Phone hacking: How News International is fighting back – with a little help from the BBC's Robert Peston
Published 07/07/2011 | 01:26
For more than two weeks the most senior executives at News International have known they had evidence that would irreparably damage the reputation of their former editor Andy Coulson.
They understood that if they said nothing and let the police make the running on documents which showed Mr Coulson had authorised payments to serving police officers they would be accused of persisting in a cover-up.
At the same time they wanted to ensure that when the news came out it was in the least damaging way for the company and in tune with their strategy of protecting the company's present chief executive and former NotW editor Rebekah Brooks.
The Independent understands Labour figures were informed that News International had found information implicating Mr Coulson in potentially criminal activities.
News International insists this is "rubbish" but what is certain is that within hours of fresh revelations directly linking Ms Brooks with an investigator tasked with phone hacking at the News of the World, the company was briefing reporters off-the-record about the Coulson revelations.
It is significant that the news of the Coulson documents was first broken on the Ten O'Clock News by Robert Peston, the BBC's Business Editor, who is close to both News International's group general manager, Will Lewis, and director of corporate affairs, Simon Greenberg. Both men had been aware of the Coulson documents.
While the NotW's stable-mate The Times changed its front page story to lead on Coulson, most other titles relegated it inside. And most significantly, rather than use Mr Coulson to spearhead his attack on David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions, Ed Miliband instead concentrated on the position of Ms Brooks and News Corporation's attempts to take over BSkyB. "This is no longer an issue about Andy Coulson," said a Labour source. "It's about the whole company and particularly the position of Rebekah Brooks."
Yesterday afternoon the company said Ms Brooks had been on holiday in Italy when the paper ran a story referring to a message left on Milly Dowler's phone, and that it believed she was away in the two weeks following the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham when mobile phones belonging to the parents of the two girls were targeted. Mr Coulson was her deputy at the time and would have supervised putting the paper together, although when she was editor Ms Brooks is known when on holiday to have taken a keen interest in what went in the pages.
For the time being she is still above the plimsoll line – in part, some suspect, because if she resigns attention would shift to James Murdoch who authorised payouts to early phone hacking victims when he was running the company.
Last night Rupert Murdoch said he continues to back her. But the question is: for how long?