Sticky keys and stickier wickets as scandal overwhelms Newscorp
Half the Courtrooms in London are taken up with Newscorp QCs defending the company against a growing number of phone-hack allegations. But the scandal is rapidly spreading into every area of government, politics, media and policing. The Slog analyses and updates on the story so far.
The Newscorp defence regarding Glenn Mulcaire gave most thinking people a good laugh earlier in the week, as Doughty Street brief Anthony Hudson suggested that, although Mulcaire’s celebrity phone data had been used to hack half the nation, this didn’t mean he’d hacked Andy Gray’s phone….despite having files full of voicemail info on the bloke….and reams of phone records showing he’d called the mail address…..and…..and….
The exchange between Hudson and the judge Mr Justice Vos was worthy of a Courtroom sitcom starring Richard Briers. But in the High Court yesterday, the sitcom descended into that part of every Feydeau farce where le mari has to explain to his wife whyFifi the floozey is in the hall cupboard wearing only three balloons.
Kelly Hoppen (she designer-to-the-celebs stepmother of Sienna Miller, an archetypal News of the Screws target) says that Murdoch hack Dan Evans logged into her voicemail. Almost perfectly synchronised with this alleged act, it seems, NoW editor Colin Myler was busy giving ‘evidence’ to a Commons Select Committee, assuring them that the events of 2005 and 2006 were isolated (insert standard Newscorp defence here).
Just before going to Court, Ms Hoppen was informed by the police last week that when Andy Hayman’s team told her there was no evidence to connect her to Glenn Mulcaire, they had misspoken to the extent of their being lots of evidence. Thus the Murdoch ‘one event in 2006’ defence crumbled to dust, a conclusion made forcibly to the Court by Hoppen’s lawyer David Sherborne yesterday.
Into this viper-infested bucket of mire was cast Michael Silverleaf QC, who countered this observation with the odd assertion that Hoppen’s claims were ‘purely speculative’, and ‘not backed by any evidence’. Mr Silvertongue de Ville argued that Evans probably called Hoppen as a result of accidental ‘pocket’ dialling, thus proving he was the only journalist in England still not using screen-lock.
The NoW defence previously was that Evans may have entered Hoppen’s voicemail code by accidental use of so-called ‘sticky-keys’, suggesting further that while too technophobic to use screen lock, he was at the cutting edge on the sticky keys dimension.
But the balloon burst on Fifi Lafrue’s left breast when Silverleaf later asserted that ‘Dan Evans was not doing anything in relation to the claimant at the time  and had no reason to call her phone’. It was just those damned sticky pockets that dialled the number and keyed in her voicemail code.
Whatever the Murdoch family is paying Silverleaf, it isn’t enough.
Courtroom hilarity aside, tidal waves continue to head for offices from Sydney to Downing Street, as one hefty brick after another plops into the cesspool that is Hackgate. Deputy Met Commissioner and head of the reopened investigation Sue Akers has now admitted to several defendants (including Hoppen) that the original police officers under Andy Hayman’s command lied to them about Mulcaire’s files containing details of their phones and passcodes.
This degree of mendacity at such a high level in the Met is bad enough. Indeed, the fact that the man in charge at the time now works for the Newscorp-owned Times newspaper is even more worrying. But a much bigger question remains: why would the police cover up the evidence in the first place?
It’s at this point that Hackgate contagion heads towards a quiet London street just off Whitehall. And remember, between 2005 and 2009, we’re under a New Labour Government, not the Coalition. Before and during that period, the UK’s Newscorp titles had enthusiastically endorsed the Blairites. Blair himself had flown halfway round the world just to attend a conference being addressed by the world’s greatest living Americo-Australian married to a Chinese.
The obvious hypothesis is that once Plod realised what Newscorp were up to, a phone call was made to the Home Secretary. Blairs and Mandelsons would then have been informed about certain indelicacies. At which point, a cover-up operation began. (Tony Blair has plenty of form in this area, notably involving sales of planes to Arabs that included special offers like hookers and slush-funds).
But we don’t know this, he added, causing huge disappointment at Carter Ruck. What we do know is that some time towards the end of this period, Rupert Murdoch switched his allegiance to the Conservative Party.
And herein lies a problem for the Coalition (although mainly for Cameron) in that he then hired the man on whose watch all the unfortunate key and pocket accidents occurred.
Andy Coulson was and remains a Murdoch favourite. He is also a very close confidante of Newscorp CEO Rebekah Brooks, and Murdoch spawn James. They in turn have been spearheading the attempt to get approval for Newscorp to buy the rest of the shares it owns in BSkyB….and meeting secretly with David Cameron. But, we’re assured, not about the takeover thing. And it was certainly nothing at all to do with John Prescott last November saying he didn’t believe the Met police’s assurances that he hadn’t been hacked over his table-shagging affair with secretary Tracey Temple (Akers also now admits that he had) and how new revelations about illegality might, you know, cloud the BSkyB takeover issue.
Now while this is obviously all above board and completely innocent, it does leave some explaining to do, and Michael Silverleaf can’t be absolutely everywhere at once to come up with credible defences.
As far as I can tell, only The Slog has so far been pushing hard on the detail of the 2006 official report into press privacy invasions. This showed quite clearly that precisely the same sort of reptilian life as Mulcaire was being widely used throughout Fleet Street….although not, as it happens, by the Guardian and the Independent. Coincidentally, these two papers have been doing a Woodward and Bernstein act ever since Hackgate got going.
Spookily, the other news titles haven’t. Most notably silent are the Daily Mail (where, the Privacy Report suggests, use of ‘detectives’ was the most widespread in Fleet Street at the time) and the Daily Telegraph (where a lot of Mail executives have moved over the last two years). This too is, we can be certain, amenable to a simple explanation, but so far we haven’t unearthed one.
As well as out into the rest of Newscorp’s titles, the rest of Fleet Street, into the Met Police, and above them to the various Cabinet members since 2006, the Hackgate incrimination has also been heading steadily up the Newscorp organisation itself. Nobody in the media now seriously believes Andy Coulson’s ignorance defence, and very few think Rebekah Brookes/Wade didn’t know. She, by the by, is I hear also the subject of several enquiries in relation to The Sun, another Murdoch title she used to edit.
Over at Sky News, the one-time soccer-pundit Andy Gray recently fired by Newscorp now feels able to go hell-for-leather in his case alleging phone hacks. In a new development this week, Gray too has been informed by Akers that previously denied evidence of his phones being hacked has also surfaced.
Last updated 10.55 GMT 18.2.2011