Rupert's Comeuppance

The unraveling of a cozy relationship


By Adam Davies

[Webmaster's note: At first sight, a lengthy article about a British tabloid's rise and eventual fall would seem a very strange fit for this website. But what this piece shows is how a publication was willing to sell its scruples for power and influence and then used that power and influence to stampede its readership into various quixotic crusades in order to maintain and increase its power and influence in what looked to be a never ending circle – until its hubris brought it crashing down like Icarus. Such a careful dissection of this process can aid us greatly in understanding the incestuous relationship between our own press and government and how the two use us as a handy tool to leverage ever more power to themselves. We'll never effectively fight the harm this tight embrace causes until we learn to see it. So study this piece carefully and learn from it.]

The downfall of British Sunday paper the News of the World is a story with particular resonance for boy-lovers as that paper made itself into one of our chief tormentors over many years. Perhaps it will yet bring down the empire of its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch (also proprietor of large chunks of press and TV in the US, China and many other countries). But for decades, the combination of Murdoch and the News of the World seemed like a marriage made in some particularly cheesy version of heaven.

Founded in 1843, from the start the News of the World pioneered a new form of yellow journalism, based mainly on reports from the (small-time) police courts, with a heavy emphasis on the more salacious cases to be found there. Others soon followed, and by the 1880s much of the press had been dragged down to the News of the World's level, and the paper no longer stood out. It was the North London Press that broke the Cleveland Street Scandal1, the Illustrated Police News that led the sensationalism around Oscar Wilde's trial and the (supposedly upmarket) Pall Mall Gazette that in 1885 published the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.


WT Stead and Eliza Armstrong and headlines from The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon

Readers will recall that the Maiden Tribute was an epoch-making story in which the editor, W.T. Stead, bought a little girl and had her vendors prepare her to be sent to "the Continent" as a white slave. Although there was a large amount of reportage surrounding it, clearly the central star of the central story was Stead himself. It was a great innovation and discovery, that newspapers could so directly and openly manufacture the news that they would then report. The professional propriety of it was questionable from the start, especially the extent to which Stead's enquiries themselves may have generated the offer that he accepted.

The Maiden Tribute was politically very influential. It helped establish a new victim culture, and was deliberately timed to create a panic that would help force through the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, and which codified that new victim culture into law. As well as raising the age of consent to 16, this Act criminalised 'gross indecency between males', meaning all gay sex (not just anal sex ('buggery'), which had always been illegal). The thinking behind this was very much like today's thinking about boys. No man in his right mind, it was felt, would consent to having any 'gross indecency' performed on him, and so any apparent consent was immaterial, probably the result of corruption due to having been the victim on previous occasions. And, as with modern boy-love, it was believed that by far the predominant form of homosexuality would be a higher ranking or stronger man imposing himself on a weaker, or else in some way paying for sexual favors. (This almost certainly led, four years later, to the next tabloid sensation – the Cleveland Street Scandal.) For instance, the Oscar Wilde case involved both differences of social rank and gifts that could be regarded as payments. It is worth remembering that this was all the work of liberals and helped define what was called the 'progressive era'.



New ownership in 1891 gave the News of the World a shake-up and a new lease on life. Partly this was by improving distribution, making the paper more easily and universally available than its competitors. But this went hand-in-hand with a thorough absorption of the lessons of the Maiden Tribute, especially the idea of making the paper and its own reporters the stars, and Stead's other implicit lesson: sex sells. From now on the News of the World would bring its public a cheap, ersatz Maiden Tribute, not every week, but often, and as its signature story type. The stereotype story in its golden era: send an 'undercover' reporter to some small local massage parlour, where he would aim to gain a masseuse's trust and negotiate some 'extras'. The reporters were supposed to excuse themselves before enjoying the extras, but who knows if they did. The paper would then report the massage parlour -- 'hand over its dossier' -- to the police and photograph the arrests, but the story would be mainly about its reporter's daring deeds, titillatingly not-quite-describing the naughtier bits. Surely this is the true meaning of sleaze! A further advantage was that, since such stories had zero topicality or news value, it could run them whenever it liked.

Its sleazy reputation was soon established. George Riddell, its business manager in the 1890s, belonged to the same London club as Frederick Greenwood, who had succeeded Stead as editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. Greenwood affected not to have heard of the News of the World, so Riddell sent him a copy. Next time they met, Riddell asked what Greenwood had thought of it. "I looked at it," replied Greenwood, "and then I put it in the waste-paper basket. And then I thought, 'If I leave it there the cook may read it' -- so I burned it!"

