News has broken in the last few minutes (15.45 BST) that as long ago as 2000, The Sun blagged into Gordon Brown’s personal bank accounts and medical records, as well as into the records of his son – to confirm that he had cystic fibrosis. In turn, evidence is emerging that the Sunday Times used professional actors to impersonate celebrities and obtain information on several cases – including Brown himself via Abbey National.
And in an obvious ploy, Newscorp is praying for the dust to settle by itself asking the Competition Commission to refer the takeover again. This is a clever way to wait for emotions to settle down again….at the end of which – perhaps in six months time – the decision will go back to Jeremy Hunt. I also understand that Newscorp is arguing that, since the NotW no longer exists, there would now be no need to ‘spin off’ Sky News from the deal.
Robert Peston has called the move “an obvious ruse”.
When I first set up the dedicated Hackgate page here, I wrote as follows:
‘Sit back and watch as Hackgate spreads first to the Police, then the rest of Fleet Street, the Judiciary, the Opposition, the Government, and the Royal Family.’
It has indeed turned out to be Britain’s Watergate. But even I wasn’t entirely ready for today’s revelation that Newscorp bagged two birds with one stone by corrupting Royal security police in order to obtain information about the the Royal Family’s movements. The mind boggles at what might have happened, had that information fallen into the wrong hands.
According to the BBC’s source (who I understand is a member of the Wapping Dam Busters) the e-mails include requests by a reporter for sums of around £1000 to pay police officers in the royal protection branch for the information. The phone details could have been used to hack phones of the royal family. “There was clear evidence from the e-mails that the security of the royal family was being put at risk”, the source said. “I was profoundly shocked when I saw them.”
Earlier, my heart wobbled a bit when I noticed that BSkyB’s share price was falling….thus technically offering Rupert Murdoch a cheaper deal. But by noon today, I was pretty sure that Newscorp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB was dead: Jeremy Hunt, it transpires, has done what a week ago he said was impossible – to write again to the regulators and request ‘fresh guidance on whether News Corporation should be allowed to buy the rest of BSkyB’. The Culture Secretary truly is a Berkeley Hunt, but it is quite amazing what can be made to happen when political careers are endangered….and quite fitting that on Day 180 of Hackgate, Hunt made a stark, 180-degree U-turn.
But then the brilliant stroke emerged: Newscorp asking Hunt to definitely refer the bid again….a cynical tactic designed to keep the deal alive until things settle down some way ahead.
As I’ve said many times about Murdoch, only the silver bullets and heart-stake will suffice, followed by the lead casket at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Rupe meanwhile is prancing about, all smiles and feigned insouciance. And there too is Rebekah Brooks, too insensitively dense to realise that, with every smug smile as she basks in Murdoch’s devilish glory, she recruits another leaker to the anti-Newscorp cause. But not even that is straightforward: for the ‘smoking gun’ emails and other leaks (so the Met has just announced) are actually part of a “deliberate campaign” to undermine its corruption investigation. Here’s the statement in full:
‘It is our belief that information that has appeared in the media today is part of a deliberate campaign to undermine the investigation into the alleged payments by corrupt journalists to corrupt police officers and divert attention from elsewhere.
At various meetings over the last few weeks information was shared with us by News International and their legal representatives and it was agreed by all parties that this information would be kept confidential so that we could pursue various lines of inquiry, identify those responsible without alerting them and secure best evidence.
However we are extremely concerned and disappointed that the continuous release of selected information – that is only known by a small number of people – could have a significant impact on the corruption investigation.’
Blimey. What next? Well, there’s a piece at the BBCNews website that purports to show the global reach of Newscorp, and how easily the Murdoch organisation will survive this devastating blow to its ambitions. It’s largely a load of tosh actually, because it focuses almost entirely upon revenues. Rupert’s empire (see earlier Slog posting last week) is chock full of revenue – but light on profit and growth. And if the criminality contagion spreads quickly, it could very soon become an ex-empire.
So what is Murdoch hoping to achieve while he’s here? To be honest, I don’t think anyone outside the immediate inner circle knows. It may well be they don’t know themselves. The only other thing the old Cobber has achieved so far apart from getting the referral put off further – is for Nick Clegg to tell him to ‘think again’ about the BSkyB takeover. I doubt very much if that made his day. Rumours abound that the Newscorp patriarch will make a statement later on today. It would be odd if he didn’t. However, having seen Cameron this afternoon being bombarded by allegations during the Q&A following a speech about The Big Society, maybe Rupe won’t show his face at all.
We wait and see. But one senses that something umimaginably huge is about to be revealed.