18 Jul 2011

Phone-hacking scandal as Watergate is no exaggeration

In his own words, his integrity is intact. So did he fall or was he pushed? The resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson is the biggest and most definitive moment yet in a scandal that has so far claimed two CEOs, two editors and a fair number of  News International employees.

In amongst all the heat of tribute, charge and counter charge, are the words of the Mayor Boris Johnson who in paying tribute to the Met Chief touched the subject that dared not speak its name. The Mayor suggested in a late night interview that one benefit of what had happened was that a window could now be opened upon the the central question of whether close police links with the News of the World played any part in closing down any of the varied police investigations into the hacking affair.

Those links extend back at least a decade. John Stevens was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner (2000 – 2005) during the crucial early phase of the phone hacking matter. Upon retirement he went to the Lords and was hired as a  columnist for the News of the World. Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman resigned in 2007 and became a columnist of the News of the World’s sister paper, the Times.

The Mayor has raised the question surrounding police/News International relationships and influence. But there is now another even bigger issue in play. How did the politicians’ relationships with News International impact both on the police, and on the hacking investigation? The nature of these complex, tripartite, and largely unseen relations now lie at the heart of the judge led inquiry, the police inquiry, and the MPs’ Select Committee investigations.

Largely forgotten, connected to all this there is the still unresolved murder of a private investigator, Daniel Morgan who was murdered in South London in 1987. Five Metropolitan Police inquiries have targeted personnel in both the Metropolitan Police force itself and individuals linked with the News of the World. They have resulted in a number of attempted trials, all of which have had to be abandoned.

With each passing day the scale and reach of this scandal does indeed describe Britain’s Watergate. Many argue that Watergate changed very little in America, beyond the removal of the President himself. Will that prove to be the story here too?

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