Despite such discerning reactions from the upper class, the paper became ever more popular with the British working class, unfortunately having a large influence on its character. New titles tried to imitate it, several of them still leading papers today, including the Mail, the Express and the Mirror, but somehow none of them quite dared to plumb the same depths. Perhaps this was partly because these parvenus published daily, whereas the News of the World was always happy to remain Sunday-only: for the British working class, Sunday was the day of sanctimonious sleaze.

By the early 1950s, the News of the World was the largest circulation paper the English-speaking world has ever known, with a regular circulation a little under nine million and breaking through the nine million barrier on especially sensational weeks. This was the time of a major state crackdown on homosexuality, during which Alan Turing was driven to suicide and Quentin Crisp prosecuted. The paper's exposure of various homosexual 'vice rings', such as Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Peter Wildeblood and friends (and the scout troupe that camped on Montagu's land) with headlines like 'The Most Evil Men in Britain' helped it past the nine million mark more than once.

By 1968, newspaper circulations generally had shrunk, but the News of the World remained Britain's best-selling paper by some margin when the Carr family, owners since 1891, sold it to Rupert Murdoch, then owner of a modest but thriving group of Australian newspapers, in preference to wannabe press baron Robert Maxwell's attempted hostile takeover. Shortly afterwards, Murdoch also took over an ailing daily newspaper, the Sun, which he transformed, in his own instructions to his first editor, into "a hard-hitting paper with lots of tits", taking the British daily press to a new level of vulgarity and crassness, or rather making a success of that transition in a way that the Mirror, Mail and Express had never quite managed, and even now didn't quite have the brass neck to emulate fully, vulgarity and crassness that perfectly complemented the News of the World, which he was happy to leave just as it was. The Sun rapidly became Britain's biggest selling daily, concentrating on reducing politics to soundbite slogans for idiots surrounded by pictures of young women with their breasts hanging out, while the News of the World remained its sleazy old self. It was a winning combination and the foundation of the greatest global media empire the world has yet seen.

Rupert Murdoch is the son of Australian press magnate Sir Keith Murdoch, who first made his name by making bold, sensational claims about the Gallipoli campaign in World War 1. The fact that these claims ranged from wild exaggerations to outright fabrications did nothing to blunt their impact, and much to set the tone of what was to come. They transformed a young unknown into one of the leading journalists of his day, and also earned him a role in creating Britain's intelligence agencies (with which the Murdoch family may have continued to have a cosy relationship). Keith Murdoch learned the lesson, practiced it throughout his successful career as an editor and then proprietor in Australia, and passed it on to his son: big, bold, memorable stories bring success; truth is a pettifogging detail.

On Keith Murdoch's death in 1952, some of his papers had to be sold off, but enough remained to give Rupert a good start. He never edited the papers himself, but took an active interest and somehow brought out in his editors a unique and highly characteristic level of high-pitched vulgarity. It was salable from the start and his Australian group of papers flourished and grew, extending to New Zealand in 1964. But his entry into the British market in 1968 was a transforming breakthrough, both for him and us, marrying his sensationalism with the News of the World's sleaze.

By the 1970s it was becoming harder to persecute gays, but a new target arose. Dr Frits Bernard had been quietly developing the idea of self-help and emancipation groups for self-identified pedophiles (both boy- and girl-lovers) in the Netherlands since the mid-1950s, but in the early 1970s he gained the support of the NVSH (Dutch Society for Sexual Reform), at that time a mass-membership organisation, as it was the only source for birth control products, and organised a series of international conferences at Breda. From these the idea of organising as pedophiles spread to young BL and GL idealists across Europe, and in Britain led to the founding in 1974 of PAL (Paedophile Action for Liberation) and PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange). It was not the News of the World, but a smaller imitator, the Sunday People, that first spotted the opportunity, infiltrating PAL by sending an undercover reporter along to its meetings, which were open to all comers, and befriending the leading members, and then reporting on who they were and (with some dramatic license) what they said. The conversations were mildly salacious, but for the paper and its readers, their sensibilities cultivated by generations of News-of-the-World-style journalism, the main story was that PAL existed, and the main point of interest was who its members were, leading to victimisation by neighbours, landlords, employers etc.. The exposť led to PAL's rapid disintegration.


