Exactly one year after The Guardian blew the lid off the News of the World hacking scandal with its story on murdered teenager Milly Dowler, the man who organised the hacking for the Murdochs’ paper, private eye Glenn Mulcaire, has been ordered by Britain’s Supreme Court to name names.
And he has said he will do just that.
Initially, Mulcaire will have to say who at the News of the World ordered him to hack into the voicemails of Nicola Phillips, the former PA to Britain’s celebrity agent Max Clifford (who settled his own damages action against News in 2010 for close to £1 million). Mulcaire will also have to name the journalist at the News of the World who received the voicemail transcripts.
But the court decision — reached unanimously by five law Lords — is likely to set a precedent for other damages claims against Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers. Currently, there are 60 cases in the queue at London’s High Court, with at least another 200 expected to follow. So far, some 60 cases have been settled at a cost of about £24 million. The total cost of the hacking scandal to the parent company, News Corporation, up to the end of 2011 was almost a quarter of a billion pounds, or roughly $375 million.
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The new court ruling could produce an awful lot of interesting names from Mulcaire, or some even more generous settlements from Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper division (whose misfortunes are now more closely shared by his Australian papers, following the split from the more profitable entertainment business).
And we do mean a lot. There were 4735 names in Mulcaire’s notebook, and 2100 of these have not yet been told by police that they may have been targets. The latest estimate is that 1082 are likely to have been victims of the News of the World’s hacking blitz.
So what will the court decision mean?
Well, the fact that Mulcaire and News have been fighting in the courts for 20 months to avoid disclosure suggests that something fairly important is at stake. And the fact that Clifford was able to negotiate a £1 million confidential settlement — over lunch with Rebekah Brooks — when a similar order was made in relation to his case in 2010, backs that up.
But it may not be quite the victory for the disaster for the Murdochs that their victims would hope. For a start, it appears Mulcaire will not have to name names if the voicemails contain purely personal information, rather than something of commercial value. And even if he is ordered to disclose who gave him his marching orders, he will only have to tell the claimants’ lawyers in confidence. So the public may never know.
However, the names can be passed onto the Metropolitan Police, whose Operation Weeting task force has made 25 phone-hacking arrests. It may even help the police convert some of those arrests into charges. Currently, Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service is trying to decide whether to charge 11 people snared by Weeting and its related inquiries.
Within the next year, there will also be criminal trials of Rupert’s favourite former CEO Rebekah Brooks for perverting the course of justice, and the Murdochs’ former editor at the News of the World, Andy Coulson, for perjury.
There is a long, long way for this scandal yet to run. As one respected British media analyst put it last night, they may even outlast Rupert. “The scandals will not be forgotten in his lifetime,” Claire Enders told Bloomberg