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Monday 1 August 2011

Murdoch Is Served (53)

During the Commons culture committee grilling of Rupe and Junior, something happened that may drag rather more Murdoch journalists into the maelstrom of Phonehackgate. And, at the time, nobody seemed to notice. Few have flagged up the potential even now of a decision forced out of James Murdoch, the cutting loose of Glenn Mulcaire.

Even as the committee hearings were proceeding, News International (NI) was paying Mulcaire’s legal fees. That changed after an intervention from Labour’s Paul Farrelly, who wrung a commitment out of both Rupe and Junior that the arrangement would cease. This was good when viewed as part of the Murdoch contrition, but unwise when considering the consequences.

Since Mulcaire and former Screws royal reporter Clive Goodman took the fall for phone hacking, both had been kept sweet by NI: Goodman received a pay-off of around £60,000 – despite there being no entitlement, especially as he had been convicted – and Mulcaire had had his lawyers’ fees paid. In return, both had kept schtum about goings-on at the Screws.

With the fees arrangement terminated, there was no longer any onus on Mulcaire to maintain his silence, and so he did not: he confirmed at the end of last week that he had been “effectively employed” by the Screws as a private investigator from 2002. Moreover, he had not acted “unilaterally” when accessing voicemails, but “on the instructions of others”.

What Mulcaire is saying is, more or less, that if NI are going to drop him in the mire, they should not expect him to maintain his silence. He hasn’t – yet – named any names, but should the payments for his legal bills stop, all bets will be off. Today it has been reported that NI could still be liable for Mulcaire’s fees, which is one way of warning the Murdochs not to do the deed.

And the flip side of that coin is the unwritten threat that, should the deed be done, then Glenn Mulcaire will miraculously discover his singing voice and drag Rupe and Junior – and anyone else he can finger – into the mire with him.

There are interesting times ahead.

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