Murdoch's News of the World was late to the table, but made up for that with its greed once it got there. Sunday People vs. PAL was a spat between lightweights compared to News of the World vs. PIE. The paper ran a relentless campaign of intimidation against individual members and attendees at PIE events from 1977 to 1983, with non-story after non-story where people were named as PIE members, often with quotes attributed to them that were boldly fabricated in the style pioneered by Keith Murdoch, designed to fit the paper's 'angle' and drench everything it touched in its own characteristic sleaze. When there was some actual event to report, such as a PIE spokesperson being barred from a conference, or if it was a slow time for news, the rest of the tabloid press would tag along. The strange, hand-in-glove, implicitly corrupt relationship between the press, especially the News of the World, and the police and courts, led to two trials of leading PIE members, in 1980 and 1984, and the jailing of four of them for political offences. It was with the second of these that PIE gave up and closed itself down, depriving the News of the World of a regular, staple source of content.




The relationship between the British press and courts was (and remains) that most judges share the press's sleazy worldview. It is a curiously one-sided relationship in that the judges seem to crave tabloid approval and are known, in sentencing speeches, to thank particular tabloids for their investigations, while the tabloids just demand more and more, moaning about soft judges and congratulating only themselves for any courtroom results they regard as a success. This is an implicitly corrupt situation but no more, since the judges seem to take this masochistic stance willingly. Up to the end of the 1980s, when a series of sensational wrongful convictions could no longer be ignored, it was combined with a resolute refusal by the courts to find tabloids in contempt, however outrageous their attempts to influence the outcome of trials in progress.

With the police, there was an expressly corrupt relationship well established by the 1970s, that continued into the new millennium. In story after story, there were aspects that could only have come from police leaks of confidential information, almost certainly bought and paid for. No one knows for sure because no one investigated. Who was going to investigate? But now the spell appears to be broken, and this corrupt relationship has become one of the arms of the scandal that has engulfed the press, starting with the News of the World, and with investigations continuing. But for decades the tabloids came to regard themselves almost as a branch of the police, and informally the police concurred, relying on journalists to use investigatory methods from which they were barred, such as illegal surveillance and stings.

The early 1980s brought together a set of circumstances in which Rupert Murdoch was able to lead his press organisation into an implicitly and perhaps expressly corrupt relationship with government itself. His two titles were now long-established market leaders, with far away the largest weekday and Sunday sales respectively (at that time around 3.5 million for the Sun and 4 million for the News of the World), and he had made enough money from these to be ready for some major acquisitions. He and the new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher evidently got on well and certainly saw eye-to-eye politically. Both thought of themselves as libertarians, but both actually had a strongly authoritarian streak when it came to certain kinds of 'law and order'. Moreover Thatcher thought of herself as a political crusader, with a crusader's disregard for the ethics of methods in pursuit of what they regard as a good cause.

So it was that Thatcher's government used discretionary aspects of competition law to nod through Murdoch's 1981 purchase of the Times and Sunday Times while blocking all the other bidders. It was completely blatant, but that was Thatcher's style. Since then, the courts have developed some powers to oversee this kind of government misuse of discretion, but then, even if they had regarded themselves as able to intervene, they would probably have refused -- taking the line of the judges who in the 1985 Ponting case stated that the 'public interest' meant, in law, the interests of the government of the day, no more, no less. The purchase gave Murdoch's empire a wholly new cachet of respectability, and his ability to cross-subsidise (a regular Murdoch tactic), together with a certain limited vulgarisation, enabled him to bring the Times papers into contention for broadsheet (upmarket) press dominance. Later in Thatcher's term the government did what it could to smooth the path of Murdoch's nascent satellite TV business, Sky, culminating in nodding through its 1990 merger with its main competitor to produce an effective monopoly, BSkyB, nominally a merger of equals but in practice a Murdoch takeover.

In return, Murdoch made sure his tabloids gave unstinting support not only to Thatcher's party, the Tories, but to her wing of it, what we would now call neocons. Is it corrupt for a proprietor to direct his paper's allegiances in this way? As time was to show, it certainly had a corrupting effect.

