“How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch” is how Nick Davies subtitled Hack Attack, his account of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, although it never quite does. It catches up with plenty of other peo- ple, however, making for a fascinating expose of corruption, conspiracy and intrigue in the highest echelons of power.
Davies was the Guardian jour- nalist whose reporting almost sin- gle-handedly uncovered the scandal. Unwilling to believe the public line that the illegal accessing of voicemail messages at the NotW had been re- stricted to a sole rogue reporter, jailed earlier in 2006, he dug deeper. And eventually, slowly, the revelations came out: a trickle at first, leading to the occasional story here and there, but growing until finally they poured forth in a torrent of truth. In the end journalists, editors, CEOs and chair- men would all find themselves swept away.
Hack Attack has a lot to fit in. The work dominated five years of Davies’ life, beginning in 2009 and culminat- ing in the hacking trial’s verdict in 2014, although the book covers events since 2006 in order to provide back- ground. Davies’ neat solution is to alternate chapters between the story of his investigation, written from his point of view at the time, and the equvalent story of what was going on in “Murdoch’s castle” – News Corp’s newsrooms and boardrooms – researched and written with hindsight.
This generally succeeds in keep- ing the book fresh: the Davies chapters avoid reading too much like the story of one heroic reporter against the world, and the Murdoch chapters don’t get too bogged down in who was saying what about whom. Davies tries his best to remind us of who characters are whenever there might be confusion, but trying to remember the sheer number of journalists, police, politicians and lawyers can be tricky nonetheless. Even the most astute readers will probably find them- selves turning back pages or checking the character list from time to time.
Hack Attack is a book requiring, but deserving of, concentration. It is unashamedly voyeuristic, documenting many a fall from grace; bad guys all the way from bent police and conniving private investigators up to Andy Coulson, once David Cameron’s director of communications, get their comeuppance.
But it is an important tale of how police, journalists and politicians became much too close – so close that confidential private data was leaked, police investigations were fudged, and everyone conspired to cover it all up.
The final chapters sound an ominous note. The truth never did catch up with Rupert Murdoch, and if anything Davies’ purpose in writing Hack Attack seems to have been this: be vigilant. For it could all so easily happen again.