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Wednesday, January 05, 2011 

The undead phone hacking scandal returns from the grave once again.

You somehow can't imagine that when Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were arrested and subsequently jailed over four years ago the News of the World's executives would have believed that in 2011 they'd still be answering, or rather not answering questions over the paper's use of private detectives to blag information from private and public databases, as well as hack into their target's voicemail messages. After all, they'd surely done everything they possibly could to end any further discussion of whether the paper's numerous investigations were entirely above board: Goodman and Mulcaire were conveniently paid large sums for not taking their cases for unfair dismissal to the employment tribunal after the paper failed to follow proper procedures in sacking them, while Andy Coulson, the other individual ultimately responsible, despite denying all knowledge of what those under his tutelage had been up to resigned nonetheless. Along with that, they also knew that the police, despite having had access to Mulcaire's notes which we now know seem to have been highly incriminating of certain other journalists at the News of the World were determined only to prosecute the hacking of the phones of members of the royal household, for reasons unknown but which it has to be presumed had more than something to do with the convivial relationship the Murdoch press has always had with the Metropolitan police.

Indeed, if it hadn't been for Coulson's recruitment as David Cameron's chief spin doctor, or rather as Coulson himself described his job at Tommy Sheridan's perjury trial, "oversee[ing] the general media function at Downing Street", then it's likely very little else would have been heard about it. Even then, once the allegations resurfaced back in 2009 they could have decided to get everything out in the open and admit just what had gone on at the paper, hanging Coulson out to dry and perhaps at the same time making clear that they were hardly the only users of the "dark arts" to get stories on celebrities and ordinary members of the public, as Operation Motoroman had previously shown. Instead, the News of the World and Coulson have remained completely loyal to one another, with only those previously employed by the paper daring to come out and question Coulson's recollection of what had taken place while he was editor. The police for their part, embarrassed by the criticism of their original investigation, helpfully ensured that the new evidence from former journalists on the paper was non-forthcoming when formally interviewed by making clear that they were under caution. Rather than incriminate themselves, they decided on saying nothing.

It's sad then that this marathon effort of obfuscation, bullshit and repeated denials might finally coming to an end, not as a result of an outbreak of contrition or honesty on the part of the NotW or Coulson, or a thorough reappraisal of the original investigation by the Met, but instead thanks to the lawyers of those who believed their phones were hacked obtaining court orders forcing the police to hand over the material they originally seized those four long years ago. As an apparent direct result of legal papers filed on behalf of the actress Sienna Miller in the High Court of Justice, Ian Edmondson, the NotW's assistant news editor, a role he was given by Coulson, has been suspended by the paper. Edmondson's name was written on the margins of the pages of notes kept by Mulcaire concerning the surveillance he was undertaking of Miller and her friends, in the same way as Clive Goodman's name was featured on the notes he made on his phone hacking of the secretaries to Princes William and Harry.

We should be clear of course that Edmondson might yet be cleared of any wrongdoing. It does however seem incredibly strange that despite apparently having such prima facie evidence of suspected illegality, with Mulcaire's notes being used in court to tie him to Goodman, the police never interviewed Edmondson. It also reflects badly on the News of the World that its doubtless numerous investigations into what wrong at the paper didn't seem to spot that it wasn't just Goodman that was involved in such practices with a private detective being paid £105,000 a year for his services, but also a senior journalist appointed by the editor who subsequently resigned over the affair (worth rereading is this statement from News International after the Guardian's original reports on the settlement with Peter Taylor back in 2009, which leaves no room whatsoever for nuance). After spending the best part of four years claiming that Goodman was the one bad apple at the paper, it also makes Andy Coulson look to be even more ignorant as to what his underlings were up to. Either that, or he's been lying from the very beginning as to what he really knew.

One can only hope that Edmondson, should he end up being removed permanently from his post decides to speak out instead of taking the Murdoch lucre for keeping his mouth shut. Perhaps then we can finally put this whole sordid episode to bed, and at the same time know for certain whether or not the prime minister has been employing one of the most egregious liars of modern times as his "overseer of general media functions".

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