In 1990 the Tories deposed Thatcher as leader and Prime Minister, replacing her with John Major. The main policy difference between them was on British integration into the European Union: Thatcher and Murdoch wanted less, seeing Europe as a source of bureaucracy and liberal social policy; Major and most Tory MPs wanted more, seeing integration as good for business. However, when it came to the 1992 election, with a choice between Major and an outright socialist, Labour's Neil Kinnock, Murdoch backed Major. After the election, in one of its most remembered headlines, the Sun claimed responsibility for Major's narrow victory. Whether it really was "the Sun wot won it" for Major is still debated, but what is clear is that, as the biggest selling and most aggressive paper, it was able to run a very effective campaign to make Kinnock a figure of ridicule, whereas Major, himself no slouch when it came to ridiculous ideas and tactics, got away with it. He may have wished he hadn't, because less than six months after the election his economic policy of European Monetary Union blew up in his face on 'Black Wednesday', after which he in turn become a national joke.

The Labour Party had expected to win in 1992, and the loss caused it to have an existential crisis of confidence, believing that if it could not win in the conditions of 1992, it could never win again. Collectively it decided to abandon all of its former policies and principles and instead concentrate only on making itself 'electable', meaning in practice acceptable to the tabloid press and especially to Murdoch. In 1994 the Party chose a messianic new leader to carry this transformation through, Tony Blair, a worst-of-all-worlds combination of neocon and politically correct, who immediately began to cultivate Murdoch. Ironically, by this time no transformation seemed necessary, as the Tories were completely discredited by Black Wednesday, and Labour riding high in the polls. Perhaps they feared that even from a much stronger position than in 1992, the Sun could still snatch victory from their grasp. Or perhaps they saw the chance of a victory of epoch-making scale and thought it worth betraying every principle for that, too. At any rate, the transformation into New Labour, once underway, was unstoppable. And an essential aspect of New Labour was its corrupt partnership with Murdoch.

The transformation paid off, Murdoch switched all his papers to support Labour in time for the 1997 election, and New Labour won an obliterative majority of seats (though with only a small plurality of votes). New Labour, in power, assessed all policy and legislation primarily by how it would play in the tabloid press, especially the Murdoch press, and very much including the News of the World. Murdoch and his editors were now not just feted in the corridors of power but actively consulted over policy behind the scenes. They must have felt like untouchable masters of the universe!

The News of the World's obsession with pedophiles was pandered to firstly by the creation of the Sex Offenders Register, widely regarded as a pedophile register, which enables police to keep tabs on anyone convicted of a wide range of vaguely 'sexual' offences; and secondly by the creation of Sex Offence Prevention Orders, which enable the courts to impose arbitrary conditions on those convicted of a somewhat wider range of 'sexual' offences after they have served their sentences. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 completely rewrote the law in that area, generally raising penalties and making offences easier to prove. All penetrative sexual contact with anyone under 13 was henceforth not to be distinguished from rape. Penalties were also greatly increased for 'child porn' offences, and this interacted with another of Blair's populist creations, because the new higher sentences made many 'porn' offences, including some kinds of possession, eligible for the new 'IPP' (Imprisonment for Public Protection) indeterminate sentences, effectively life imprisonment. To top it off, in 2009, New Labour made illegal the possession of "disgusting" drawings of children.

But one tabloid demand New Labour did not accede to was that for US-style public access to the Sex Offenders Register. This was because the police, who would have to clear up the mess, advised against.

In 2000, a new editor at the News of the World, Rebekah Wade (since renamed Brooks after a remarriage), decided to make her mark by latching on to a recent murder of a child2, assumed to have been by a pedophile, in order to campaign for such access. A main feature of the campaign was that every week the News of the World would itself publish the names, photographs and approximate addresses of 50 'convicted pedophiles'.

In the event, the campaign lasted two weeks before the paper gave in to government and police demands to end it, amid a welter of vigilante attacks and riots. Partly thanks to the low quality of the photos and imprecision of the addresses, partly to the usual carelessness of vigilante mobs, most of the attacks were against people who were not even those the paper named but had similar names or looked a bit like them.

In one notorious incident a pediatrician was driven from her home because pediatrician sounds a bit like pedophile. In the following weeks there were calls by some MPs for Wade to be prosecuted for incitement. Instead, New Labour gave her the concession of granting certain members of the public controlled access to the Register in certain limited circumstances, so she could claim some kind of victory. Hauled before the Leveson Enquiry in 2011, she was still citing this campaign as her prime example of the good that she and the News of the World had done.

