initial investigation that he “found it to be satisfactory." In a direct response to John Prescott, who had been particular outraged at the fact that police did not inform him of his phone being hacked; Yates specifically stated that there was no material evidence that Prescott’s phone had been hacked. Yates then passed his findings back to the chief constable, and in agreement with lawyers and the head of the Crown Prosecution Service ,Keir Starmer, agreed that no further action needed to be taken, and the case was closed. The Metropolitan Police announced on January 26, 2011 that it would begin a new and fresh investigation into the phone hacking affair, following the receipt of “significant new information" regarding the conduct of News of the World employees. Operation Weeting would take place alongside the previously announced review of phone hacking evidence by the Crown Prosecution Service. On the same day, News International announced that it had sacked one of the paper’s senior executives, Ian Edmondson, based on evidence that he had subsequently given to the police. The BBC reported that the publisher had discovered four emails from evidence reclaimed from solicitors Harbottle and Lewis, allegedly showing that Edmondson had knowledge of phones being hacked, contrary to his previous denials. The first arrests as part of the new investigation were made on April 5, 2011. Edmondson and the News of the World chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck were arrested on suspicion of unlawfully intercepting voicemail messages but both men denied participating in illegal activities. A third journalist at the newspaper, James Weatherup, was arrested April 14, 2011. Meanwhile, British prime minister, David Cameron has convened a government public inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson to investigate the scandal once police inquiries had been completed. Early this week, the case took a different twist as whistle blower, Sean Hoare was found dead at a property in Langley in suspicious circumstance. The scandal has also garnered attention in the United States, where News Corporation is headquartered and operates a multitude of media outlets. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, has launched its own investigation into the corporation, focusing on claims that its newspapers had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by accessing voicemails of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.