One benefit of being nearly alone on a story for years: When everybody suddenly wakes up to it, you’ve still got the advantage of years of reporting. You know the sources and the lay of the land, and everyone else can only try to play catch-up.

So it’s no surprise that Nick Davies and The Guardian are the ones moving the News of the World hacking scandal forward today with yet another huge scoop, this time that a “senior executive” at News International, Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper division, “may have deleted millions of emails from an internal archive, in an apparent attempt to obstruct Scotland Yard’s inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal.”

Watergate had Rosemary Wood’s missing eighteen-and-half minutes of tape. Hackgate has News Corporation’s missing millions of emails.

The Guardian is extra careful here, using language like “may have deleted” and “believed to”, but it leaves little doubt that something nefarious happened:

News International originally claimed that the archive of emails did not exist. Last December, its Scottish editor, Bob Bird, told the trial of Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow that the emails had been lost en route to Mumbai. Also in December, the company’s solicitor Julian Pike from Farrer and Co provided the high court with a statement claiming that it was unable to retrieve emails which were more than six months old.

Fortunately for truth, justice, and all that, News Corp. had no idea that it’s emails were being backed up by a company called Essential Computing in Clevedon.

The Guardian understands that Essential Computing has co-operated with police and has provided evidence about an alleged attempt by the News International executive to destroy part of the archive while they were working with it. This is said to have happened after the executive discovered that the company retained material of which News International was unaware.

Wouldn’t you have loved to see the look on that executive’s face when they found that out?

The Guardian also reports that police say News of the World cleared James Weatherup’s desk just before he was arrested and gave the contents to a law firm so police couldn’t access it.

It’s been clear for years now that the company was covering up the NotW crimes. That coverup continues to unravel, now in spectacular fashion.

After yesterday, it was unclear whether this scandal could get worse. But it just did.

It’s all falling apart for Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

Further Reading:

The Audit TV: Murdoch Hacking Scandal

Accountability, News Corp. Style. Those with responsibility escape it

A Young Rupert Murdoch in Britain, Via the BBC Archives. Adam Curtis pulls fascinating archival footage that shows the tycoon on his way up


News of the World and U.S. Media Culture
. I don’t think it would happen here, but…

News Corp. and Murdoch Swamped By Hacking Scandal News. Revelations come fast and furious in the twenty-four hours after a Guardian bombshell.

Why News Corp. Can’t Cover the U.S. Business Story. It is the story.

Murdoch’s Hacking Scandal Gets Much Worse. The Guardian shows News Corporation at an all-time low (and that’s saying something)

Murdoch’s Hacking Scandal. Two stories cover the political, police, and press angles on the News Corp. coverup

The News Corp. Coverup. Memory-impaired execs, payments to key figures, and Keystone Kops

Anybody There? Why the UK’s phone-hacking scandal met media silence

A Times Must-Read on the News Corp. Hacking Scandal

Journalism Scandal at News Corp. A peek into Murdoch’s news culture.

Audit Notes: News Corporation Hacking Scandal Edition

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.