If we know where the NOTW ‘phreaking’ story began, where does it end?

It’s hard to find the right words to describe what Glenn Mulcaire appears to have done in the case of the murdered teenager, Milly Dowler. ‘Phreaking’, we’re told, rather than ‘hacking’ is the correct portmanteau term [*see Comrade Stalin’s comment below].

And that word is disturbingly resonant with a News of the World operative not just listening to Milly’s phone messages, but deleting some to make space for more, thereby falsely raising the family’s hopes that she might have still been alive, in effect further intensifying their distress:

Milly Dowler disappeared at the age of 13 on her way home in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on 21 March 2002. Detectives from Scotland Yard’s new inquiry into the phone hacking, Operation Weeting, are believed to have found evidence of the targeting of the Dowlers in a collection of 11,000 pages of notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator jailed for phone hacking on behalf of the News of the World.

“A gross intrusion of privacy” says her family’s lawyer. As Nick Davies pointed out two years ago, when the end of this story was being widely touted as being over:

The Guardian’s story is not about Clive Goodman. It is about the activities of News of the World journalists generally. Nobody is suggesting that Goodman alone hacked into thousands of phones.[Emphasis added]

Back then it was seen by many Westminster insiders as a one-off political story with limited wider implications.  John Lloyd was not one of them:

Whether it was on a modest scale or an industrial scale what some journalists were doing was using their power and their money and the backing of their news organisation to substantially diminish people’s privacy and their civil and human right and that from people who’s job is, whose ideals are to uphold people’s rights [and] that they hold power to account is a terrible thing to be done. It is very, very serious.

And this morning the FT observes serious corporate level concern inside the Murdoch organisation:

News Corp, News International’s US parent, has in recent weeks appointed two directors to oversee its response to the phone hacking scandal, according to one person familiar with the company. The appointment of Joel Klein and Viet Dinh, both former US assistant attorneys general, shows for the first time the extent of News Corp’s concern about the investigation.

There is enough in this one story to extend into lengthy litigation. But it must also strengthen those members of the Metropolitan Police (not including Yates of the Yard) who believe this form of ‘journalism’ is worthy of  much deeper and wider investigation. It wasn’t always thus:

In January 2007 Clive Goodman, the paper’s royal editor and Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective on contract to Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday tabloid, were jailed after admitting conspiracy to intercept mobile phone voicemails.

At the time, the 15-month police investigation was limited to Mr Goodman and Mr Mulcaire and subsequently News International was adamant that only those two men had been involved in the illegal activities.[Emphasis added]

As Brian noted, also two years ago:

Why did the police and others leave it to a newbreak before taking action, when they knew the facts long ago? If they are right now, they were wrong then. And there may be much, much more to come. We need not assume that the Murdoch press were the only ones up to dirty tricks.

Indeed.

Update: Robert Peston notes (H/T Malc):

News International executives tell me they fear there may have been worse examples of alleged hacking by the News of the World than that of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone. The mind reels.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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