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A Reader’s Guide to U.K. Phone Hacking Scandal

by Braden Goyette, ProPublica

Though News of the World shut its doors on Sunday, the UK's hacking scandal is deepening. Allegations of illegal activity have spread beyond News of the World to other Murdoch papers, and far beyond hacking into people's voice mails. With all the new details emerging, it's getting hard to keep track. Here's a brief rundown of the latest revelations. (For an explanation of the early days of the phone hacking scandal, see the chronology that follows this article.)

news of the worldThe News of the World drew fresh outrage last week as news broke that the family members of dead soldiers , murdered children, and 7/7 terrorist attack victims may have had their phones hacked by the paper. There have also been allegations that the paper hacked the email account of a soldier who died in Iraq.

Scotland Yard has been combing through 11,000 pages of documents seized from the home of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who hacked phones for News of the World. The papers include around 4,000 names of potential phone hacking victims. Investigators are working through the list and contacting the victims -- as of yesterday, they'd only gotten in touch with 170 of them. Meanwhile, a News International senior executive is suspected of deleting "massive quantities" of phone hacking-related emails.

The Guardian reported yesterday that private investigators hired by News International papers targeted former Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the past decade, attempting to access his bank account, legal files, tax forms, and his son's medical records. News International today denied that they had "commissioned" anyone to access the son's medical records. Though it's still unknown exactly how this information was accessed, these revelations could implicate other News International papers, particularly The Sun and The Sunday Times.

Since late June, investigators have been trying to identify which Scotland Yard officers reportedly received a total of £100,000 in bribes from News of the World between 2003 and 2007. Yesterday, reports came out alleging that the News of the World bribed police officers in order to obtain contact information for members of the royal family. Scotland Yard accused News International in a press release of intentionally leaking this information to the press to undermine their investigation. (As we've reported, if they did in fact make these bribes, Murdoch employees have violated U.S. law.)

Today's New York Times also reports that top Scotland Yard investigators' phones had been hacked during the initial police inquiry in 2006, raising questions about whether police limited the scope of their now-famously flawed investigation for fear that News of The World might start airing their dirty laundry. According to the New York Times, some investigators' secrets did indeed make it into the media:

The lead police investigator on the phone-hacking case, Andy Hayman, left the Metropolitan Police in December 2007 after questions were raised in the news media about business expenses he had filed and the nature of his relationship with a woman who worked for the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

At the time, Channel 4 News [not owned by Murdoch] reported details of 400 text messages and phone calls that Mr. Hayman had sent to her.

John Yates, the assistant commissioner who has become a lightning rod for the police's handling of the phone-hacking case, had reportedly used frequent flier miles earned in the line of duty to pay for flights for his relatives.

Through all this, News Corporation has been gearing up to take over British Sky Broadcasting Group, also known as BSkyB. News Corp currently owns over a third of the company. The New York Times breaks down the details of the BSkyB deal and the actions Murdoch took this week to help its chances for survival. Parliament is expected to pass a resolution tomorrow opposing the takeover, but it would have no legal effect.

Though the weekly News of the World has closed, Murdoch's Sun seems geared to expand their operations to Sundays, raising concerns that the closing is merely symbolic.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are meeting tonight to discuss the details of an inquiry into the way the original police investigation was conducted, and a review of the UK's current system of self-regulation of the press. Currently, an independent body called the Press Complaints Commission exists as an arbiter to help the press regulate itself, and to maintain national standards of journalistic ethics in the UK. (Our managing editor wrote last week that "press commissions have never worked well" in the U.S.)

For breaking developments on the scandal, one of the best places to turn is The Guardian's live blog -- they've been out in front of this story since 2009. We're also constantly adding stories about new developments to our MuckReads feature, which collects the best watchdog reporting. Here are all the phone hacking stories.

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A brief chronology of the story thus far:

July 7, 3:20 p.m.: Rupert Murdoch2019s News International just announced its decision to close News of the World, the paper that's been accused of hiring private investigators to hack into cell phones and staging a widespread cover-up to conceal it.

We've invited two esteemed journalists who've been covering the story to guest edit our #MuckReads feature for the day: Don Van Natta, Jr. (@dvnjr), investigative reporter at the New York Times, and Sarah Ellison (@sarahlellison), contributing editor at Vanity Fair. They've been sharing the most essential reporting about the scandal and their thoughts on why each piece is significant. It2019s a great resource for those just coming to the story to get oriented.

Here's a brief summary to get you started:

The scandal goes back to 2005 (The Guardian has a useful timeline of the whole affair; here's another from the Times), when Prince William and members of the royal staff suspected their voice mail was being tampered with and asked Scotland Yard to investigate. If you're wondering how that's even possible, the New York Times has an explanation of how phone hacking works.

In 2006, News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and a private investigator named Glenn Mulcaire were arrested and charged with hacking the cell phones. The two men served some jail time, and the editor of News of the World resigned. Scotland Yard and the U.K. Press Complaints Commission, an independent body that oversees the self-regulation of the press, conducted inquiries that didn2019t result in any shocking new findings. The story died down.

In July 2009, an investigative report by the Guardian's Nick Davies drew fresh attention to the case. Davies found that, far from being a one-off event, the phone hacking had been more widespread2014and that the paper had made massive payoffs to keep the story quiet. Ellison notes in #MuckReads that the payoffs were the News of the World's first and fatal step into denial that has led them to their untenable position today.201D

In response, the Press Complaints Commission criticized the Guardian's story, saying that there was no evidence the hacking was more widespread than News of the World initially said.

As court cases began to reveal new details about the extent of the phone hacking, a September 2010 story in the New York Times raised questions about how much News of the World editors and reporters knew and why Scotland Yard hadn't been very aggressive in pursuing the case. Van Natta Jr., one of the three Times reporters on the story, recalls a top Scotland Yard investigator's defense of the weak police response: "We were not going to set off on a cleanup of the British media."

In April, Scotland Yard opened up a new investigation and arrested a former News of the World editor and two reporters. In a June Vanity Fair piece, Ellison took a broad look at the scandal, looking at what's at stake and how this kind of thing could have happened.

This week, the Guardian reported that the News of the World had hacked into the voice mail of a murdered school girl and deleted some messages, triggering calls for a public inquiry.

Here's a list of the reported phone hacking victims so far and a round-up of phone hacking-related denials.

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.   This article is republished with permission under a Creative Commons license.

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