To Wade's time as editor date the earliest and some of the worst examples of voicemail hacking to figure in the current investigations, including that of Milly Dowler3. The above should make clear that this kind of technique was business as usual for the News of the World, typical of their 'undercover' methods over many decades, but perhaps in 2000 there was an especially poisonous mix of complacency, self-righteousness and arrogance, spawned by the nature of the partnership with New Labour. On the one hand, they thought they were untouchable, and rightly so then and for several years after; on the other hand, for reasons explored above, they felt that any and every investigative technique was justifiable when used by them.

One thing that had changed, gradually, since the 1970s, was the continued rise of celebrity culture. News of the World took part in this, turning its usual dark arts towards uncovering confidential facts about celebrities and turning them into front-page gossip. All the papers did it, but the News of the World was able to use its established techniques to go further, and darker.

In 2005, things began to unravel just a little. That well-known celebrity, Prince William worked out that two stories about him in the News of the World could only have come from someone listening to his voicemails. The police were called in and their investigation led to the prosecution of the paper's Royal Editor, Clive Goodman and a private investigator employed by him, Glenn Mulcaire. Both pleaded guilty to phone hacking and received short jail terms (4 and 6 months). The editor, Andy Coulson, resigned but pleaded ignorance on his own part.

In the months and years that followed a growing number of celebrities also identified stories that must have arisen from the same method. The paper faced a burgeoning number of civil lawsuits and set aside millions of pounds to settle them. The police however refused to investigate any further. There is some disagreement and mystery over the reason why. They claimed they had legal advice that gave such a narrow definition of hacking that investigations would not be worth the trouble, but the lawyer who was supposed to have given this advice later denied it. The News of the World began settling civil cases without admitting liability, and peddled the public line that one 'rogue reporter' had been responsible for a small amount of hacking.


In their favour was the fact that the Tories now appeared to be following the trail that New Labour had blazed. They had expected their defeat in 1997, but when they failed to make any recovery in 2001, and only a weak recovery in 2005, they too had a crisis of confidence, and decided they must compete with New Labour in courting the Murdoch press. Their new leader, David Cameron, employed the same Andy Coulson who had resigned as News of the World editor over hacking, as his director of communications. The message to Murdoch was that even with a change of government, his empire's cosy position of influence would be maintained.

Blair was succeeded in 2007 by the much less neocon Gordon Brown, who was not content with Blair's fawning relationship with the tabloids, just as Murdoch switched sides to Cameron's now more obliging Tories. Brown soon became deeply unpopular, though whether this was more to do with the Murdoch papers or more with his own character flaws is debatable. At any rate, he deeply resented Murdoch's change of side, and the government protection enjoyed by the News of the World seems to have been lowered.

In these circumstances, one of Murdoch's competitor papers, the liberal Guardian, began to look behind the News of the World's unconvincing denials of systematic phone hacking, and itself began to receive leaks from the police that helped with this. In 2009, the Guardian named a new tranche of people whose phones had been hacked, including senior politicians. These names came from Mulcaire's notes, seized by police in 2005, but the police had done nothing about them, not even informing the people who had been hacked. This led to a further spate of lawsuits against the News of the World, and in the course of one of these it emerged that Mulcaire had been commissioned not only by Goodman, but also by Ian Edmondson, a senior editor. With that, the paper's "one rogue reporter" defence fell apart. It now desperately tried to pre-empt events by switching into 'full co-operation' mode and volunteering a new tranche of evidence to the police, who began a new investigation into hacking, Operation Weeting.

In 2010 a new Murdoch-friendly Tory government took power, with however, the spectre of a Murdoch-hostile Liberal Democrat party as coalition partners. Murdoch now launched a bid for the BSkyB cable/satellite TV shares he did not already own. He already had effective control but wanted to make this unchallengeable and secure a bigger share of profits. He expected once again that the government would use its discretion to wave him through the monopolies procedures in what many assumed was a crude quid-pro-quo for supporting Cameron in the election.

But the phone hacking affair was not going away and with a gradual drip of revelations related to it and Operation Weeting, the government's closeness to Murdoch steadily became more and more of an embarrassment. In January 2011, Coulson resigned as Cameron's communications director, blaming the publicity, though still claiming innocence himself.

