My head hurts
The issue is said to be whether “some police officers” took money from the Murdoch press for information. Presumably some of them were taking money for giving details of (for example) crime scenes. Some of them it seems were taking money to release confidential information, such as royal phone numbers. Presumably some of the information could have been used for serious security breaches.
There is, however, another level of police corruption which is far more worrying, I think. There is a clear indication that more senior policemen may have knowingly suppressed evidence or failed to investigate some leads thoroughly. There has been a suggestion made in the press in the last few days that some senior officers had also been the target of hacking. This might simply have been to provide more stories for the newspapers: “ACC for Barsetshire found in bed with 3 male models and “Miss Whiplash””. There is bound, however, to be the suspicion that these stories might be retained by the editor, to be used later to blackmail said police officer into overlooking, condoning or actively concealing wrongdoing of some kind by the newspaper, or its stable mates.
So what does that give us. Worst case analysis: NI (and perhaps other papers) collecting material, legally and illegally, and keeping it on file and then using it later. It could be published in such a way as directly to alter events, from a general election or a declaration of war, to who wins the X Factor. It could be used for revenge attacks on those who have in some way crossed the newspaper, its editor, its proprietor or simply an individual reporter. Lastly it can be used as blackmail against anyone including senior policemen, government ministers or civil servants, members of the Royal Family, judges or senior military personnel. Those who say, “publish and be damned” may find that even if they are not directly damaged, family and friends are almost inevitably affected.
In all cases it maintains a climate of fear even amongst those who have not been “targeted”, since no one knows what material the newspaper holds. So one very powerful media group has a lot of legal leverage. A government minister said on Newsnight tonight that “You need the support of the Murdoch press if you want to get elected.”
They may even just have guaranteed that no one will do anything without the NI being in the loop. That allows for personal grudges and campaigns (like the Murdoch family's personal hate for the BBC) as well as helping push policies which are in the interests of the individual proprietors or their newspapers.
It seems that NI came to think of themselves as above the law, able perhaps to re-make the law as they wish it.
Most of all they might have been capable of finding the right person, at any juncture, and saying – in coded language, “do what we say or else …” and everybody knows that – and can’t say so.
Let's hope that some of the worst of this climate of intimidation is going to be blown away in the whirlwind which has so unexpectedly swept through Westminster.