This story hit the headlines a few years ago, when it was revealed that Prince William and Harry's mobile phone messaging services were being hacked by the News of the World.
The editor of the News of the World at the time was Andy Coulson, who is currently Director of Communications & Planning for the Conservative Party. He always denied any knowledge of the hacking and resigned when his royal reporter and an investigator he hired were both jailed.
Now, in a story in The New York Times, comes the allegation that Coulson not only knew of the hacking of certain people's telephones, but that he actively encouraged it.
Sean Hoare told BBC Radio 4's PM: "There is an expression called the culture of dark arts. You were given a remit: just get the story. Phone tapping hadn't just existed on the News of the World … I have gone on the record in the New York Times and said I have stood by Andy and been requested to tap phones, OK, or hack into them. He was well aware the practice existed. To deny it is simply a lie."And The New York Times are reporting that Scotland Yard did not have the stomach to dig any deeper than the paper's royal reporter and an investigator he hired, because of the close relationship between the paper and the police.
“There was simply no enthusiasm among Scotland Yard to go beyond the cases involving Mulcaire and Goodman,” said John Whittingdale, the chairman of a parliamentary committee that has twice investigated the phone hacking. “To start exposing widespread tawdry practices in that newsroom was a heavy stone that they didn’t want to try to lift.” Several investigators said in interviews that Scotland Yard was reluctant to conduct a wider inquiry in part because of its close relationship with News of the World.The Con-Dem coalition are keen to squelch this story as quickly as possible, so they are playing "shoot the messenger".
The government last night commented on Hoare's admission that he was sacked from the title at a time when he was struggling with problems with drugs and alcohol. Alan Duncan, the international development minister, told Radio 4's Any Questions: "What they are seizing on today are the words of someone who had an alcohol and drug problem who was sacked by the paper."But, The New York Times allegation is not limited to one reporter, or to one disgruntled ex-employee, as the coalition would like us to believe.
But interviews with more than a dozen former reporters and editors at News of the World present a different picture of the newsroom. They described a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors. Andy Coulson, the top editor at the time, had imposed a hypercompetitive ethos, even by tabloid standards. One former reporter called it a “do whatever it takes” mentality. The reporter was one of two people who said Coulson was present during discussions about phone hacking. Coulson ultimately resigned but denied any knowledge of hacking.The Labour party are, understandably, all over this like a rash. And the coalition's defence comes across as quite weak.
The government, which has been rattled by the renewed focus on Coulson, last night blamed Labour for stoking the saga. Alan Duncan said: "The Labour party, in a concerted campaign through Lord Prescott and Alan Johnson, has piled in to attack Andy Coulson about something that happened years ago in order to try to attack the government. This was looked at by News International lawyers, by a parliamentary select committee, by the police and the CPS. All of them concluded there was no case to answer."The fact that it happened "years ago" is utterly irrelevant. And the New York Times have reported that the police were keen not to explore this case beyond the reporter and investigator who they eventually prosecuted, so this defence comes across as weak to say the least.
Plus, David Cameron has a track record, established during the brouhaha surrounding the tax status of Lord Ashcroft, as someone who avoids asking those close to him difficult questions.
Cameron should stop his government issuing boilerplate statements of support and do to Coulson what he failed to do to Ashcroft. Take him to one side and ask him to tell him the truth.
The Director of Communications & Planning for the Conservative Party cannot remain in his job if he was aware of the illegal phone hacking for which two men were sent to jail.
Listening to Quentin Letts on Any Questions, circling the wagons and insisting that, as we already have surveillance cameras there really is no need for any kind of inquiry into this, it is quite clear that the Tory high command must be filling their pants over this.
Letts' attempt to play the "Nothing to see here, just move along" card is so overdone as to be almost amusing.
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