PHONEHACKGATE TAKE 2
Anyone who thought that Phonehackgate was just about the hiring of Glenn Mulcaire by the Screws may need to think again: this morning, six former hacks on the paper, two of whom are now at the Sun, were arrested as part of a fresh phone hacking investigation. Who was doing the hacking and tapping is not as yet clear, but for other papers this could be ominous news.
May not be just him this time
I will explain. Mulcaire was employed more or less exclusively by the Screws. So when he was nicked and his meticulously kept records seized, that was the only paper to get mired in the subsequent revelations. When Steve Whittamore had his house raided in March 2003, almost all those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet featured in his records.
And the top two in the Motorman charts did not include a Murdoch title: these places were occupied by Trinity Mirror and Associated Newspapers (the former managed the most information requests for a single paper, while the latter had the largest aggregate total, at 985). As Nick Davies pointed out in Flat Earth News, “overwhelmingly, the requests which had been made of Whittamore involved breaking the law”.
Now, if the gang was all present and correct in pre-hacking days, the idea that only the Screws took the intrusion to the next level is not credible. The whiff of suspicion has hovered around the Mirror for some time, despite the denials of Piers Morgan, and the Daily Mail’s denials have never been convincing.
Why should this be? Again, Nick Davies has the quote, this time from a long serving Mail man: “if the Mail go for you, they get every phone number you have dialled, every schoolmate, everything on your credit card, every call from your phone, and from your mobile”. Mail hacks agreed with Davies that they had bribed Police officers and civil servants.
Now contrast that with the denials before the Leveson Inquiry by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre. And also consider a report by the Independent back in December 2011 on Police seizures of computers from a variety of private investigators, with the estimate that the numbers hacked could equal those at the Screws. This investigation was not limited to one title.
That is why the latest arrests may not just be about more illegal activity at the Screws. It may unearth a whole raft of dodgy information gathering, and in the process, drop a lot of very senior journalists and their bosses in the mire. Just like the first Guardian reports on Phonehackgate back in 2009, few have their eyes on this particular ball. With the post Leveson debate heating up, that may not be wise.