Most of the time one reads the tweets of @rupertmurdoch with a sense of profound relief that you are not stuck next to the bloke at a bar. There’s no wit or insight, just a stream of banality and bombast, punctuated by too many exclamation marks (!) with the occasional complete non-sequitur tossed in for good measure. But yesterday Murdoch managed a truly extraordinary intervention, tweeting “Now they are complaining about R Brooks saving an old horse from the glue factory!”

Despite any number of pundits noting that the “old horse” might have been the ageing Sun King himself, what Murdoch was referring to is one of the most bizarre stories involving a woman and a horse since the posthumous s-xist slandering of Catherine the Great.

It transpires that between 2008 and 2010, disgraced former News of the World and Sun executive Rebekah Brooks was loaned a horse by the London Metropolitan Police Force.  The Leveson inquiry investigating the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal had been informed of this on February 14, but the revelation only really took off this week.

According to the Met, there was nothing out of the ordinary in what had occurred, because “[w]hen a police horse reaches the end of its working life, mounted branch officers find it a suitable retirement home”.  To just about everyone else on Earth (apart from @rupertmurdoch) though it was hard not to see the horse loaning incident as exemplifying the despicably close relationship that existed between the London Metropolitan Police Force and News International papers.  The horse story seemed simply the absurd epitome of a wider pattern of stinking rottenness.

On Monday, the world learnt of the extent of what is now alleged when Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sue Akers told the Leveson inquiry (the statement is worth reading in full here) that her team had uncovered what seems to have been virtually an entire business model predicated on the criminal corruption of journalists and officialdom, in operation at the Sun.  It seems that a whole new dimension of criminality may be being added to our understanding of the functioning of the News media-industrial complex.

Given the monstrous extent of the allegations against News International that are now in the open — and Akers warned that her team was still “nearer the start than the finish on this inquiry” — the trivial tone and subject of Murdoch’s intervention was ill advised and extraordinary.  As bespectacled crusader Tom Watson MP shot back: “You comment on her horse but not on her insider knowledge of a criminal investigation into your company. Have you no shame?”

Of course it may well be that the loaning of the horse — so that Brooks could play foster mother to a once proud animal in its twilight years — was entirely innocent, albeit perhaps ill-advised.  But it doesn’t really matter, because the whole episode simply fits too snugly with the incredible and still-emerging story of a diabolical enterprise led by a gang of cartoon villains who are now — it is widely hoped — will get their much deserved comeuppance.

Meanwhile — true to cultural stereotypes — the English commentariat began to take an interest in whether or not the horse itself had been mistreated while in the care of Brooks.  Enter Rebekah Brooks’ husband — Old Etonian Charlie Brooks — only too willing to play the part of the upper-class twit.  Charlie Brooks reportedly responded to the allegations of mistreatment by saying: “I have been around and looked after horses all my life and I am confident that I know more about caring for them than people at the Metropolitan Police.”  Well that’s that then.

Murdoch’s bizarre twitter intervention is perhaps just one more little sign that the Emperor is losing his grip.  But the more serious blow to the dynasty came a few hours later with news that James Murdoch has resigned from his role as chairman of News International, the publisher of the Sun and Times.

Murdoch jnr retains a variety of roles within the global conglomerate, but is clearly diminished by the move. A young man who soared skyward on the fuel of nepotism and privilege is now plummeting towards the Earth at increasing speed.

On the announcement of junior’s move, Rupert Murdoch was quoted as saying “We are all grateful for James’ leadership at News International and across Europe and Asia, where he has made lasting contributions to the group’s strategy in paid digital content and its efforts to improve and enhance governance programs”.

Given all that has transpired, thanking James Murdoch for his leadership on “governance” is corporate doublespeak nonsense, combined with the kind of embarrassing claim a clueless father might make about his son’s unparalleled specialness in a speech at a 12th birthday. Yes, Rupert, your son is undoubtedly the best batsman since Bradman. But then again perhaps Rupert is also genuinely grateful: after all, given the hits he has already taken in the phone-hacking scandal, Murdoch junior has done his filial best to save an old horse from the glue factory.

Peter Fray

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