UPDATE: Statement from James Murdoch, Rupert’s son: “Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper. This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World.” The paper has existed for 168 years. No more.
UPDATE: The scandal gets even worse as then Deputy Editor Andy Coulson was arrested by Metropolitan Police on allegations of corruption and phone hacking. Not only that, but so did royal reporter and correspondent Clive Goodman. Though Goodman was arrested for allegedly providing payments and bribes to members of the Metropolitan Police.
How long before things blow back onto editor Rebekah Brooks or worse, one of the Murdochs?
Back in 2002, 13-year-old Milly Dowler was on her way home in Walton-on-Thames in South East England, but she never made it there. As it turns out, she was abducted and murdered by Levi Bellfield, who last month was jailed for life for murdering the young girl.
In a twist that nobody saw coming, the tragic saga of Milly Dowler will perhaps be best remembered for the lack of ethics by the British tabloid News of the World, which, even by tabloid standards, have managed to sink to a new low.
In an investigation by the Guardian, it was revealed that News of the World hacked into the young girl’s cellphone, listened to voicemails and then deleted voicemails to make room on her answering service.
Essentially, the rag interfered with and impeded a police investigation, simultaneously providing false hope to the family of Milly Dowler. Should we really come to expect any better behavior from a tabloid owned by a Rupert Murdoch subsidiary?
The Metropolitan Police began a new investigation into phone hacking allegations in February 2011, at which time more than twenty civil cases against the News of the World were also active. Scotland Yard picked up the investigation from there and shared their findings with The Guardian. Attorneys for the victims allege that as many as 7,000 people had their phones hacked by the News of the World.
Let’s repeat that for emphasis: Attorneys for the victims allege that as many as *7,000 people* had their phones hacked by the News of the World.
CNBC reported on Thursday that “the arrest of up to five employees [is] expected within days.”
News of the World hired private investigators to aid in their own investigation into Dowler’s death, standard operating procedure, and that’s when things took a turn into the abyss of journalism ethics.
Their first step was simple, albeit illegal. Paperwork seen by the Guardian reveals that they paid a Hampshire private investigator, Steve Whittamore, to obtain home addresses and, where necessary, ex-directory phone numbers for any families called Dowler in the Walton area. The three addresses Whittamore found could be obtained lawfully on the electoral register. The two ex-directory numbers, however, were “blagged” illegally from British Telecom’s confidential records by one of Whittamore’s associates, John Gunning, who works from a base in Wiltshire. One of the ex-directory numbers was attributed by Whittamore to Milly’s family home.
Then, with the help of its own full-time private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, the News of the World started illegally intercepting mobile phone messages. Scotland Yard is now investigating evidence that the paper hacked directly into the voicemail of the missing girl’s own phone. As her friends and parents called and left messages imploring Milly to get in touch with them, the News of the World was listening and recording their every private word.
But the journalists at the News of the World then encountered a problem. Milly’s voicemail box filled up and would accept no more messages. Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the paper intervened – and deleted the messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance. According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it.
Classy, really classy. But, wait. It gets worse. The paper made little effort to hide the fact that they had hacked the girl’s phone. The tabloid published a story about a woman pretending to be Milly Dowler who had applied for a job at a recruitment agency using Milly’s actual mobile phone number. They then went on to report that the recruitment agency left a message on her mobile, offering Milly a job six days after she went missing. Information they would only have if they had hacked her mobile phone.
All of these indiscretions by the News of the World, its then-editor Rebekah Brooks (now Rupert Murdoch’s chief executive in the UK), and then-deputy editor Andy Coulson (who resigned in January as the prime minister’s media adviser), have come to light because their behavior was a major component of the criminal trial of Levi Bellfield.
The News of the World’s parent company, News International, part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, said in statement: “We have been co-operating fully with Operation Weeting since our voluntary disclosure in January restarted the investigation into illegal voicemail interception. This particular case is clearly a development of great concern and we will be conducting our own inquiry as a result. We will obviously co-operate fully with any police request on this should we be asked.”
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