THE WALLS are caving in on Rupert Murdoch's disgraced tabloid rag, the News of the World (NOTW), as four men won a bid to mount legal action against the police over alleged phone hacking by the newspaper.
The four men include former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, Labour MP Chris Bryant, ex-Scotland Yard Commissioner Brian Paddick and journalist Brendan Montague. They claim that their human rights were breached and want a judicial review at the High Court. Now Mr Justice Foskett has ruled that their cases can go to a full hearing.
Although Justice Foskitt's decision doesn't directly affect NOTW, it tackles one of the most concerning aspects of the phone hacking case, the Metropolitan Police's handling of the case. Lord Prescott in particular has been vocal in his belief that the police did not treat his case with due diligence.
Back in 2003, Rebekah Brooks (née Wade), who had edited NOTW and moved on to become editor of The Sun, and then later the CEO of News International, told the culture, media and sport committee of Parliament, "We have paid the police for information in the past." It took then NOTW editor Andy Coulson to step in and save Brooks' bacon by saying that the newspapers "operate within the code and within the law".
Since then, Brooks sent a letter to the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee 'clarifying' her comments. "My intention was simply to comment generally on the widely-held belief that payments had been made in the past to police officers. If, in doing so, I gave the impression that I had knowledge of any specific cases, I can assure you that this was not my intention," wrote Brooks.
The close relationship between the NOTW and the police is an area of significant concern and the Metropolitan Police is now re-examining the whole case going back to 2006. If Prescott and his fellow plaintiffs manage to show that payments were made by the NOTW to the police it will cast doubt over the validity of Scotland Yard's initial investigation and call into question the credibility and integrity of Britain's largest police force.
It is highly unlikely that journalists would pay coppers out of their own pockets without editors knowing about it. After all, even Fleet Street hacks don't carry that much ready cash in their wallets, so it would be another possible angle to impeach Coulson's claim that he had no idea that phone hacking was going on at NOTW while he was editor.
When an ex-Metropolitan Police commissioner wants to sue his own police force, you know something isn't right. The surprising fact is that even though these are shocking allegations, so low is the reputation of the NOTW, few people are surprised at claims that it might have paid police officers for information.
With so many decisions going against NOTW and so many people alleging that the newspaper hacked their voicemails, it is starting to become a question of just how long the tabloid can continue to get away with the claim that it was just a few rogue reporters. µ