Britain’s media crisis continues to grow, with more papers caught in an expanding police inquiry into bribery, new allegations of phone hacking (literally) involving the discredited News of the World and a decision tonight, our time, on whether 13 journalists will be charged with phone hacking and sent for trial.

From the evidence overnight by the police officer running the trio of inquiries, the scandal is growing and the outlook for at least three of Britain’s major media groups, News International, Trinity and Mirror and Express Newspapers, has worsened as a result.

The new police claims though make you wonder about the intelligence of some in journalism. Faced with growing evidence that paying public officials for information is bad, being investigated by the Old Bill, you’d expect all such payments to be stopped. But no, evidence given to the Leveson inquiry overnight suggests that the managements of News International, Trinity and Mirror and Express Newspapers continued making payments to unnamed public officials through 2011, despite the widening three police inquiries into phone and computer hacking and corrupt payments to public officials.

Trinity Mirror is a listed public company and is the country’s biggest newspaper owner, with more than 200 titles. Express Newspapers is controlled by Richard Desmond and, after Murdoch, is one of the more divisive of Britain’s media proprietors, owning Express, Northern and Shell (which publishes magazines such as OK and papers such as The Star), Channel Five, the struggling commercial/public network (like Channel Four) and Portland Media, which has several X-rated pay-TV channels and other outlets.

And, police are investigating claims that some News International journalists had engaged unknown experts to hack into stolen mobile phones on at least two occasions in late 2010, well after the original phone-hacking claims that led to private detective Glenn Mulcaire and News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman being jailed. If substantiated, the claims confirm that News International executives, editors and spokespeople have been lying about the extent and duration of the hacking claims when they tried to argue that they had ended in 2006-07 with the jailing of the two. So much also for the claims by Rupert Murdoch and others in the empire that it was all down to rogue reporters and others.

These claims and the news that the corrupt payments continued through last year and into this year  reveals that many at the top of large slabs of the UK media and its managers are stupid, corrupt and thought they were untouchable, despite evidence to the contrary. And when news that the police had started new inquiries, one of which was targeting corrupt payments, you would have thought alarm bells should have rung and all payments stopped. That News International could continue payments past last July tells us that this is a company full of unreconstructed fools.

In the cases of Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers, the payments continued into this year, despite the inquiries increasing the number of arrests of former journalists and the start of arrests of public officials. The inquiry was told that police had tracked the payments and matched them to specific stories in various newspapers. Now, four more newspapers were revealed to be under investigation for corrupt payments, in addition to the Murdoch-owned Sun, and the News of The World. They are the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Star and Star on Sunday (both owned by Express Newspapers).

“Further investigation has enabled us to identify stories in the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Star and Star on Sunday that are suspected to be linked to the payments,” deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers said in a statement to the inquiry.

Desmond denied that such payments were made in is witness statement to the Leveson inquiry in which he said: “To the best of my knowledge, the newspapers have not used, paid or had any connection with private investigators in order to source stories or information and/or paid or received payments in kind for such information from the police, public officials, mobile phone companies or others with access to the same.”

Akers heads Operation Weeting, the original phone-hacking investigation, and its offshoots (Operations Elveden and Tuleta) and told the inquiry that Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers had joined News International in being the focus of inquiries over payments to public officials. During evidence to the Leveson inquiry in February, Akers outlined details of payments of tens of thousands of pounds made by journalists to public officials. Her evidence overnight expanded on that in far more detail.

The Guardian reported that in one case “a prison officer at a high security prison, who has now retired, had allegedly received payments from News International, Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers totalling nearly £35,000”, Akers told the Leveson inquiry on Monday.

Peter Fray

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