Before I retired my image of a chicken was of happy slow-moving creatures wandering around in sunlit farmyards. Now I know better. We codgers have endless problems on the ‘allotments’ with bullying, and the isolation runs reserved for victims is regularly full. We used to have a hen nicknamed Gaddafi, given its total preoccupation with dominating the rest of the flock. Like its namesake Gaddafi has gone, but we have another suspect. We call her Murdoch.
And if even half of the story told in a new book published yesterday is accurate we are right to do so. ‘Dial M for Murdoch’ is published by Allen Lane and costs £17, its authors are Tom Watson and Martin Hickman. The story they tell is truly amazing and it is worryingly easy to believe that our top establishment is rotten to its very core.
In July 2009 a report by Nick Davies in the Guardian revealed that News International had paid more than £1 million to settle the claims of phone-hacking victims. The Commons culture, media and sport committee decided to recall News International executives for an explanation. At that point News International called for the Labour MP Tom Watson, already a thorn in its side, to be removed from the committee. Watson was privately told by Downing Street insiders that Wapping was using its connections to persuade senior politicians to urge him to hold back. Gordon Brown called Watson to tell him that Rupert Murdoch had phoned Tony Blair to tell him to call Watson off.
Speaking three years later, Alastair Campbell talked of the “bullying culture”; “I recall Rebekah Brooks telling me that as far as she was concerned, with Tom Watson it was personal, and we won’t stop until we get him.” He goes on to recall that in various interviews he warned that this was a story that was not going to go away, that News International and the police had to grip it and come clean. He urged that David Cameron should reconsider the appointment of Andy Coulson, and he went on to contend that what was emerging was evidence of systematic criminal activity on a near-industrial scale at the News o the World. Campbell then received a series of what he describes as “threatening text and phone messages from both Rebekah and the offices of James Murdoch”.
The book claims that in the summer of 2011, before the Guardian broke the story that Millie Dowler’s phone had been hacked by the News of the World, concern about the growing revelations was growing wihin the Murdoch empire. It was at that point that approaches were made to Watson. He had made an inflammatory speech at the GMB union’s conference, telling delegates that his bins had been gone through, he also claimed that the News of the World had targeted the parents of the Soham children.
Two intermediaries close to News International offered a deal. One told Watson the company would “give him” Andy Coulson but he was to regard Rebekah Brooks as “sacred”. He was also approached about a possible meeting with Rupert Murdoch. With turmoil already in the air David Cameron’s government announced its intention to wave through the BSkyB takeover. Events escalated and the government was saved embarrassment when News International withdrew its plan.
Watson had a witnessed interview with Neville Thurlbeck, the former News of the World chief reporter. Thurlbeck is claimed to have said that journalists at the News of the World were told to “find out everything you can about every single member of the parliamentary committee. The aim was to discover “who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use”. Watson and his co-author, Martin Hickman, an Independent journalist, believe that the decision not to initially compel Rebekah Brooks, who was then News International’s chief executive, to give evidence was the result of pressure on members of the committee.
There is much, much more in the book. It is of course only one side of the story, but taken at face value it paints a picture of an intimidated and corrupt establshment. It suggests that top politicans and police were so involved with the Murdoch empire that they could only dance to its tune.
The book seems to suggest that British democracy is an illusion and that sections of the media are far from the champions of the people. Doubtless much more of this sordid tale will be mulled over at the Leveson inquiry and by the now seemingly tainted parliamentary committee.
But that is not sufficient. Most thinking people will have noted that had it not been for determined people like Watson and the Guardian newspaper this story would never have been exposed. They will surely want an assurance that none of this can ever happen again and they will want those who betrayed the nation’s trust to be barred from future office. The Prime Minister should order a full public and independent inquiry once the current prosecutions are dealt with.
But somehow one suspects that that is the very last thing he would want!
WHY NOT JUST SEND QATADA PACKING?
Ministers and shadow ministers alike have lined up to agree that Qatada should be sent packing. But yet another cock-up has reduced the chances of this happening anytime soon.
So once again the European Court is dictating UK policy. Contrast that with the willingness to ship people out to the United States!
Why not simply put this dangerous man on a plane? Other EU countries have acted thus and only incurred small fines. Come to that why continue to accept that any court other than our own should be free to imperil the British populace?