So News International has finally apologised and admitted liability for illegally hacking into the phones of eight people.
Its statement said: “Past behaviour at the News of the World in relation to voicemail interception is a matter of genuine regret. It is now apparent that our previous inquiries failed to uncover important evidence and we acknowledge our actions were not sufficiently robust.”
The statement on Friday came after the arrest of News of the World’s chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former news editor Ian Edmondson last Tuesday.
But this belated action is unlikely to be enough to rescue News International’s reputation.
The company has let this scandal drag on for six years, always vehemently denying that the hacking extended beyond the royal reporter Clive Goodman, and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who were both jailed in 2007 for hacking into Prince William’s phone.
Two years later, the Guardian claimed the newspaper had been involved in the hacking of up to 3,000 people; earlier this year, the Met Police re-opened their investigation; and a growing number of high profile figures have launched legal action against the company.
In attempting to suppress the scandal, News International has simply made things far worse. It’s embroiled not just the News of the World, not just News International , which also owns the Times, the Sun and the Sunday Times, but damaged the rest of Rupert Murdoch’s multimillion pound business interests.
Allowing the issue to fester and grow, as it has done, is a prime example of how not to manage a crisis.
When the first revelations came to light, the company must have known how far phone hacking was embedded in the culture of the newspaper, and have some idea of how many other influential figures had been victims.
That was the time it ought to have held up its hands, conducted a proper investigation, co-operated with the police, taken action against those found guilty, and apologised.
If they had done so, a few careers in the newspaper industry might have been sacrificed, but whole matter would have been forgotten within months – and the company would not have been facing multiple lawsuits, a £20 million compensation bill and more of its employees going on trial.