Phone hacking: if Coulson knew, did Murdoch know?

News of the World; Rupert Murdoch; Andy Coulson; Rebekah Wade

Murdoch’s biographer suggests any knowledge of phone hacking may go all the way to the top

BY Tim Edwards LAST UPDATED AT 11:04 ON Tue 7 Sep 2010

The phone hacking scandal is threatening to blow up in the face of Andy Coulson's former employer Rupert Murdoch, after the media magnate's biographer suggested that, as the owner of the News of the World, he must have known whatever his editor knew.

In other developments, it is becoming clear that the previous Labour government's earlier dealings with the Metropolitan Police over the cash-for-honours scandal may have left it hamstrung and unable to insist on an independent inquiry into the phone hacking scandal.

Andy Coulson, who is now David Cameron's director of communications, resigned as editor of the News of the World in 2007 when it emerged that a journalist at the tabloid had hacked into the voicemail accounts of public figures.

The scandal has been given new legs by a thorough New York Times investigation, in which former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare contradicts Coulson's claim, made when he resigned, that he knew nothing about his journalists' phone hacking activities.

Now Michael Wolff, the American writer of The Man Who Owns the
News
, a biography of Rupert Murdoch, has suggested that the management structure of News International, the company which owns the News of the World, is such that if Coulson knew his journalists were hacking into the voicemail accounts of high-profile figures, then so did his CEO.

Wolff writes: "In the chain of command at News International, if Andy Coulson knew something then his mentor and boss, Rebekah Brooks, knew it, and if Rebekah knew it, then James Murdoch knew it (this is a very tight office and social circle), and if James knew it, then his father [Rupert] knew it."

Wolff suggests what we have seen so far is only the beginning and that the question of who was responsible for "suborning the investigation" last year is the main attractions. He signs off ominously, referring to the widespread belief in media circles that the New York Times story is the latest shot in a turf war with Murdoch's Wall Street Journal: "Murdoch can control the powers that be in London - and walk free. But if he's going to take the New York Times down, its message is that he and his son are going down, too."

In London, it emerged that any chances of an independent inquiry into the phone hacking allegations was derailed by the then-Labour
government's fraught relationship with the Metropolitan Police.

John Yates, the senior Met officer in charge of the phone hacking investigation is the man who led the 2006 cash-for-honours investigation, in which people nominated for peerages by Labour were found to have loaned large sums of money to the party.

A leaked memo from 2009 suggests that the police would have resented a proposed inquiry. According to the Guardian, Stephen Rimmer, the Home Office director general for crime and policing, wrote to then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson's office, saying: "My own advice on this remains that there are insufficient grounds [for an inquiry]… and that the Met would deeply resent what they would see as 'interference' in an operational investigation which could, of course, be revived at any given time."

The next day Rimmer wrote again, saying an inquiry "could lead to
accusations that… following recent exchanges with John Yates, we do not have full confidence in the [Met]."

For his part, Johnson suggested he had been satisfied with the
investigation, although the assurances he was offered by police - that police had received no allegations from other News of the World
journalists and that all victims of phone hacking had been informed - have now been called into question: the first by Hoare, and the second by Chris Bryant, the former Labour Europe Minister, who says he only found out his phone had been hacked when his phone company told him.

"I told the police about this months ago and they have done absolutely nothing about it," he said. · 

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