Edinburgh Book Festival: Nick Davies on Hack Attack

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Nick Davies with David Torrance in the Chair
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Nick Davies is an impressive individual who has rightly been named as the Journalist of the Year and also Feature Writer of the Year. He did say that he had a difficult childhood as one of six children and with parents who went by the old adage, 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. Clearly he was indicating that he had to suffer a good deal of physical abuse in his youth. After university - he read PPE at Oxford - he decided, just after Watergate, to go to South America and with the aim of bringing down capitalism in the US by working with dissident groups in the south. This obviously did not work.

However, he ended up by being the investigative journalist who did more than most to attack Rupert Murdoch and the News of the World. He spent six years doggedly following the various leads, documented the scandal his book Hack Attack, which led to the closure of the newspaper.

It all started when Buckingham Palace realised that the various articles and headlines that were appearing in The News of the World could only have come from someone who had access to their private mail and conversations. Although Rupert Murdoch is powerful he could not brush off the British Royal family.

It led to an investigation of Clive Goodman, the Royal Editor of the News of the World and the arrest of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who provided the hacked information. It happened that Mulcaire had kept a meticulous written record of all his work over the last five or six years. This actually showed that there were some 5,500 victims that Mulcaire had tapped into. Apparently this was clear as the initials of the victims would be recorded by Mulcaire in the top left hand corner of each record.

All this came to light when the Police raided Mulcaire's office. In fact the Metropolitan Police only named eight people who were involved, but this was due to the fact that they intended to restrict their circle to only those involved with the Buckingham Palace complaint. What was exposed was the abuse of power in America and Australia where senior individuals could have been telling the British Government what to do based on information illegally procured.

Davies was asked by David Torrance, in the Chair, if he was surprised by the extent and the effects of the story given that there was something in the region of 210 resignations and with Rupert Murdoch and his son being arrested. Davies replied that he was not surprised as those people who stood up for Rupert Murdoch tended to be politicians who were afraid what might happen if they fell out with him. He did say that at one stage he was under real pressure as all his claims were being refuted and he was not able initially to use some of his written evidence, however, he weathered this particular storm. Davies knew that he had a good basis for believing his evidence as he had a cast iron source which he called 'Mr Apollo' and he knew he could rely on what he had been told. In spite of this his Editor did say that if at any stage during the hearing he looked as though they were in trouble he would give his knee a squeeze!

Davies described a regime of fear, where unless you did exactly as you were told your life would be made a misery. Davies felt that this case had destroyed all this and the hold that Murdoch had over people. Even the major merger concerning BSkyB in 2011 which had been given the green light by the Government was put on hold following the disclosure that the phone of Milly Dowler had been hacked. But Nick Davies felt that the bullying media was beginning to get back its power - an indication that this was the total destruction of Lord Sewell. And he feared that the same might happen to Jeremy Corbyn.

So it was a fascinating hour spent with a journalist whose sharp, incisive mind was clearly focused on helping anyone in trouble and who had relished his victory over the superior forces of Rupert Murdoch. Doubtless many will buy his book describing it all in detail.

Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch (2014) published by Random House. ISBN 978-0-701-18730-9.