As top brass at News Corp testify before the U.K.’s Parliament Tuesday, here’s what you need to know about the bizarre and twisted News Of The World phone hacking scandal that’s so far seen ten arrests, a handful of high-profile resignations, a collapsed business deal, and a mysterious death.
It began in 2006, with revelations that News Of The World reporter Clive Goodman hacked into the phones of members of the royal family and their aides, with the help of private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Goodman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months in prison, while Mulcaire got six months.
Andy Coulson, editor of the paper during the time of the hackings, resigned, but claimed he didn’t know what Goodman was up to. In 2007 and 2009, Les Hinton, then the Chief Executive of News International, which publishes News Corp’s British newspapers, told a Parliamentary Committee that he had had no knowledge of the hackings when they occurred, and believed Goodman to be the only reporter culpable.
But in September, 2010, former NOTW reporter Sean Hoare told the New York Times that Coulson knew about the hackings. Coulson had by then bounced back as communications chief for Prime Minister David Cameron — but resigned in January once the scandal resurfaced. Cameron has maintained that he hired Coulson because Coulson assured him he did not know anything about the hackings.
Also in September of 2010, several officers for Scotland Yard told The Times that the police did not investigate the hacking evidence thoroughly because many officers were closely tied to the reporters and executives at News International. Recent estimates say that NOTW targeted 4,000 people — including celebrities, athletes, public officials, police officers who were investigating the initial allegations, and murder and terrorism victims — and that Scotland Yard left 11,000 pages of evidence languishing in plastic trash bags. Scotland Yard officially reopened its investigation in September, and is now also investigating whether News Of The World bribed as many as five police officers with around $150,000 in exchange for information.
But though the scandal has been in the British papers for months, it was more or less under the radar until July 4. Things took a turn after revelations that one of the hacking victims was 13-year old Milly Dowler, who was murdered. The family of Milly Dowler came forward and alleged that News Of The World reporters hacked into Milly’s voice messages after she went missing in 2002, and even deleted some of the messages from her family members once the inbox was full. In the subsequent firestorm over Dowler, James Murdoch announced on July 7 that NOTW would close, publishing its last edition on Sunday the 10th.
But News Corp’s troubles didn’t end there.
On July 13, amid intense pressure from Parliament, News Corp withdrew its $12 billion bid for control of British Sky Broadcasting, Britain’s main satellite network. News Corp had sought to acquire the 61% of BSkyB it didn’t already control, in what might have been the biggest deal in the company’s history. That same day, David Cameron announced a public inquiry into the affair.
Meanwhile, across the pond, a number of lawmakers called on Eric Holder and the SEC to investigate whether News Corp, which is based in the United States, may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) if News Corp reporters bribed law enforcement officials in the U.K. There was also the report in the Daily Mirror alleging that NOTW reporters had contacted a private investigator in the U.S. to hack the phone records of British victims of 9/11. After an outraged letter from Rep. Peter King (R-NY), the FBI announced it would investigate.
Since then, there’s been a domino effect of resignations among key players in the scandal. On Friday, Rebekah Brooks, who was the editor of The News of the World from 2000-2003 (when the Dowler hacking took place), resigned. She was arrested on Sunday, but was soon after released on bail.
Les Hinton, the CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, stepped down on Friday after questions about his role in the hackings, many of which took place during his tenure as chief executive of News International.
Scotland Yard Chief Sir Paul Stephenson also resigned on Sunday. And on Monday, John Yates, assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, resigned, though he maintained that his “conscience is clear.”
And then, in perhaps the most bizarre news of all, Sean Hoare, the former News Of The World reporter who first implicated Coulson to The Times, was found dead in his home on Monday. The police are still investigating, but called the circumstances “unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious.”
Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks are scheduled to testify before Parliament about the whole sordid affair on Tuesday at 9:30AM EDT. David Cameron has also called for a special session of Parliament on Wednesday, cutting short his trip to Africa.