Friday’s shock resignation of Andy Coulson prompted an avalanche of fresh News of the World phone-hacking scandal related coverage and far more questions than answers.
Were other newspapers hacking people’s phone messages? Well we know the answer to that is almost certainly yes, so the new question is really, can lawyer Mark Lewis prove that journalists from other newspapers hacked phone messages?
Press Gazette reported in 2006 that phone-hacking, or “screwing” as it was known, was rife across Fleet Street before the Goodman and Mulcaire arrests.
Gossip email newsletter Popbitch asked back in 2001:
“Which newspaper showbiz desk has a trick for getting stories out of celebs’ mobile phones? (Two hacks simultaneously call a celeb’s mobile. One gets the answerphone, and types in 9, followed by 3333. If the hapless celeb hasn’t changed the default access code, the hack gets their messages, and can even delete them afterwards to cover their tracks).”
I understand that tip-off referred to a non News International daily.
And why has Coulson opted to resign now? Has it been the pressure of new legal actions against the News of the World, more parliamentary inquiries and the suspension of former close colleague Ian Edmondson? Or is there some other reason?
Looking at the long and chequered history of tabloid exploits, morally speaking mobile phone-message hacking probably wouldn’t make it into the top-five crimes by journalists. Remember the City Slickers insider share-dealing scandal at the Daily Mirror; the Sunday Sport journalists who in 1990 interviewed a confused actor Gordon Kaye in a hospital bed as he recovered from brain surgery and Kelvin MacKenzie’s infamous Hillsborough: The Truth front page in the Sun.
But due to a legal quirk, listening to mobile-phone messages is not just an invasion of privacy under civil law – but a criminal breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which says only the state can listen to other people’s telephone calls. I have not seen any evidence yet, that mobile phone message hacking at the News of the World did anyone any real harm.
The biggest question is over the way Coulson and other high-ups at News International have dealt with the issue since the Goodman and Mulcaire arrests in 2006, and over the many statements they have made insisting they were ignorant about the practice and that Goodman was a rogue operator.
The News of the World phone-hack scandal will go nuclear if it can be proven that Coulson and others have been less than honest in their protestations of ignorance.
I have yet to see hard evidence that lies have been told by Coulson and NI. For me, that question of honesty far outweighs all the other side issues that have sprung up around a story that won’t go away until it is conclusively resolved.