Thursday, September 09, 2010

Phone hacking was rife at News of the World, claims new witness.

There's more trouble afoot for Andy Coulson and the Con-Dem alliance as yet another ex-News of the World journalist has gone public to claim that hacking into people's mobiles was "rife" at that newspaper and expressed his incredulity that Coulson wouldn't have known about it.

Paul McMullan, a former features executive and then member of the newspaper's investigations team, says that he personally commissioned private investigators to commit several hundred acts which could be regarded as unlawful, that use of illegal techniques was no secret at the paper, and that senior editors, including Coulson, were aware this was going on.

"How can Coulson possibly say he didn't know what was going on with the private investigators?" he asked.

Coulson has always said he had no knowledge of any such activity. News International has maintained that royal reporter Clive Goodman, jailed for hacking phones belonging to members of the royal household, was the only journalist involved in the practice.

This is becoming very dangerous for Cameron and his coalition. We know from the reporting of the New York Times that two other journalists made essentially the same point to that newspaper; that this practice was widespread at the News of The World and that is stretches belief for Coulson to continue to claim that he was ignorant of such a practice at his newspaper.

Cameron has repeatedly insisted that he has faith in Coulson, and implied that those who question Coulson's word on this subject have their own bitter reasons for doing so. (They were fired and are bitter. They had alcohol problems. They were on drugs.) That argument becomes harder and harder to insist upon the more people come forward to question Coulson's insistence that he had no knowledge of what was taking place in his own newsroom.

McMullan is one of six former News of the World journalists who have independently told the Guardian that Coulson, who was deputy editor from 2000 and editor from January 2003 to January 2007, knew that his reporters were engaging in unlawful acts.

McMullan's decision to speak publicly about illegal techniques at the paper came as the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, paved the way for a second, powerful committee of MPs to investigate the scandal.

Cameron's judgement is at question here. And he is loudly defending Coulson, whilst more and more of Coulson's employees come forward to state that Coulson was well aware of what was taking place on his own watch.

Moreover, Paul McMullan doesn't even believe now that it was wrong for reporters to behave in this way.

He believes Coulson was right to allow his reporters to invade privacy in order to nail wrongdoers: "Investigative journalism is a noble profession but we have to do ignoble things." He says that at the time, reporters did not believe it was illegal to hack voicemail and were quite open about it. "Most reporters did it themselves, sitting at their desk. It was something that people would do when they were bored sitting outside somebody's house. I don't think at the time senior editors at the paper thought it was an issue. Everybody was doing it.

"Coulson would certainly be well aware that the practice was pretty widespread. He is conceivably telling the truth when he says he didn't specifically know every time a reporter would do it. I wouldn't have told him. It wasn't of significance for me to say I just rang up David Beckham and listened to his messages. In general terms, he would have known that reporters were doing it."

McMullan argues that these techniques are essential to investigative work. "How can Coulson possibly say he didn't know what was going on with [private investigators]? He was the brains behind the investigations department [to which McMullan was transferred by Coulson]. How can he say he had no idea about how it works? It's just a shame that you are not awarded prizes for it. Instead, you are regulated so that wrongdoers can carry on with their corruption."

McMullan's argument, that they were essentially "the good guys" chasing "the corrupt" explains just how such a practice came to be justified within the News of the World.

And all of these investigators had to be paid for. How can it be possible that Coulson didn't know what they were doing to justify the amount of money his paper was paying them?
All six of the former journalists who worked for Coulson at the News of the World paint the same picture of a newsroom where private investigators were used routinely to gather information by illegal means and where some reporters did so themselves. They say senior editors knew about this, because reporters could not commission private investigators without going through their desk editor; because editors routinely demanded to know the source of information in stories; and because executives kept tight control of their budgets.
Cameron is tying his colours to what looks like an incredibly shaky mast. Coulson's position is beginning to look untenable.

Click here for full article.

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