From my piece in the Daily Beast
After a month of revelations at the phone hacking trial, a clear picture of the sex-obsessed, cut-throat world of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid journalists has been presented.
The Devil is in the Metadata
In British trials, there are usually a number of admissions or ‘agreed facts’, uncontested by either side. In the hacking trial, most of the evidence against private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who has already pleaded guilty a second time to phone hacking, comes into this category. The police investigation has recovered huge tracts of data about calls and texts from his various mobile numbers and landlines, incidentally just the sort of information the NSA is tracking….. The metadata reveals hundreds of alleged voicemail hacks of a variety of victims, using ingenious methods, including jamming a cell phone to get into its voicemail, resetting the PIN code by pretending to be an engineer, or procuring a direct line to the voicemail.
But it wasn’t just Mulcaire. Though the police could only obtain about nine months of News International’s phone records, from 2005-6, they have identified nearly 700 calls from the offices of News Corp’s London subsidiary which are agreed by both sides to be ‘hacks’. On one day alone in 2006, a News International landline made 24 hacking calls to royal aides and rival journalists. An aide to Princes William and Harry, Jamie Lowther Pinkerton, was hacked 416 times from the Wapping office.
Follow the Money
The second biggest source of prosecution evidence comes from billing and invoice data, showing Mulcaire invoicing News of the World for projects such as ‘Milly Dowler’ (a murdered teenager)—or an ‘assist’ on ‘John Prescott’, the former deputy prime minister. The various billings suggest Mulcaire was paid around $700,000 over a five-year period , though an email recovered from News International’s top legal adviser, Tom Crone, relaying Rebekah Brooks’ discussions with police officers in 2006, suggest the amount was nearer $1.4 million, the jury heard.
A second private investigator, Andrew Gadd, told the court he’d been paid about $500,000 over six years by News of the World to trace people’s home addresses and company records. At least two more private investigators have been reported to have been on the newspaper’s payroll. Nice work if you can get it.
The timeline of agreed admissions over phone hacking mainly concerns politicians, sport stars, celebrities, their friends and family, who were suspected of affairs or illicit sexual liaisons.
Old Emails will Embarrass You
The third big source of the prosecution evidence has come from emails, some of which have already been produced in court. Messages have been recovered from the private computers of Mulcaire; the former royal reporter Clive Goodman, who was also convicted of phone hacking in 2007; lawyers working on a previous wrongful dismissal case; and one of the laptops of Rebekah Brooks which, the jury heard, contained an unsent love letter to Andy Coulson.
By far, the largest source of email data has come from News International, the British arm of Murdoch’s News Corp empire. The jury has heard that no emails were archived until 2005 but over 93 million emails from the company had been recovered by police. However, among the admissions agreed upon by all sides in the case is that over five million emails had been permanently ‘purged’ from the system dating from 2007 to 2010. In August 2010, Brooks replied to an IT department query about deleting everything up until that year: “Yes to Jan 2010. Clean sweep.” That email survived.
It’s Just Business
The jury heard that Brooks met Coulson at a Mayfair hotel only a week before he resigned as prime minister David Cameron’s press supremo. In January 2011, Brooks allegedly emailed her PA, Cheryl Carter, cc’ed to Coulson, asking her to find a hotel “somewhere discreet” because “I need to see Andy.” Carter suggested the “quiet and discreet” Halkin hotel and Coulson replied: “Fine with me, Can we say 7.45.”
However, according to a close friend of Cameron’s, Dom Loehnis, who testified that he sat next to the then CEO of News International at private birthday party for the prime minister in October 2010, Brooks was already claiming that Coulson’s days as chief press spokesman at Number Ten were numbered. When Loehnis asked Brooks about his future, he told the court that she “said she wasn’t sure if he would survive it as she felt that the story was not going away.”
The trial continues.