The phone-hacking scandal
The lowest low
Jul 7th 2011 | from the print edition From The Economist print edition
The phone-hacking saga jeopardises more than merely the News of the World: it threatens Rupert Murdoch, the press as a whole, the police and politicians
UNTIL this week, the victims in the scandal over the illegal hacking of mobile-phone messages by the News of the World seemed mostly to be celebrities, royals and others too privileged to command much sympathy. For the tabloid, that was a useful mitigation in the court of public opinion, if not in law. No longer. The sordid antics of Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday paper—owned by News International, Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper outfit—look more promiscuous and more gravely criminal. And the circle of blame and taint is widening.
The big difference is Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who was murdered in Surrey in March 2002. On July 4th the Guardian reported allegations that Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator working with News of the World journalists, hacked into Dowler’s voice-mail in the days after her disappearance, removing some messages to free up space when her account became full. The effect was to make her family think she might still be alive. The relatives of people killed in the terrorist attacks in London of July 2005, and of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, might also have been targeted. Ditto the families of two girls murdered in Cambridgeshire in 2002: in a bizarre cameo in what is an increasingly baroque saga, the actor Hugh Grant made that link in April, in a covertly recorded interview with a former journalist. Tom Watson, a Labour MP, made an even more serious charge in Parliament on July 6th: that News International paid people to interfere in a murder case “on behalf of known criminals”. The firm says it doesn’t understand that accusation.