Jail, Arrests and Resignations in Britain’s Hacking Scandal

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A security officer stands at the gates outside the publisher of News of the World, News International's headquarters in London, July 7, 2011. (Photo: Sang Tan / AP)


Britain’s long-running hacking saga has finally seen one of its protagonists jailed, the first such penalty since the News of the World‘s royal editor Clive Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were imprisoned in 2007 for intercepting voicemails intended for Princes William and Harry and their aides and friends. On Aug. 2 the self-styled comedian Jonnie Marbles—his real name is Jonathan May-Bowles and evidence of his ability to make the public laugh is slight—was sentenced to six weeks at Her Majesty’s pleasure for attempting to push a shaving-cream pie into Rupert Murdoch’s face. The incident during the 80-year-old tycoon’s interrogation by British MPs made an internet star of his wife, Wendi Deng, who tackled Marbles. It evidently did little to assuage public anger against Murdoch. “They sent Marbles to jail for missing Murdoch,” texts a celebrity who has been notified by police that he may have been a target of illegal snooping.

Illegal snooping methods may not only have involved phone hacking—the focus of a police investigation codenamed Operation Weeting—and corrupt payments to police—the subject of Operation Elveden. Scotland Yard is launching a third probe called Operation Tuleta, amid suspicions that computers may also have been hacked in the search for scoops. The police investigations are running in parallel with the efforts of the parliamentary committee that quizzed Murdoch before and after the attempted pie-ing, another parliamentary committee looking into the role of the police, and a full judicial inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. As the inquiry convened for the first time on July 28, its chairman, the prominent English judge Lord Justice Leveson, made clear his intention to look well beyond News International’s now defunct News of the World to the behavior of other outlets and organizations. Leveson said:

It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest that the problem is or was local to a group of journalists operating at the News of the World but I would encourage all to take a wider view of the public good and help me grapple with the width and depth of the problem.

After claims of hacking at tabloid “red-tops” owned by news group Trinity Mirror, the company has launched an internal review of editorial “controls and procedures”  while insisting that the allegations are “unsubstantiated” and that all of its journalists “work within the criminal law” and abide by the terms of Britain’s Press Complaints Commission. The PCC, a body drawn from the ranks of the profession it is supposed to regulate, has not covered itself in glory. In 2009, when the Guardian produced evidence suggesting that the News of the World may have hacked up to 4,000 phones, the PCC criticized the Guardian and backed the tabloid. On July 29, Peta Buscombe, a Conservative peer, tendered her resignation as head of the PCC.

Lady Buscombe’s was the sixth prominent head to roll since allegations that Mulcaire may have hacked the mobile of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler created headlines more sensational than any tabloid could dream up. Scotland Yard has lost its top cop Sir Paul Stephenson and its counter-terrorism chief John Yates; and News International has accepted the resignations of three key executives including the red-topped Rebekah Brooks, later arrested in connection with the hacking inquiries. On Aug. 2, investigators arrested another former News International employee, Stuart Kuttner, the managing editor of the News of the World until 2009.

The pace of developments may slow during the remainder of a summer that has proved unexpectedly torrid, but nobody is betting on an event-free August. These may not be good times for Britain’s news business but the fuel that drives it is in abundant supply.

Read: The Man Who Humbled Murdoch.

Read more about Murdoch and hacking.

Catherine Mayer is London Bureau Chief at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @Catherine_Mayer or on Facebook at Facebook/Amortality-the-Pleasures-and-Perils-of-Living-Agelessly . You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME >.

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