Charges against Brooks, Coulson show Murdoch can’t escape
Just as The New York Times was telling us Rupert Murdoch has his happy face on again and is bouncing around like a 70-year old, because the BBC is in so much shit, the world’s most powerful media baron has received more bad news: two of his ex-editors at the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, will face yet more criminal charges.
The latest offence they’re fingered for is the payment of large amounts in bribes to public officials to obtain confidential or private information. In Brooks’s case, it is alleged to be 100,000 pounds to a public servant at the Ministry of Defence for a series of articles by The Sun’s lead reporter, John Kay, almost certainly on Afghanistan.
In Coulson’s case, it is for splashing Murdoch’s cash on a copy of the so-called Green Book, which lists ex-directory numbers for Britain’s royal family and royal household. Funnily enough, Coulson will find himself in the dock with ex-NotW royal correspondent Clive Goodman, whose arrest and subsequent jailing on hacking charges back in 2006 set off this whole sorry saga.
The new indictments mean Brooks and Coulson have now hit the trifecta, in that they have scored a mention from the Metropolitan Police on three separate counts: conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. This last, strange-sounding charge has doubtless been brought because it carries a prison sentence, which the Data Protection Act 1998 does not.
One imagines the police will be expecting a better result than they got from Operation Motorman in 2004, when two private investigators and two policemen pleaded guilty in the High Court to buying and selling information from the Police National Computer — for use by several Fleet Street papers — yet still walked free.
So what’s the significance of the new charges and how much trouble could they spell for Mr M? The answer, it seems, is plenty.
First of all, they bring Murdoch’s Sun newspaper into the frame for the first time, because the Brooks charges relate to the daily tabloid rather than NotW. Thus, they spread the allegations of criminal behaviour into an even more important section of Murdoch’s media empire in Britain, and one that has not been closed down.
Second, they extend the period when criminal activity is said to have taken place, because the Brooks charges allege payments were made up until January 2012. This not only covers the time when Murdoch’s favourite editor was running his favourite rag, but also includes the years when she was in charge of all his British newspapers. Amazingly, it suggests payments may have continued after the phone-hacking scandal went nuclear in July 2011.
The third reason they are significant is that a string of charges against other Murdoch employees are likely to follow. So far, 21 Sun journalists — a news editor, crime editor, managing editor and a former deputy editor — have been arrested by the Met’s Operation Elveden, which is dealing with corrupt payments to public officials. And many of these are still employed at Murdoch’s favourite red-top. If Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service decides that some should now be put on trial alongside Brooks and Coulson, it will surely take the spring out of Murdoch’s step.
In this context, it’s worth remembering the Met’s Sue Akers told the Leveson inquiry last February that police had uncovered a network of public servants whom The Sun was paying for information, and that moles in the police, military, government, health and prison services had been all pocketing the Dirty Digger’s cash.
“There also appears to have been a culture at The Sun of illegal payments,” Akers told Leveson. “And systems have been created to facilitate those payments, whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money.” On that basis it seems inevitable more high-ranking editorial executives at Britain’s top-selling tabloid will soon be in the dock if the police get their way.
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