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Murdoch’s power tentacles are gradually exposed

There’s still a great deal more murkiness to the phone hacking scandal than has yet come out. The latest revelation is that Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, took it upon himself to tell Gordon Brown in autumn 2009 that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to hold a judicial inquiry not long before an election into evidence that Brown’s phone and that of other Cabinet Ministers had been hacked into by News of the World reporters. The word ‘inappropriate’ is the term always used by the civil service when there is something they want to block, but they can’t think of any publicly plausible argument to justify blocking it. But even more importantly, what the hell’s it got to do with the civil service as to what may or may not be appropriate before an election?

The question then is: would O’Donnell have taken such a step, which is a flagrant breach of the civil service limits of functional responsibility, alone of his own accord? I find it very difficult to believe that he did so. And if he did so, I would expect him to receive pretty short shrift from any self-respecting Prime Minister worth his onions. But it is more likely that he was privately tipped off by a papal nuncio emanating from Murdoch that any judicial inquiry should be stopped in its tracks at any cost. If this is so, it is contemptible, or worse, that O’Donnell acted to service the message he’d received. It is also deplorable that Brown, having apparently rightly decided that the new evidence emerging merited a judicial inquiry, then backed off presumably out of fear of the electoral consequences of taking on Murdoch.

If this reconstruction is correct, it throws further light on Britain’s shadow power structure. It already seems clear that senior executives from News International leaned heavily on senior Scotland Yard officers to downplay and sideline the initial inquiry in 2006. Rebekah Brooks, who edited the Sun 2003-9 and who is now chief executive of News International, already admitted to this over-cosy relationship when she told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the Sun had paid police officers for information. It is almost unbelievable, but true, that the Met were sitting on evidence from 2006 onwards that indicated that the phones of up to 3,000 well-known figures had been hacked into, but neverthelessthis was ignored and the police went along with the NI line that phone hacking was confined to one single rogue reporter (whose legal bills are still being paid by NI to ensure he doesn’t blurt out what he must know to the contrary).

Now it seems that Murdoch’s octopoid tentacles extended into government itself, though done very discreetly via emissaries so that Murdoch’s fingerprints are not directly traceable. We already know that Murdoch via a third party relayed messages to Brown urging him to defuse the gathering row. Some statements issued at the time suggest this plea may have been at least partly successful.

The picture that emerges from all this growing weight of evidence is that Murdoch’s News Corporation saw themselves as operating above the law and if they got into difficulties, then secret messages (and not-so-hidden threats) delivered at top level to the organs of State power – Ministers, civil servants, police and any other regulatory body like Ofcom that needed to be fixed – would be enough to extricate them. A full-scale Commission of Inquiry is now needed to expose every nook and cranny of this shadow empire and its anti-democratic dealings.

One Comment

  1. Jacquie R says:

    As each day passes, more astonishing revelations appear that go to the very heart of the state. A Commission of Inquiry is essential.

    But what is extremely urgent is a block on News Corporation’s takeover plans for BSkyB. It’s bitterly disappointing that the Labour front bench still refuses to link it to the phone hacking scandal. And it’s quite shameful that they have left it to John Prescott to fight the takeover on those grounds.

    We have blogged on this frequently at DemocracyFail and hope others will support our call to the shadow cabinet to do whatever needs to be done to prevent this takeover.

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