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Mark Steel: My guess is the cleaners are to blame


News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

This year's television drama awards must surely go to the news, whose current scriptwriters are outstanding. Next week Newsnight will end with James Murdoch being told his real dad isn't Rupert, it's Fidel Castro. Then the credits will roll and we'll all be desperate to see the next episode.

The only quibble I have is those days when there are two resignations, as the second one comes before there's time to properly enjoy the first. So come on police chiefs, spare a thought for your public and space these things out properly.

Yesterday's instalment was genius, in which Rupert himself answered questions such as "Mr Murdoch, do you remember a paper called the News of the World" with "Er, hmmm, the what? News you say, hmmmmm, brrr err I don't recall it." It's a sign of Murdoch's declining power that he didn't buy the rights to show himself at the select committee and put it on Sky on pay-per-view.

But for all the resignations and arrests no one yet has personally admitted to doing anything wrong. For example, there seems to be an agreed line that ex-policeman Yates didn't pursue the first investigation properly because he was busy dealing with other issues, such as terrorism. I hope he was more thorough with that part of his job, and didn't say: "I've got a bin liner full of documents here with details about where al-Qa'ida is planning to blow up. So I want everyone to work round the clock in ignoring them completely. That should keep everyone safe."

To be fair there were other matters the police were dealing with at this time. Just one incident that clogged them up for a while was the perjury case against Tommy Sheridan, the socialist member of the Scottish parliament, after he successfully sued the News of the World for libel, which had claimed he'd been to a swingers' club. It was reported that Rupert pledged revenge against the "Commie bastard", Luckily he didn't have to ask the police for their help, because they spent £1.5m on an investigation, taking what they accept was "thousands" of hours, at the same period that the investigation into phone hacking was slightly less rigorous.

Maybe this was part of the counter-terrorism campaign, and they thought Tommy Sheridan was planning a new trend in suicide bombing, in which Scottish socialists turn up at swingers' clubs dressed only in explosives in the knowledge everyone will think it's a fetish, before blowing themselves up in support of the campaign for an increase in the minimum wage.

BBC Scotland wondered at the time: "Why should precious resources be wasted on such a stupid exercise?" as it's almost unprecedented for the police to pursue a case of perjury after a libel trial. Tommy Sheridan's car and phone were bugged, and the trial that sent him to jail cost millions more, but luckily the police found the funds and time for this, probably because the evidence wasn't wrapped up in bin liners, which are a nuisance to open.

One answer may be that at the time the paper and the police seemed to be getting on extremely well, with the paper paying policemen, and the police employing PR people from the paper. But that would be cynical as this was clearly an elaborate job-exchange system, similar to those programmes where they get dustmen and accountants to swap places for a week.

But these are complicated questions because News International is a complex company. The company has paid thousands in legal fees but the owners have no idea who made the payments. My guess is it was one of the cleaners. And the most ridiculous plot line in this story altogether, is that the bumbling, pathetic, forgetful fool who sat there unable to answer any questions about his own company in yesterday's hearing, is the bloke all our governments have been grovelling to for the last 30 years.

Belfast Telegraph