When the Murdoch mafiosi closed the late and not at all lamented Screws, in the wake of the revelation that they had hacked a dead schoolgirl’s phone, we were assured that the bad behaviour only affected that one paper. The borderline criminality that characterised the Screws under the less than benign editorship of Andy Coulson had not spread to other Murdoch titles. The Super Soaraway Currant Bun was in the clear.
It was nothing to do with me, right?
Thus the Sun soon spawned a Sunday edition to take the Screws’ place, and the world moved on. But after the Mirror titles began to ‘fess up and pay hacking victims, it became clear that it was not only the Sunday Mirror that had been at it, but its daily stablemate as well. As it was thought that the Sunday Mirror had done it to keep up with the Screws, the suspicion was that the Sun had been at it too. Which it had.
And the Murdoch empire was due in court next month. But now the news has officially broken that the inmates of the Baby Shard bunker have been frantically settling phone hacking cases. After news that there would be a trial, then that dozens of alleged victims were joining the action, and that News Group had ben compelled to hand over invoices referring to private investigators, has come the Murdoch climbdown.
After a pre-trial review of the cases at the High Court yesterday, the Guardian reported “The publisher of the Sun and the defunct News of the World has settled 17 cases of phone hacking and illegally obtaining personal information, avoiding a high-profile court case … News Group, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, has settled with celebrities including Les Dennis, the footballer Jonathan Woodgate and the Coronation Street actors Samia Ghadie, Kym Marsh and Alan Halsall”. How much was paid out?
Just don't forget who wants to get his hands on Sky. All of it
“The settlement is likely to be worth millions of pounds”. And, most conveniently for the Murdoch mafiosi, “News Group has not admitted to any unlawful behaviour at the Sun as part of the settlement”. So no fuss, no mess, very little publicity.
Why was this so important? “The settlement means that a high court trial due to hear the 17 cases in October will no longer go ahead. The trial would have aired allegations of phone hacking at the Sun - which News Group has always denied - and could have led to James Murdoch being forced to take the stand as his family try to secure a controversial £11.7bn takeover of Sky”. That’s what I meant by “no mess”.
But there is also potential bad news for the Murdochs: “The 17 cases are the first tranche of 91 new claims of phone hacking and illegally obtaining personal information against the Sun and News of the World. High-profile individuals who have not settled their claims include Sir Elton John, Gordon Ramsay, David Tennant and Heather Mills”.
And yet more bad news: “A court hearing for the next tranche of alleged victims is scheduled for January, when the Sky deal is still likely to be awaiting regulatory approval”. Will Ofcom and the Culture Secretary be taking notice of this? You bet they will.
Of course, the Murdochs still have one key card they could play - as with the Screws, they could just close the Sun. Think that is far-fetched? They thought it wouldn’t happen to the Screws. The Sun is losing money. Rupert Murdoch may be a print man at heart, but power is passing to his sons. And they’re not sentimental. They just follow the money.