There are worries for News Corporation besides the ongoing criminal investigation into the News of the World. If a large number of the thousands said to have been hacked sue, and considering that just one settlement cost the company £700,000, Rupert Murdoch’s empire could be facing enormous liabilities and legal fees far beyond the reported £20 million it has set aside for settlements. If clear evidence emerges of extensive phone hacking at other publications through the reporting of those who do retain an interest in uncovering it, the cost to the credibility of the British press, already battered by its silence, could be just as severe.
Still, the dread must surely be greatest at News International. “The question of who knew and who didn’t remains entirely alive,” said Oborne. “And the consequences for people high up at NI are potentially devastating. What we could be seeing is the destruction of some of the most stellar careers on Fleet Street.”
Just hours after the arrests of Edmondson and Thurlbeck, the News of the World took its place at the annual Press Awards once more, carefully placed across the room from The Guardian. In spite of the crisis, which went entirely unmentioned, it won four big awards—including reporter of the year, for that man Mahzer Mahmood, and scoop of the year, for a story of his on cricket-match fixing.
As in 2002, Brooks was somewhere else—but for very different reasons. As Mahmood’s editor picked up the trophies on his behalf, he told the assembled journalists: “This is the greatest newspaper in the world.” News of the World staffers applauded furiously. In the rest of the room, though, there was something very close to silence.