On Saturday British police arrested four senior journalists at Rupert Murdoch's flagship newspaper, The Sun. The troubled media mogul and his executives had no doubt hoped to keep the phone-hacking scandal confined to the now-defunct Sunday paper, News of the World. No such luck.
The new arrests bear out what everyone in the British media knows: that illegal voicemail accessing was rife throughout British tabloid journalism.
What does Murdoch do now? Close The Sun, as he did the News of the World? Start searching the NewsCorp cash reserves for the next vast damages payout? (He had to pay over £10m earlier this month). Worried shareholders must wonder where on earth this will all end, and when Murdoch's US papers – with their roll-call of British tabloid editors – will come under suspicion too.
The secrets of Data Pool 3
The journalist who led the investigation of hacking at News International, Nick Davies, wrote a fascinating analysis of the new developments in the Guardian. Here's a taste:
Under enormous legal and political pressure, Murdoch has ordered that the police be given everything they need ... Murdoch's Management and Standards Committee has now handed them what may be the largest cache of evidence ever gathered by a police operation in this country, including the material that led to Saturday's arrests.
They have access to a mass of internal paperwork – invoices, reporters' expense claims, accounts, bank records, phone records. And technicians have retrieved an enormous reservoir of material from News International's central computer servers, including one particularly vast collection that may yet prove to be the stick that breaks the media mogul's back. It is known as Data Pool 3.
It contains several hundred million emails sent and received over the years by employees of the News of the World – and of the three other Murdoch titles. Data Pool 3 is so big that the police are not even attempting to read every message. Instead, there are two teams searching it for key words: a detective sergeant with five detective constables from Scotland Yard working secretly on criminal leads; and 32 civilians working for the Management and Standards Committee, providing information for the civil actions brought by public figures and for the Leveson inquiry and passing relevant material to police.
For News International, Data Pool 3 is a nightmare. Firstly, no one know what is in there. All they can do is wait and see how bad it gets.