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Tuesday, January 18, 2011 

Phone hacking: something must break.

Are we at long last approaching the denouement of the News of the World phone hacking saga? Since the suspension of Ian Edmondson, the news editor appointed to the post by Andy Coulson, ever more celebrities have been applying for court orders to see whether they were in the sights of Glenn "Trigger" Mulcaire, while the Crown Prosecution Service has announced a supposed "comprehensive" review of all the relevant material held by the Met, no longer trusting the police to have truly exhausted all lines of inquiry contained in the original seized evidence.

Most damaging of all is that Mulcaire is understood to have confirmed to the High Court that he was asked to hack into the voicemail of the sports agent Sky Andrew by Edmondson, building on the submissions from the lawyers acting for Sienna Miller which suggested he had played a similar role in authorising the surveillance of the actress. As well as directly fingering Edmondson, Mulcaire has also apparently admitted that other executives at the News of the World knew about the scale of the blagging and message interception taking place on the paper's editorial floor, albeit while refusing to name them on the sound basis of not incriminating himself further. As most are convinced that Mulcaire's escalating legal fees are being met by News International themselves, there's good reason to believe that a new strategy from the company is now in place. Having originally placed all the blame on Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, it now looks as though Edmondson is also being hung out to dry.

The key question is whether anyone else is going to join these two "rogue" reporters. Already being fingered on the same basis as Goodman and Edmondson have is Greg Miskiw, the former assistant editor of the Screws. Documents produced in court by Andy Gray's lawyers show that Mulcaire had put Miskiw's name in the margins of the notes he kept on the football commentator, the same unfortunate practice that helped to damn first Goodman and now Edmondson. Miskiw, who no longer works for News International, was first linked into the phone hacking investigation when the Guardian leaked the details of the paper's settlement with Gordon Taylor. Miskiw had signed an additional contract with Mulcaire, promising £7,000 if Mulcaire could provide information on Taylor which led to the publication of a story. While that was damning enough, this new revelation widens even further the number of those who were directly involved in commissioning Mulcaire's illegal fishing expeditions.

Embarrassing as the constant drip-drip of new allegations has been, while the focus has been almost entirely on Andy Coulson rather than News Corp things have been allowed to progress as they have. Such a relaxed position has become impossible as the Murdochs battle to convince Jeremy Hunt that they should be allowed to swallow BSkyB whole. The difficulty is that almost from the very beginning the company has denied everything in incredibly specific terms, while alleging their detractors have been either "selective and misleading" or outright motivated by commercial concerns, as Bill Akass claimed in his response to the New York Times' investigation of last year. Going from the extreme of almost complete denial to total transparency was always going to be impossible, even if it would be in News Corporation's best interests to come clean and put an end to the whole sordid affair.

Andy Coulson's apparent offer to resign as David Cameron's chief spin doctor has to be seen in this light. As Matthew Norman puts it, this would make him the first person in history to resign over something he knew nothing about twice, which would outdo even the likes of Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett. His departure would free News International to be more honest than it has been so far, and remove any possibility of Cameron having to face the prospect of currently employing someone who has not only repeatedly lied, but even potentially done so under oath. Something simply has to break, and the most likely outcome has to be Coulson going at some point fairly soon. The other options for all involved are simply far too awful to contemplate.

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