Rupert Murdoch will be 85, going on 86, by the time the News of the World phone-hacking scandal investigation is completed in 2015.
The possible end date, revealed overnight in London, means the phone hacking and other scandals for News Corporation will have lasted nine years since private eye Glenn Mulcaire and NotW royal reporter Clive Goodman were jailed for hacking in January of 2007.
The looming split of the empire in the next year into growing News (the US and European broadcast assets) and slow News (the newspaper and publishing business, plus pay-TV in Australia and NZ) won’t lessen the publicity impact for the Murdochs or the two companies. The Murdoch family will still be the major shareholders in both and running the company from the boardroom. The mud will continue to fly and stick, especially if jail sentences start being handed out by British courts. And then there are the continuing investigations in the US into possible breaches of anti-corruption laws.
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Overnight, the London police officer in charge of the probe, Sue Akers, told a Parliamentary inquiry that the investigation could last another three years. She is about to retire and will hand over the investigation to a senior officer from the London metropolitan police.
Akers said the investigation had so far identified just over 1000 possible victims of phone hacking and is budgeting for this investigation and others into alleged illegal activities by journalists to last another three years, at a cost of about £40 million. Nearly 80 people have been arrested, and some charged in connection with the three investigations.
Called Operation Weeting, this investigation is one of three into the activities of the Murdoch newspapers in Britain: Operation Elveden, an inquiry into accusations of corrupt payments to officials (which involves, so far, charges against several journalists from The Sun plus public servants, prison officers and others), and Operation Tuleta looking at allegations of computer hacking and other privacy breaches. So far several journalists from The Sun have been arrested and last week a former Times journalist was arrested in connection with computer hacking.
So far, eight people including former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron’s former adviser, Andy Coulson, have been charged under Operation Weeting. Brooks, her husband Charlie and four others have also been charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice over allegations they removed boxes of material from the News International archive and tried to conceal documents, computers and other material from police. Brooks is due to appear in court in London again on September 26. Coulson has also been arrested and questioned in connection with a separate case in Scotland with links to the NotW (the so-called Tommy Sheridan libel case).
Akers told the UK Commons home affairs select committee that police had concluded efforts to contact more than 4700 potential phone-hacking victims, of which 1069 were likely to have had their voicemail messages intercepted. She said the Met had 185 officers and civilian staff working on the investigations — 96 on Operation Weeting, 70 on Operation Elveden and 19 on Operation Tuleta.
The Guardian reported that in her final appearance before the committee before she retires next month, Akers was asked if the investigations were now winding down. “That’s probably not how I would describe it,” she replied.
She said the phone-hacking investigation was now switching priorities, with the Met having attempted to make contact with all potential victims and eight people charged in relation to the Operation Weeting investigation: “We are now prioritising getting cases through court. We have gone as far as we can on victim notification.”
There have been 25 arrests related to Operation Weeting, 43 in relation to Operation Elveden and 11 linked to Operation Tuleta. Akers said that as of last Friday the Met had identified 4744 potential or likely victims of phone hacking by the NotW. Of these, 1069 were “likely victims” and 658 had been contacted. Some 388 were uncontactable and Scotland Yard had chosen not to contact 23 others “for operational reasons”. A further 3675 were “potential victims”, where a name and phone number had been found in evidence searched by the police. Of these, 1894 had been contacted but 1781 were not contactable.