Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Andy Coulson resignation fall-out puts heat on Murdoch empire

Andy Coulson may have hoped that by resigning he was taking the heat out of the phone-hacking story.

That might be the case for his last boss David Cameron but for his previous employer, Rupert Murdoch's News International, the scandal shows no sign of abating.

For the Wapping-based media empire, the departure from Downing Street of one of the publishing group's most slick and fiercely loyal former editors could be the most seismic moment yet in a saga that has bubbled away for more than four years, in spite of all attempts at suppression, and now threatens to cause lasting damage.

Officially, nothing has changed in News International's position. But a succession of pending legal cases brought by high-profile figures in sport, entertainment and politics will ensure that the company and the behaviour of its tabloid journalists remains under scrutiny.

Lawyers acting for public figures whose names have appeared on list of mobile phone and voicemail numbers are already queuing at the High Court to submit orders requiring Scotland Yard to release documentation seized from the home of private detective Glenn Mulcaire.

Several celebrities hesitant about launching claims have been “emboldened” by Coulson's departure and the unravelling of the News of the World's defence that phone hacking was restricted to a single “rogue reporter”.

The coverage of Coulson's departure, and the headlines that will accompany the slew of civil actions that will make their way through the courts, are unhelpful to Rupert Murdoch at a time when his attempts to convince the Government that his plans to acquire BSkyB in its entirety are not a threat to media plurality in the UK.

“Wagons are being circled at Wapping,” said a source.

“I would suggest they are now prepared to let certain figures at the News of the World take the blame for what went on to ensure that others further up the food chain are protected.”

Mr Coulson's decision to quit will be deeply distressing to the chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks, one of his closest friends.

Ms Brooks, who is part of the Prime Minister's Cotswold-based social circle, is said to have personally lobbied Mr Cameron to not to cut him adrift from Number 10.

Coulson was a source of great comfort to Ms Brooks during the break-up of her marriage with the actor Ross Kemp and came to her support when she was arrested for allegedly assaulting her husband in 2005, before being released without charge.

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