Some Phone Hacking Scoops That Doomed News of the World

Scouring voicemail for scoops didn't produce many bombshell stories

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The 168-year-old British paper News of the World is closing down because of allegations it regularly hired private investigators to hack into voicemail boxes in the hunt for scoops. It forces you to wonder: was the information obtained so valuable that it was worth gambling the entire paper's existence? The accusations about whose phones the News of the World hacked is sprawling, with the relatives of murdered schoolgirls, victims of London's 2005 transit bombing, and soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan all named as potential targets. The police are mainly contacting these people because their names appeared in the files of Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective hired by the British tabloid, but many of those who previously claimed they were hacking victims--a who's who of celebrities, athletes, royals, and politicians--pointed to other evidence: suspicious News of the World articles. Here are some of the stories that shut down the News of the World.

Prince William's knee The first lesson is that the scoops weren't always as racy or sensationalist as you might expect. In fact, the phone-hacking scandal engulfing News of the World actually began rather inauspiciously in 2005, when Prince William grew concerned that the cell phones used by the Royal household were being tapped. What was the News of the World Story that tipped him off? An incredibly banal story about his visit to a doctor for an undisclosed knee injury. According to the BBC, the tabloid wrote:

William pulled a tendon in his knee after last week's kids' kickabout with Premiership club Charlton Athletic. Now medics have put him on the sick list ... 

He has seen Prince Charles's personal doc and is now having physiotherapy at Cirencester hospital, near his country home Highgrove.

Posh home movies William grew even more worried a week later when News of the World published another innocuous story about how he borrowed broadcasting equipment from ITN political editor Tom Bradby. What was shocking, Bradby told The Daily Mail, was that the article appeared before William and Bradby actually met--a meeting only four people knew about. It also became clear that William's text messages had been intercepted when the tabloid revealed that William's then-girlfriend Kate Middleton called him "Big Willie" and that the prince had sent his brother a text message impersonating his girlfriend, Chelsy Davy. According to The Guardian, the tabloid's story on the meeting between William and Bradby went like this:


If ITN do a stocktake on their portable editing suites this week, they might notice they're one down. That's because their pin-up political editor Tom Bradbury has lent it to close pal Prince William so he can edit together all his gap-year videos and DVDs into one very posh home movie.

At least William, who demands to be left in peace by the media, can be confident his secret is safe at that rumour sieve ITN - and that it won't get out and infuriate the BBC. Oops.

Sienna Miller's travel arrangements When the actress Sienna Miller took News of the World to court for phone hacking in 2010, the evidence she cited was more of what we'd expect from a tabloid: eleven articles published in 2005 and 2006 documenting the romantic relationship between Miller and actor Jude Law--chronicling their travel plans, arguments, feelings for one another, discussions about having children, and chats about previous relationships. Matching up the headlines cited in Miller's court statement with a stash of 2005 News of the World stories highlighted by The Guardian, we're able to surface some of the stories that spurred Miller to make her allegations. Here's one typical excerpt from the 2005 piece "Jude 'n' Sienna Back on"

Jude Law and Sienna Miller are jetting out to America to celebrate getting back together, the News of the World can exclusively reveal. The film stars are giving their relationship another chance and flying first class to Los Angeles for a romantic six-night trip on Tuesday afternoon. A source close to the couple said: "It looks like they are prepared to forgive and forget." But the couple have booked separate flights home. They split last month after furious Jude found out Sienna, 23, had a fling with new James Bond hunk Daniel Craig. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.