Hackgate: a week of extraordinary revelations

When the story broke on Monday that the News of the World (NOTW) allegedly hacked the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler and her family in March 2002, a public outcry ensued.

Every day since has seen a new revelation in the scandal, with almost hourly developments culminating yesterday in the NOTW being closed down by its parent company, News International.

The story is expected to drag on for months, or even years, as various inquiries and investigations take place into the scale of hacking culture at the NOTW and other titles. In recent days we have learned that not only was Milly Dowler’s phone targeted — widows of soldiers and even the families of those who died in the terrorist attacks on London in July 2005 may also have been victims.

The implications are undoubtedly hugely significant for the future of tabloid journalism, and for the industry of journalism as a whole. The Press Complaints Commission are under heavy attack for what Labour leader Ed-Miliband described today as toothlessness, while prime minister David Cameron faces questions over why he hired Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor now accused of perjury, as his head of communications.

It has certainly been a rollercoaster of a week… Here we chart some of the most significant of the massive revelations that have taken place over the last five days…

Monday 4 July

The Guardian publishes a story alleging that missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s voicemail was hacked by the News of the World in 2002. The story claims Metropolitan police officers have taken statements in relation to the interception and deletion of Dowler’s voicemail messages at the time she was missing.

It is believed that by deleting the messages, the journalists concerned hampered the investigation into the whereabouts of the teenager — who was later found murdered — and also gave false hope to the parents, who believed the deleted messages showed she was still alive. The Dowlers’ family lawyer calls the revelation "heinous" and "despicable", and confirms the family is pursuing a damages claim against the News of the World.

The story causes huge ripples across the internet, and Twitter is instantly ablaze with people expressing their outrage.

A Boycott News of The World Facebook page calls for the paper to be "taken down and shown for what it really is and that’s a disgrace!"

Tuesday 5 July

While in Afghanistan, prime minister David Cameron is confronted by questions about the latest revelations. "If they are true, this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation," he says.

A spokesperson for News International tells the BBC it had been co-operating fully with the police inquiry into hacking since News International’s "voluntary disclosure in January restarted the investigation into illegal voicemail interception".

In reference to the Milly Dowler hacking, the spokesperson added: "This particular case is clearly a development of great concern and we will be conducting our own inquiries as a result.

"We will obviously co-operate fully with any police request on this should we be asked."

The private investigator at the centre of the hacking allegations, Glenn Mulcaire, releases a statement. He apologises to anyone "who was hurt or upset by what I have done," adding: "Working for the News of the World was never easy. There was relentless pressure. There was a constant demand for results. I knew what we did pushed the limits ethically. But, at the time, I didn’t understand that I had broken the law at all."

The actor Hugh Grant, who recently secretly recorded a conversation with an ex-NOTW features editor, joins a number of other prominent public figures calling for a public inquiry in to the hacking scandal.

Labour leader Ed Miliband says ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks must "consider her position" over the Dowler phone-hack claims.

Brooks releases a statement in which she says she is "appalled and shocked" about the Dowler allegations. She adds:

It is almost too horrific to believe that a professional journalist or even a freelance inquiry agent working on behalf of a member of the News of the World staff could behave in this way.

If the allegations are proved to be true then I can promise the strongest possible action will be taken as this company will not tolerate such disgraceful behaviour.

I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations. […]

We will face up to the mistakes and wrongdoing of the past and we will do our utmost to see that justice is done and those culpable will be punished.

The controversy takes another explosive turn as Channel 4 reveals that a Metropolitan Police detective was put under surveillance by News of the World journalists and his personal details targeted.

Wednesday 6 July

The Independent leads with a story claiming Rebekah Brooks "contacted Dowler private detective herself".

Another major development, as a solicitor reveals that the family of a 7/7 bombing victim may have had their phone hacked in 2005.

Labour MP Tom Watson tells the BBC that he believes "Coulson authorised payments to the police".

Editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, says Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, should delay the decision on whether to allow News Corporation to takeover BSkyB. The paper later publishes an editorial expressing the same position.

The Financial Times and the Independent both call for Rebekah Brooks to go.

