Here’s International Development Minister Alan Duncan on the News of the Screws phone tapping story: <blockquote>Alan Duncan, the international development minister, told Radio 4’s Any Questions: “What they are seizing on today are the words of someone who had an alcohol and drug problem who was sacked by the paper.”</blockquote>
Duncan is intervening, in his capacity as a government minister, to defend the News of the World and Andy Coulson’s actions, not as prime minister’s press secretary, but as editor of the paper. Having brought him on board, they’re now being forced to behave as if they shared some responsibility for his past actions. Tory-Murdoch integration can be deeper than either party would like - they’re not the only ones either.
Similarly, however the coalition press operation works, it seems to be able to harass the head of the BBC fairly well. (PS, we keep saying this story needs writing.)
Further, is Alan Duncan well advised? Is he relying on News International’s account of how Sean Hoare came to leave the paper? Here’s a Guardian story from December 2008 that throws a lot of light on the case. Oddly enough, this piece was mangled in the print edition and reduced to a nib with very little content. It’s well worth reading on general principles: <blockquote>Driscoll was sacked in April 2007 while on long-term sick leave for stress-related depression, which the tribunal found had arisen directly as a result of bullying behaviour led by Coulson, who was News of the World editor for four years from 2003….</blockquote>
"We find the behaviour to have been a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour... with the intention to remove him from their employment, whether through negotiating a settlement package or through a staged process of warnings leading to dismissal," the tribunal's judgment stated.
"The original source of the hostility towards the claimant [Driscoll] was Mr Coulson, the then editor of the News of the World; although other senior managers either took their lead from Mr Coulson and continued with his motivation after Mr Coulson's departure; or shared his views themselves. Mr Coulson did not attend the tribunal to explain why he wanted the claimant dismissed."...
Paul Nicholas, the deputy managing editor of the News of the World, had lied in part of his evidence...
Senior management at the paper refused to deal with the British Association of Journalists general secretary, Steve Turner, and sent Driscoll a barrage of emails, phone calls and visited his home to demand that he see a company doctor. This was despite Driscoll's GP advising him to "distance" himself from the source of his stress...Charming. It's also noticeable that a lot of the press coverage of the phone-tapping affair seems to work hard not to mention this particular sordid business (although BBC Radio 4 has interviewed both Hoare and Driscoll). But that's a side issue. The quote we're after:"We do not believe Mr Nicholas's professed ignorance. He was, to put it plainly, lying to us in this part of his evidence," the employment tribunal ruled.The tribunal also concluded that then News of the World sports editor Mike Dunn had "exaggerated" Driscoll's alleged shortcomings to try to justify the newspaper's actions when telling the hearing of his alleged concerns over the former senior sports writer's work performance."We find that Mr Dunn, has with the benefit of hindsight and in order to attempt to bolster the respondent's case, exaggerated any shortcomings the claimant may have had," the judgment said.In Duncan's shoes, how much reliance would you put on these people's assurances? More seriously, it's worth remembering that it wasn't just voicemail - people at the Screws paid for information from BT's billing systems, which could imply truly impressive numbers of compromised records. Also, does anyone else remember how we were all meant to be so tebbly tebbly concerned about Gordon Brown being rude to Downing Street staff?