Star rating – 9/10
It sounds a bit implausible as I already know the beginning, end – and lots of the gory details in between – of this story, and yet this excellent account of the full extent of the dark arts practiced by Rupert Murdoch and his colleagues at News International has to be the most page turning, thrilling read of the year. Labour politician Tom Watson, and Independent journalist Martin Hickman have written the story of the phone hacking scandal that shocked us so deeply when some of the more horrendous details emerged last year, and it is just crying out to be read by any right minded person who cares about basic human liberties and the abuse of power of any sort.
To be fair I was expecting something of a biased version of events, considering the personal experiences of News International that Watson has endured, and his pivotal role in the Commons Select Committee quizzing of the participants. And the book does start off by reinforcing some of my prejudices about New Labour politicians. For example, Watson recounts how he became disenchanted with Tony Blair due to Cherie's haircuts and the redecoration of their nuclear bunker being charged to public purse – not a mention of the war in Iraq then! To my mind that is dubious judgement to say the least.
In fact parts of the first chapter about Watson are slightly unnecessary and biased in tone. And also, dare I say it, the writing comes over in a News Of The World manner when discussing Rebekah Brooks’/Wade’s appearance, describing her 'with her burning ambitious eyes and extravagantly curled red hair tumbling over her shoulders.' It’s a little over the top, and to be fair to her, which I am not usually unduly concerned about, as her curly hair seems quite natural to me even if she is a completely loathsome individual.
But these minor details soon pale totally into insignificance as the taut writing and fast paced account takes hold. The extraordinary arrogance and criminality of some of the players in the News International stable, and the way all our politicians (from every party who they would pay any attention to at any right– hence the Liberal Democrat self righteously stance) has more than an echo of Watergate.
And with some of the decisions about who will fall from grace at the final reckoning and be held to account for the heinous crimes committed in the quest for world domination via our media, still in the balance - there is more to come still. Some of the names of the protagonists are kept tantalising hidden (‘a senior executive at Wapping’) due to ongoing legal proceedings. Later editions should be able to be more candid and shocking then!
But the detail that is given is actually extremely frightening and Orwellian. You get the distinct feeling that Murdoch and his cronies would have, and did, stop at nothing to get their way. Murder; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; invasion of the privacy of celebrities, victims of crime, and anyone the intimate details of whose lives would generate newspaper sales; all this on an industrial scale is all involved in one way or another. It is extremely scary stuff.
There are some unlikely heroes in the shape of Hugh Grant and Tommy Sheridan. And I have to agree with hacking victim Charlotte Church when she commented of the Murdochs and their pals that 'they are not truly sorry, only sorry they got caught'. This breathtaking book is an abject lesson in the corruption that comes about with absolute power through control of our media. I can only hope that the guilty will truly pay the price for their actions – but somehow I suspect they will not. Well done to Watson and Hickman. Shame on the Murdochs, Wade, Coulson et al. Read this book, and wait for the next chapter in this disgusting saga to unfold.