On 4 July 2011, citing a mysterious police contact, the Guardian reported that in 2002 the News of the World had hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a schoolgirl who at that time had been missing for a week and who it later turned had been murdered. More than that, the Guardian's source claimed, when the News of the World realised that her voicemail box was full, they deleted some of the messages, to make room for more that they could listen to and report on. This caused her mother to believe that Milly herself had deleted the messages and was therefore still alive, a belief which the News of the World duly and, said the Guardian, hypocritically, reported. Checking further the content of the News of the World, the Guardian noted that the paper had hardly even bothered to cover up its hacking, directly reporting on particular messages that had been left for Milly, and saying that they had been left for her in her voicemail.

Hacking the voicemail of celebrities and royalty was one thing; a murdered schoolgirl was another. Suddenly the News of the World's sleaze came back to bite it with a vengeance and it was itself the target of a massive and irresistible scandal. With its major advertisers announcing boycotts, and a boycott by readers likely, the paper closed down, publishing a final 'souvenir' edition that very weekend, July 10.

Later it turned out that those messages had probably not been deleted by the News of the World but by an automatic system that cleared them after a certain time. But that was a detail. The fact of the hacking was beyond doubt. As investigations continued, it became clear that News of the World reporters had hacked the voicemails of the parents of other child murder victims too.

A further consequence was that Murdoch's share purchase at BSkyB fell through. Cameron gave the task of assessing it to a known friend and supporter of Murdoch, Jeremy Hunt. But the very fact that Hunt was known to be so close to Murdoch was going to make it politically too embarrassing to nod through the deal, and July 13 Murdoch abandoned it.

Since then, information turned up by Operation Weeting has led to two additional police investigations into News of the World and other papers: Operation Elveden into corrupt payments to police and other public officials and Operation Tuleta into computer hacking. These are still underway – reportedly Tuleta is no more than a scoping exercise prior to a full investigation. So far there have been arrests of journalists from the Sun and the Times as well as the News of the World. Trials have begun of a number of people including former News of the World editors Rebekah Wade/Brooks and Andy Coulson, though these are still at an early stage.

Is it too much to hope that Murdoch himself might live to face trial? He was very much responsible for the standards and methods of his papers. Although voicemail hacking was probably fairly new in 2002, because voicemail itself was fairly new, it was typical of the methods Murdoch always encouraged his papers to use, the more so in the atmosphere of corrupt political hobnobbing and untouchability that his empire always sought and benefited from. Since his first acquisition of the News of the World, he has been known among journalists as the Dirty Digger, and the nickname is apt.

Perhaps a greater threat to Murdoch's empire is a prosecution in the United States, e.g. under the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act, as the courts there are less likely to pull their punches. He could follow in the illustrious footsteps of another former UK press baron jailed in the USA, Conrad Black. However, as owner of Fox TV, the Murdoch empire has become extremely influential in the USA, too. I cannot say whether it has similar kinds of corrupt immunity, but I would not be surprised. Still, there is at least the possibility of the entire monstrous edifice of News Corporation being brought down and Murdoch seeing the inside of a cell.

So – ding, dong! -- the News of the World is dead at long, long last. Sadly the attitudes and laws it did so much to foster live on.


Paper, mister?

1. The Cleveland Street Scandal itself helped establish a set of techniques that came to characterise newspaper scandal-mongering. The affair started with the discovery by police of a homosexual brothel in London's Cleveland Street, where gentlemen went and paid to admire, and perhaps more, teenage boys earning some money to supplement their wages as post office messengers. The press, however, concentrated not on the brothel itself, of which almost no detail was available for them to report, but on hints and insinuations about VIP clients, and supposed cover-ups to protect them. Techniques of this kind for raising panic and spinning out a story have been ubiquitous in the tabloid media ever since – especially stories do with unconventional sexuality, always fertile ground for the wildest conspiracy theories.

2. Probably any murder of a child could have been latched onto and exploited in this way, but in fact it was poor little Sarah Payne, murdered in July 2000 aged 8, whose face became a News of the World logo, printed on millions of badges and fronting the paper's campaign for “Sarah's Law” – public access to the Sex Offenders' Register, in supposed imitation of the USA's Megan's Law.

3. Milly Dowler, 13, was murdered in March 2002. However, it was some months before her body was discovered, and in the early weeks, when the News of the World was doing its hacking of her voice mail, it was thought possible she might have run away from home.



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