It's hard to believe, but at 4pm BST today it will be exactly a year since Nick Davies and Amelia Hill published online a leak from Operation Weeting, the newly recreated (third) investigation into phone hacking, and revealed that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a missing 13 year old schoolgirl, who was found dead six months later, murdered by Levi Bellfield.
That headline changed the political scene here in the UK. Within days the News of the World had closed, and New Corp were forced to withdraw their takeover bid for Britain's most lucrative broadcaster, BSkyB. Within two weeks James and Rupert Murdoch were summoned to appear before a Parliamentary select committee, and David Cameron was forced to set up the Leveson Inquiry.
Over the next year, the hacking scandal expanding to a corruption and bribery scandal at the News of the World's sister paper, the best selling Sun. Over 50 people have now been arrested. An internal News Corp inquiry, the MSC - set up under pressure from the FBI, SEC and DOJ - has now handed over thousands of emails suggesting bribery of public officials. The scandal expanded to include allegations of TV piracy at News Corp's pay-TV encryption services in Australia, the UK, Italy and the US.
But more than anything, for the UK, the Leveson Inquiry has shone a light into the dark corners of the political media class, and revealed such extensive back door lobbying between the Murdochs and the last five prime ministers, that it was almost like discovering a state within a state. And of course, with Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and James Murdoch meeting virtually every day with David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt, the convergence over the last few years has been almost seamless. As a senior News International journalist expressed it to me:
The Court of Cameron and the Court of Murdoch have become almost totally enmeshed.
This last year has been an amazing journey for our country, and for me personally, as I became inextricably caught up in the coverage of the affair. My book, which explores those 14 days in July which ended a media dynasty - and the 50 years leading up to it - is in the final stages and due for publication at the end of the month.
Below I might share some of the book, particularly the reality of the Milly Dowler story, but mainly this diary is to share YOUR memories, to hear your thoughts about this momentous year
The Net Closes In
Just as it seems some kind of legal injunction managed to stop the broadcast of last night's much anticipated BBC Panorama documentary on Murdoch's spying activities on other rivals, the police leap into action with the biggest number of arrests since the Hackgate scandal begun. Six people were arrested this morning in early morning raids on the very serious charge of perverting the course of justice, a common law offence which can carry a life imprisonment sentence.
Rebekah Brooks was due to answer bail this week for her previous (prearranged) arrest for phone hacking and suborning police officers. This time the raid was much more brutal. It's speculation at the moment, but the fact her husband, the race horse owner Charlie Brooks, was arrested too, suggests it might have something to do with this strange incident of the binned laptop last July, on the night of the Lulzsec hack of The Sun. But apparently one has to be careful speculating here, because of British Contempt of Court Act 1981. I draw no inferences and will remove any quotations. But I wonder if linking to the many easily accessible reports about this is also a breach. Seeking more advice. In the meantime, paras 35-36 of this legal submission from the phone hacking victims who have settled are also very interesting in terms of a potential coverup.
This is very significant, not just because of the gravity of the charges, but because it now puts the hackgate scandal right into the highest circles of power. Charlie Brooks is one of David Cameron's oldest and closest friends, and their riding trips together on an old police horse leant out from the Met, source of the Horsegate hilarity - one of the funniest ever newspaper live threads on the subject at the Telegraph website.
By cruel irony, Charlie Brooks' horseracing column, celebrating the opening of the Cheltenham races, was published this morning. The title and subhead is some somewhat unfortunate.
Cheltenham Festival 2012: this meeting is a war of attrition on many fronts The happiest moment of my year is about three hours before the first race at Cheltenham on Tuesday;
Rebekah Brooks was until July, Chief Executive of News International. Also arrested is Mark Hanna, head of security at News International. Both were answerable to News International's Chairman, James Murdoch.
The Dynasty Falling
But by far the biggest news would be the arrest of James Murdoch. Over the weekend I heard that a senior Fleet Street editor thought this was on the cards. There is also the intriguing fact that one of the six arrested this morning was 39 year old man in Hampshire. Several people online noticed James was 39. My valiant co-reporter Ceebs managed to track down several James Murdochs in Hampshire. According to Reuters:
One of the descriptions of those arrested - police declined to name them - also fitted the description of James Murdoch, but two sources said he was currently in the United States.
News Corp declined to comment on the arrests.
But even if he's not arrested yet, as the Chair of News International, he is now powerfully in the frame.
This is not only a personal catastrophe for James, but for the Rupert himself. The whole strategy of News Corp (James still sits on the board there and at BSkyB) was to sacrifice anyone (proteges like Brooks, old retainers like Les Hinton who had served Murdoch for 50 years) to protect the family. But though he wasn't chair of News International when Mulcaire's hacking was at its height, he was during the huge cover up at News International, which implied attempts to delete huge swathes of email evidence, not to mention legal threats, and even surveillance and intimidation of lawyers, police officers and members of Parliament.
James is a victim here of his legacy. By all accounts, he was a more enlightened chairman at BSkyB than his father, and - though inevitably arrogant and entitled - still a better manager. The truth is, he would probably never be in this position, for good and ill, without the family name.
Live by inheritance. Die by inheritance. In every gift there is a curse.
The hackgate scandal has, like the Dreyfus scandal in France 100 years ago, shone a torch beam into the collusions and corruptions of British society, as an overweening media monopoly inserted itself in public life, and suborned the Met police, cowed journalists, and crept its way into the heart of government. The arrest of senior News International, apart from symbolising the Fall of the House of Murdoch, finally proves that some people aren't beyond the law, and encourages everyone who has been intimidated and silenced by Murdoch's money and influence can now speak out, without fearing press intimidation and police collusion.
Whether crimes have been committed or not, is for a judge and jury to answer once charges have been brought. But some very powerful people are now subjected to the full scrutiny of the law. For this alone, it's a great moment for British society, and I hope gives Americans who object to the perverting nexus of money, media power and politics, to hope for more justice there.
8:07 AM PT: The Labour Shadow Minister for Culture and Media has now asked the Leveson inquiry to investigate the full relationship between Rebekah and Charlie Brooks, and the Prime Minister David Cameron
It is important that the police are continuing to pursue the investigation into phone hacking.
Rebekah and Charlie Brooks are, on the prime minister's own account, close friends of his.
The Leveson Inquiry – when looking into the relations between the press and politicians – will need to investigate the full extent of the relations between the prime minister and senior News International executives at the time when hacking was rife and at the time his government was considering News Corp's bid for BSkyB.
Original posted on Daily Kos