Rupert Murdoch’s defunct News of the World tabloid is back in the news again with another scandal. This time, British police arrested a private investigator last week who once worked for the paper.
This is the 18th suspect to be detained as part of the police’s investigation into phone hacking carried out by the paper, which Murdoch shut down in July.
The latest suspect has been identified as Glenn Mulcaire. London’s Metropolitan Police said the 41-year-old man was being held on suspicion of conspiring to intercept voice mail messages and perverting the course of justice. Mulcaire was previously jailed for hacking into the voicemail messages of royal staff while working for the News of the World.
Thus far, only two people have been jailed for phone hacking — Mulcaire and News of the World reporter Clive Goodman, both in 2007.
5,795 potential phone-hacking victims have been identified by London police in material collected from Mulcaire. More than a dozen News of the World journalists, including former editor Andy Coulson, have been arrested in the fiasco.
This latest scandal comes on the heels of last month’s shocking story about how The News of the World hired a specialist private investigator to run covert surveillance on two of the lawyers representing phone-hacking victims as part of an operation to put pressure on them to stop their work.
A CNN report stated that Rupert Murdoch is operating like a ‘Mafia boss.’ As if the initial discovery about the “phone hacking victims” wasn’t shocking enough, Murdoch then takes the scandal to a new level by hiring someone to spy on the lawyers of the victims and try to intimidate them.
The investigator that was hired secretly videoed lawyers Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris as well as family members and associates. Evidence suggests it was part of an attempt to gather evidence for false smears about their private lives. Neither lawyer would comment but friends say they are furious at what they see as an attempt at “blackmail” and are considering suing the News of the World for breach of privacy. They have previously had to reassure clients that their private lives would not be exposed if they dared to sue the paper.
The surveillance of Lewis and Harris occurred during the past 18 months, when Rupert Murdoch’s son James was executive chairman of the paper’s parent company.
Emerging evidence suggests the lawyers were targeted on at least two occasions by Derek Webb, an investigator who specializes in physically following people and in making secret videos of their movements. Webb has worked for the News of the World since 2003, following hundreds of targets including members of the royal family and serving cabinet ministers.
Webb was given the job as part of an attempt to prove a false claim that Harris was having an affair with a Manchester solicitor and other false claims about the private life of Harris and her children. It is not yet clear exactly how the News of the World would have used the information if any claim had proved to be true, although it seems obvious the information was intended to be used to blackmail or intimidate these lawyers. This goes to show you how low the Murdochs will go.
For reasons that are not yet clear, the investigator also focused on Lewis’ former wife and secretly filmed her home in Manchester, following her and taking further video of her and her daughter as they visited local shops and a garden centre.
Physical surveillance is not normally seen as a criminal offense, but it is possible that Webb’s targets might sue for breach of privacy.