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Murdochs, Brooks Prepare for ‘Made-for-TV Drama’ Testimony in Parliament

July 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Fallout from The News of the World scandal allegedly involving phone-hacking and police bribery grew Monday as Scotland Yard saw two high-level resignations within 24 hours and officials reported the death of an early whistle-blower. Gwen Ifill discusses the latest developments with The Observer's Ned Temko in London.
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GWEN IFILL: For a closer look into the latest developments in the phone-hacking story, we turn to Ned Temko, who writes for The London Observer.

Ned, let’s start with the Sean Hoare mystery. Do we know anything more about the circumstances of his death tonight?

NED TEMKO, The Observer: We don’t. But the description from the police — and that is that they do not see it as suspicious — generally means that — that they don’t expect to find foul play, but they said it will be some time before they know.

The reality is that, in the febrile political atmosphere that is swirling around this entire scandal, there will be conspiracy theories of all stripes by tomorrow morning, no doubt. But I think the truth is that it’s just a tragic — either accident. He did have a history of drink and drug problems.

But the real significance is he was the guy who really blew the whistle. He was the first one on the record to accuse Andy Coulson, whom David Cameron hired as his head of information when he — shortly before he became prime minister, of direct involvement in this phone-hacking.

GWEN IFILL: So he was a reporter at the News of the World. And he was actually the primary source for many of these early reports.

NED TEMKO: Well, he was one of many. Significantly, he talked to The New York Times as well.

And although on this side of the Atlantic, The Guardian was making — running on this story for months and months, without great effect, the real breakthrough, the real thing that helped the political class sit up and take notice, was when The New York Times also got interested, and when Sean Hoare, as I said, went on the record, because there were a lot of anonymous or unnamed sources, and basically said that he had worked with Andy Coulson, that Andy Coulson had not only been aware, but had encouraged him to do this.

GWEN IFILL: You know, Ned, this has got — there are so many people involved in so many layers of this story now, but it distinctly turned in the direction of alleged corruption on the part of people in the British government, especially in the police, Scotland Yard.

Tell us about Sir Paul Stephenson. What was his reputation?

NED TEMKO: Well, the reputation of Paul Stephenson was as a career cop, a straight arrow.

But it’s truly extraordinary that in the space of 24 hours, not only Sir Paul, but John Yates — that’s the top two people at the Metropolitan Police in Scotland Yard — have basically fallen on their swords.

Interestingly, both of them said that their integrity is intact, they have done nothing wrong. But, basically, what they are saying is that the political heat has become so extreme that they saw no practical way of carrying on.

GWEN IFILL: And the questions that are being raised, to be clear about the police’s role in all of this, is that they were paid or that they were cozy or too chummy with the people who were doing the phone-hacking, allegedly.

NED TEMKO: Well, there’s a number of allegations, one that individual policemen, presumably at much lower level, were taking money from News of the World reporters and other News International reporters. That hasn’t been proven, but it certainly alleged and widely believed.

The crucial thing for Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates is this coziness at the top, the fact that they hired Neil Wallis, who was a former deputy editor of News of the World, which is the paper at the center of these allegations, the fact that John Yates, for instance, had a number of meals with senior News International executives, and all this at a time when we now know that the police was badly fumbling their investigation into these allegations of phone-hacking.

GWEN IFILL: In fact, the police had this information and had a lot of this evidence, but had just not looked into it?

NED TEMKO: Well, that’s basically it.

And John Yates was grilled by a parliamentary committee last week. And his explanation was essentially that, look, this was something he was led to believe was fairly limited. He was in charge of anti-terror operations. There were a lot more important things on his desk. And he didn’t think it mattered.

Now, obviously, it matters a great deal now. And that’s one reason he’s had to go.

GWEN IFILL: What does it have to do — what is the tie-in to Rebekah Brooks, who also had to give up her job at News Corp. and now is under her own suspicion?

NED TEMKO: Well, she was editor of News of the World, which is the paper at the center of all this, as was Andy Coulson.

GWEN IFILL: Right.

NED TEMKO: And basically all of them have been saying they knew nothing about it, they wouldn’t have sanctioned it.

And there’s a great deal of skepticism. Basically, what is happening is everybody involved in this — and this includes members of the media, politicians, members of Parliament, the police — are all trying to shift the blame on to someone else.

And, indeed, when Sir Paul and John Yates resigned, they got a parting shot at David Cameron for hiring Andy Coulson. The same thing is happening with Rebekah Brooks. She’s saying she’s done nothing wrong. She’s quite angry at having been arrested yesterday. And all this will gain in intensity, at least for the next 48 hours, until Parliament goes into recess.

GWEN IFILL: Well, exactly. Prime Minister Cameron cut short his visit, as we heard, to Africa and is coming back to prepare for tomorrow, this inquiry being conducted by Parliament. What do we expect there?

NED TEMKO: Well, tomorrow is going to be extraordinary.

There’s two separate committees in the House of Commons who will be interviewing Sir Paul Stephenson, John Yates, then James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, Rupert Murdoch himself, Rebekah Brooks. It will be made-for-TV drama, and it will go on for hours. It will all be televised live on the news channels here. So that’s day one.

Then, on Wednesday, although Parliament was supposed to already have been in recess, as you say, David Cameron has flown back early from a trip to Africa for a special session at which he will make a statement and answer questions.

GWEN IFILL: Ned Temko, we will be watching every bit of it.

Thank you so much.