Dennis Potter once named the cancer that killed him as “Rupert”. It is not difficult to see why after reading the revelations in the Guardian this morning:
Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists' repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.
The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators.
One of the phones “hacked” belonged to John Prescott who is already all over the story and rightly so.
However, the focus will shift very quickly onto Andy Coulson, David Cameron's director of communications:
who was deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World when, the suppressed evidence shows, journalists for whom he was responsible were engaging in hundreds of apparently illegal acts.
There should be no question that Coulson has to go. Cameron should sack him or better still Coulson should stand down having become the story. If Coulson didn't know what was going on then he failed in his job. As Andrew Neil has said:
If a journalist comes to you with a great story, one of the first questions you ask is how did you get it. How you got it is relevant to judging its accuracy and preparing yourself for any legal challenge.
If this behaviour was systemic in the newsroom, why would you not know about it, why would you of all people, not know about it? Either you're incompetent or complicit.
These revelations pose a host of questions for the police, the Press Complaints Commission and obviously for News International, but it is Andy Coulson that will receive the focus of attention as this story rolls out this morning.
Clearly, this could is very dangerous for Cameron and calls into question his judgement in appointing Coulson in the first place. Just how much due diligence on Coulson was carried out by the Tory party?
After McBride, the damage that this could do Cameron may turn out to be very significant indeed.