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Thursday, January 19, 2012 

"In a year's time every single one of you in this room might come up and say 'I see what she saw now.'"

We are then finally getting an indication of just what Rebekah Brooks meant when she said that there were worse phone hacking revelations to come and that only then would the News of the World staff understand why the Murdochs had made the decision to close the paper. Ignore as best you can the famous names on the list of those who had their cases settled today, although it's worth remembering that both the police and News International specifically said at one point that John Prescott had not had his phone hacked, and instead focus on those who only entered the limelight as either witnesses to or victims of crime: Paul Dadge, who was photographed helping a woman injured in the 7/7 bombings; Shaun Russell, whose wife and daughter were murdered; and Sara Payne, the woman whose cause the NotW supported to the hilt.

The real question is just why the paper was targeting these people in the first place. The only plausible reason I can come up with for why they were hacking Payne is that it was part of the rivalry which existed for a time between Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, with Payne contributing to the Sun as well as the Screws. Why else would they feel the need to listen in to her dealings, unless perhaps they thought they might get a further insight into any meetings she had with politicians?

Almost as baffling is why they felt the need to hack Paul Dadge's voicemails: in his interview with the BBC a year after 7/7 he mentions how he'd been offered up to £25,000 for a "reunion" with the woman he helped, Davinia Turrell, and that even then he thought some of the hacks "were being really shady", although he couldn't have imagined then quite how shady. Who knows whether they were interested either in the meetings he did have afterwards with Turrell, or the other feel good story of his meeting up with a childhood sweetheart as a result of her seeing the photographs of him, but either way he was another totally ordinary person caught in an extraordinary moment who paid the price with his privacy.

The same is the case with Shaun Russell, husband and father of the murdered Lin and Megan. At least with Milly Dowler there is a very arguable case that if somehow listening to the messages left on her voicemail had led to her killer being found sooner there would then have been a public interest defence; hacking the phone though of someone who guarded the privacy of his remaining daughter tenaciously is simply vile. You could perhaps understand it slightly more if it had been Josie's phone they had targeted, as she has given a couple of interviews since turning 18, mainly you suspect simply to stop any hassle from the press before it begins, but not her father's.

Easier to fathom is the accessing of Harold Shipman's son Christopher's email account, the first case of Glenn Mulcaire going beyond simple phone hacking to be settled. There was cynicism at the time that Shipman had killed himself before reaching 60 so that his wife could receive a pension, having apparently told a prison officer that he was considering doing so, and the fishing expedition led by the Screws seems to have been related to that. A double page spread on the luxury life the wife of the worst serial killer in British history was leading on taxpayer's money would have been classic Screws, as would any additional details on his suicide that they could possibly find through going through his son's inbox. Whether or not it resulted in a story, it did lead to Derek Webb, bless him, putting some of those involved under surveillance. Such was the wonderful place the News of the World was under Andy Coulson.

Also crucial today was that though mealy-mouthed, News International essentially admitted that its senior employees and executives had known about and attempted to cover up the scale of phone hacking at the Screws. Their statement says although they did not accept that they had known, they were paying out damages as if they had. The next step surely must be to acknowledge, finally, just how far the conspiracy went. Further to that is the order by Mr Justice Vos for a further 9 computers to be handed over in case they contain evidence of a deliberate attempt to destroy evidence by those very employees and executives who are still trying to weasel their way out of culpability. And this might only be the tip of iceberg, as none other than Neville Thurlbeck has blogged:

Much more evidence against News International will come in the future.

I worked there from 1988 onwards and I am aware of executives who witnessed practices which would send the share price crashing through the floor.

I expect much of this to come out in industrial tribunals and High Court actions by former members of staff.

But it is the irrevocable loss of trust which could sink it.

Not quite. It'll be the cover up, as it always is.

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