At 8 o’clock tonight, Australian time, 11 former News of the World journalists, including the paper’s ex-editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, are set to find out whether they will face criminal charges for phone hacking.
The NotW‘s pet private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who supervised the hacking of voicemails for the Murdochs’ newspaper, and who has already served time in jail, will also learn his fate.
It’s possible, of course, that Alison Levitt QC of the UK Crown Prosecution Service will smile warmly and tell them: “OK, folks, you’re off the hook, you can all go home.” But that’s unlikely.
Having screwed up first time around, the Metropolitan Police has been under huge pressure to get convictions, with 96 detectives on Operation Weeting and a further 70 on Operation Elveden, which is investigating corrupt payments to public officials. The Crown Prosecution Service has also showed it will play hard ball by charging Brooks and her husband, Charlie, (along with several others) for conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
A trial date for Brooks on those charges will be set as soon as a decision has been taken on phone hacking, but it is unlikely to be this year.
While the names of the 11 journalists are not officially known, it’s clear they include Brooks, Coulson and the NoTW’s former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, who was the recipient of the notorious “For Neville” email that James Murdoch somehow failed to read. The police parade will likely also include most of the NoTW’s second-tier bosses from the early 2000s, such as managing editor Stuart Kuttner, executive editor Neil Wallis and assistant editors Ian Edmondson and James Weatherup.
One of this gang of 11, may well be the author of a new damning email that surfaced in London’s High Court last week. According to David Sherborne, counsel for some of the 417 hacking victims still suing (or contemplating suing) News Group Newspapers, the message contains “an instruction relating to the telephone of a well-known individual” and is of “enormous significance”. Or, in the words of another lawyer acting for the victims, Hugh Tomlinson QC, it is “absolutely crucial and important”.
So who has been caught holding this smoking gun? According to Justice Vos, the email was sent by “an executive whose identity you know”. But sadly we have not been told which one. The email was only produced to the court by Murdoch’s London lawyers, Linklaters, after police tipped off the victims. It was apparently discovered months ago, in March, but not handed over. So much for News’ full and frank co-operation in clearing up this mess.
Last night, the Met’s officer in charge of the phone-hacking and corruption investigations, Sue Akers, told the Leveson Inquiry that News was no longer being so helpful in handing stuff over to police either. In mid-May, News Corp’s Management & Standards Committee stopped disclosing material, said Akers. After a three-week hiatus, it resumed co-operation, but is now demanding police demonstrate why they should be given the material.
Meanwhile, speculation continues madly as to why Rupert has quit the boards of his British newspapers and News International, the company that runs them. One commentator called it “The end of an era”; US pundits preferred describing it as Rupert’s “Saigon moment”. And almost all except Murdoch’s latest biographer Michael Wolff agreed it was enormously significant, even if they weren’t quite sure why.
We’re a bit less impressionable than some of these folk and we reckon it won’t make much difference. It may make it easier for Britain’s regulator Ofcom to decide that News Corp is fit to hold the BSkyB licence but we doubt it; it may herald Murdoch’s sale of his newspapers, which we doubt even more; and it may well mean he’s turning his back on Britain, which is a bit more likely.
But whatever the reason — and it could be just he wants to lighten his load at 81 — we don’t think it adds up to much. As long as there are still phone lines from the US to the UK (and indeed from anywhere else in the world) Rupert is still going to be calling his editors every week to chew the fat, swap gossip and tell them where they’ve gone wrong. And whether he’s a director of News International or not he’ll still be the big boss at News Corp and he’s still be running the show.