Phone-hacking and the unanswered questions
News International's apology for the scandal enveloping the News of the World is unlikely to be the end of it. This one could run and run, says Roy Greenslade
The phone-hacking climbdown by News International was a historic moment in Press history. Britain's most powerful newspaper publisher had been humbled. It had been forced to admit that it had been in the wrong for more than five years.
Rupert Murdoch's company had told the world repeatedly that there was no evidence to show that hacking had been part of the culture in the News of the World newsroom.
Even if many suspected that the 'single rogue reporter' defence was undermined by the revelations that News International had paid out to settle a hacking case brought by football boss Gordon Taylor, it was surely no more than a secondary blip.
Of course, my colleagues at the Guardian had, for many months, been publishing revelation upon revelation. And they were not alone.
Quite separately, the New York Times and Channel 4's Dispatches uncovered evidence too, some of it overlapping, some of it entirely new. Drip-drip-drip it went - and still News International scoffed.
Then there were the increasing number of court actions launched by the victims, who include Sienna Miller, Sky Andrew, Andy Gray and Kelly Hoppen.
The company initially appeared unworried, in public at least. Behind the scenes though, there was concern about the legal cases being pursued by a variety of celebrities, agents and politicians.
Again, the initial strategy of settling out of court with Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, and the PR agent Max Clifford in March 2010 had proved disastrous. It opened a door rather than closing one.
Meanwhile, the company repeated the mistakes of every official cover-up in the history of cover-ups. It denied everything at every turn.
That plan collapsed for the same reason as it had in other such occasions - because, when there is something to hide, the truth will eventually out.
But we need to step back. This should not be seen as the end of the matter, no matter what Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and their Wapping executives hope.
They may well feel they have drawn a line under the affair by proffering a belated apology and opening up the company's coffers in order to settle some of the court cases, but that is not good enough.
There is still a lack of transparency. There is much more to know. The controversies that have marked out the News of the World for at least 20 years as a paper distinct from every other in what we still call Fleet Street have yet to be resolved.
Let's be honest: News International's statement begs as many questions as it answers.
Most obviously, can we really believe, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that its executives remained blissfully unaware of the News of the World's skulduggery until it suddenly lighted upon a tranche of e-mails that had been previously overlooked?
Can we believe that, when several reporters - named and unnamed - have lined up to reveal that hacking was regarded as almost a routine activity? In a paper that has pioneered the use of subterfuge, entrapment, covert filming and dressing up as sheikhs, hacking was viewed as of little consequence, just another way of obtaining information. More questions pile up. Surely the company's decision to reach agreements with litigants is aimed at avoiding any more embarrassing revelations about the News of the World's editorial staff coming to light?
The coming case-meetings and the exposure to lawyers of more internal e-mails and unredacted copies of notes made by the private investigator employed by News International, Glenn Mulcaire, are potentially explosive. However, News International will have made an assessment about the likely contents, so presumably they will have taken that into consideration.
There is, obviously, a legal and financial logic to their negotiation of settlements in the hope that the final deals will preclude further inquiries.
Still, a few more questions to consider. How can we be assured, given the stonewalling over the years, that there is not more we should know about? News International's past internal inquiries have clearly been ineffective. Why should we believe their latest examination of themselves has been any better?
Talking of inquiries, we need to go on asking questions about the Metropolitan police's failures.
It remains the case that it had enough information to pursue the News of the World more rigorously in 2006. Similarly, it appears to have ignored, or misunderstood, key legal guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service about the nature of voicemail interceptions.
For reasons that have yet to be explained, the police did not go beyond prosecuting the News of the World's royal editor, Clive Goodman, and Mulcaire.
There will inevitably be criticism of the Press's own self-regulatory machinery - the Press Complaints Commission - for accepting the bland assurances of the News of the World.
I was sympathetic to the PCC up to a point. After all, it cannot investigate. But it should have been more sceptical.
Every time the regulator and more to the point News International have attempted to draw a line under the affair, the organisations have been found out.
Wapping's apology is unlikely to be the end of the affair, but at least it recognises what has gone wrong.
That realisation, in itself, has been too long in coming.