On what was to be the last day of the Parliamentary session the two Commons Committees which have been pursuing the phone hacking issue will hear evidence from a number of key players in what many commentators have suggested is a reassertion of parliamentary authority over some of the most powerful institutions in modern Britain: the Murdoch press, the police and (now) the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Culture Media and Sport Committee, under the chairmanship of John Whittingdale MP, will at 2.30pm hear evidence from Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks. As the Guardian puts it, three individuals who were
until a week ago the three most powerful figures in British media, will on Tuesday face an unprecedented three hours of questions over the extent to which they knew, approved or subsequently covered up widespread phone hacking at News International.
This promises to be an occasion of the highest parliamentary theatre – shown on live television worldwide. We can assume that the Murdochs and Mrs Brooks will be well briefed and rehearsed and their newly liberated Parliamentary cross-examiners will not have the benefit of the documents (and may, from time to time, succumb to the temptation of political grandstanding). Nevertheless there are some simple questions which might prove difficult to answer and, for the witnesses, the stakes are very high indeed.
Not to be outdone, the Home Affairs Select Committee is also hearing “phone hacking” evidence today. At 12 noon it will hear from Sir Paul Stephenson the now former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. At 12.45pm it will hear from Dick Fedorcio, Director of Public Affairs at the Metropolitan Police, At 1.15pm, there will be yet further evidence from John Yates – who has, over recent months, before something of a repeat performer on the Committee corridor.
In addition, the committee will now also meet at 5.30pm to hear from Lord Macdonald QC the former DPP, Keir Starmer QC the current DPP, and Mark Lewis the Solicitor representing the Dowler family. The first two witnesses potentially open a ‘third front’ – after the police and the politicians attention may be focused on the role of the CPS.
The Stephenson and Yates resignations of Sunday and Monday now show that all public officials are potentially just one ex-News International employee contract or work placement away from losing their jobs. After Committee Super Tuesday and Big Debate Wednesday they will, doubtless, be hoping for a quiet post Parliamentary recess summer. In the present atmosphere this cannot be guaranteed.