It has to be admitted that we chicken-keepers are to be numbered amongst the masses who help the tabloid press to rake in the cash. We have always realised that many of their exclusives are based on information obtained illegally but, to be honest, we have never been too horrified at the revelations about pop-stars and the like. They take their millions and must expect intrusion probably sums up our view, always assuming that we had one at all. But suddenly we really are horrified at what Labour MP Tom Watson yesterday described as a “despicable and evil act”.
Today’s Guardian reveals that the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s phone during the police hunt for the missing schoolgirl. Even worse it deleted voice mails to make room for more incoming frantic appeals to the young girl, an action that led friends and relatives to conclude wrongly that Milly might still be alive and risked destroying evidence. Small wonder that the Dowler family yesterday issued a statement describing the paper’s action as “heinous” and “despicable”. In effect the News of the World was listening to, and recording, every private word, every desperate plea for Milly to get in touch. When her voicemail box filled up, the newspaper’s employees deleted the messages left in the first few days after her disappearance.
According to the Guardian, the paper paid a private Hampshire investigator, Steve Whittamore, to track down phone numbers, two of which were “blagged” illegally from BT’s confidential records. Then with the help of its own private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, the paper began its “hacking”.
At that time the editor was Rebekah Brooks, now Rupert Murdoch’s chief UK executive. The deputy editor was Andy Coulson. Both have strong links with David Cameron, the former having entertained Cameron at her home over Christmas, the latter having been his media adviser. It seems extremely unlikely that they did not know what was happening. Indeed Paul McMullan, one of Brook’s assistant editors, is on record as having said that he personally commissioned several hundred acts that could be regarded as unlawful and that senior editors were aware of this. Former showbusiness reporter, Sean Hoare, is also on record as telling the New York Times that he was actively encouraged by Coulson to hack into voicemail. Clearly the paper had come to see itself as above the law, in fact Brooks claimed at one time to have paid the police for information.
Since this latest, and most shocking of all, revelation has come to light during the period when culture secretary Jeremy Hunt is deciding whether to nod through the bid by Murdoch’s News Corp to take over BSkyB, one would have imagined that even he would be concerned at the conduct of what will become the major media organisation in the UK. But it seems not. The only MP to speak out has been Tom Watson who told Newsnight that leaders of all parties received “plenty of hints” that something murky was going on. “That’s the biggest scandal of the lot”, he said. “Politicians are frightened of News International and they need to act”. The only other dissenting voice was that of John Prescott, himself a victim of hacking. He revealed on Twitter that he was writing to Hunt demanding he block News Corp’s bid.
But they may prove to be voices crying in the wilderness. The Labour Party stopped short of calling for a re-examination of whether News International could be regarded as fit and proper to take over BSkyB. The Conservative party did the same, an inevitability given the personal links that its senior members have with the Murdoch organisation.
Just how close are we as a society to being corrupt? We have the gutter press plumbing ever greater depths, we have police who clearly have been very reluctant to investigate, we have politicans at the top who appear to be in cohorts with the alleged perpetrators of what Milly’s grieving family call “heinous” crimes.
The sad answer is : very close indeed!
TODAY’S NEW EGGHEADS QUIZ; GENERAL KNOWLEDGE; 1. In international soccer, what is the main colour of Holland’s shirts? 2. Who is older; Ruby Wax or Jennifer Saunders? 3. “Into the Groove” gave a first UK No 1 for which singer? 4. Which two cities were linked by the M1 whwn it first opened? 5. Which song was a British No ! for Jimmy Young, the Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome and Gareth Gates? 6. What is Britain’s smallest songbird? 7. How many sides are there in a pair of nonagons? 8. Which George was the main producer of the Beatles hits? 9. E W Swanton wrote about which sport? 10. Was Joanna Lumley born in the 1940s, 50s or 60s?