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of News Corporation, releases a statement calling the latest revelations "deplorable and unacceptable", and also makes clear that he will support Rebekah Brooks:

Recent allegations of phone hacking and making payments to police with respect to the News of the World are deplorable and unacceptable. I have made clear that our company must fully and proactively co-operate with the police in all investigations and that is exactly what News International has been doing and will continue to do under Rebekah Brooks’ leadership. We are committed to addressing these issues fully and have taken a number of important steps to prevent them from happen
ing again.

Thursday 7 July

It is reported that the number of phone hacking victims could number 4,000.

The scandal takes yet another astonishing turn, as the Telegraph reveals families of war dead may have had their phones hacked by the NOTW.

The Guardian publishes a list of the phone hacking victims identified so far. It includes names such as actor Hugh Grant, London Mayor Boris Johnson, former secretary of state David Blunkett, chancellor George Osborne, actor Jude Law and Prince Harry among many others.

Channel 4 broadcast undercover footage in which the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire says hacking victims were decided "by committee". This is a particularly important development, as it had previously been claimed by News International that hacking was conducted by a "rogue reporter".

In a jawdropping development, chairman of News International James Murdoch announces that the NOTW will close, ending the newspaper’s 168 year history as of Sunday 10 July. The decision is met with shock. Rebekah Brooks, current News International chief executive, who was editor of the NOTW at the time of the Milly Dowler hacking, keeps her job, while over 200 editorial staff at the paper are made redundant.

The paper’s political editor, David Wooding, says: "People are just standing round in the office looking dazed. They just can’t believe what’s happened. All I am concerned about is that 200 professional people who have done nothing wrong have lost their jobs because of what’s happened five or six years ago."

James Murdoch issues a statement to staff:

These are strong measures. They are made humbly and out of respect. I am convinced they are the right thing to do.

You may see these changes as a price loyal staff at the News Of The World are paying for the transgressions of others. So please hear me when I say that your good work is a credit to journalism. I do not want the legitimacy of what you do to be compromised by acts of others. I want all journalism at News International to be beyond reproach. I insist that this organisation lives up to the standard of behaviour we expect of others.

There is immediate speculation about whether the News of the World will simply become the "Sunday Sun". It is noted that the domain names sunonsunday.co.uk, thesunonsunday.co.uk, thesunonsunday.com, .co.uk, .org.uk & .net were all registered anonymously between the 5-7 July, some by a Guildford-based company offering an "indentity protection service".

Friday 8 July

Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on the "future of print journalism". 

He says:

I welcome James Murdoch’s admission of serious errors. But closing the News of the World, possibly to re-open as the Sunday Sun, is not the answer. Instead those who were in charge must take responsibility for what happened.

Miliband also strongly criticises the Press Complaints Commission, and calls for a new body with stronger powers:

The PCC was established to be a watchdog. But it has been exposed as a toothless poodle.

Wherever blame lies for this, the PCC cannot restore trust in self-regulation. It is time to put the PCC out of its misery. We need a new watchdog. There needs to be fundamental change. My instincts continue to be that a form of self-regulation would be the best way forward. That is a debate we should have. But it would need to be very different to work.

Let me make some initial suggestions, drawing on many of the debates about the inadequacies of the system. A new body should have: far greater independence of its Board members from those it regulates; proper investigative powers; and an ability to enforce corrections.

Around the same time Miliband is delivering his speech, Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former press spokesman, is arrested and held in custody at a South London police station. The arrest was prompted after police officers were handed further information from News International detailing allegedly illegal payments made to a handful of officers at Scotland Yard.

David Cameron appears at a press conference and delivers a speech on phone hacking. He calls hacking "disgraceful" and "despicable", adding: "this scandal is not just about some journalists on one newspaper."

Cameron says he employed Coulson in order to give him a "second chance", and states that he takes full responsibility for hiring him.

And on the case of Rebekah Brooks, he says:

As I have said, it’s not right for a prime minister to start picking and choosing who should and shouldn’t run media organisations. But it has been reported that she offered her resignation over this …and in this situation, I would have taken it.

 The saga continues…