In a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth, or so it would seem to anyone born after 1989, there was a big TV name called Michael Elphick. He had a hit show, attracting millions of viewers. He’d been a party animal in his time and, for some reason, a Sunday taboid editor decided to take him down a notch. Elphick drafted me in to try and wrangle the gorilla.
This was a time when mobile phones were nothing more than a twinkle in the eye of the Star Trek props department and folk depended on land lines. A time when many, many celebrities chose to make themselves ex-directory, their number only available to friends, to protect their privacy.
The journalist stalking Elphick began to pester his quarry at home, however. Somehow his private number had been made public. On questioning the journalist after a liquid lunch (the best time in the PR game to probe your opponent about these sorts of matters), he guffawed. “Mate, we have our ways,” he said, “and 35 quid will get you a snitch in the GPO only too happy to provide an ex-directory number!”
Michael ascended to the great Green Room in the sky in 2002, and the investigations man has too long since shuffled off this mortal coil, but the only thing to have changed since then is the size, and ease of use, of the technology.
In the 21st century, the dark art of phone hacking has on many occasions required a helping nudge from a contact in a mobile phone company. Of course, there are many Z listers willing to give out a mobile at the drop of a hat. Others, the ones with more to lose, are much more careful.
Here’s a question that needs to be asked loudly and publicly: how did the so-called hackers in the news at the moment get the prime numbers? The current hacking soap opera has a long way to run, I’d say – I can’t believe that the numbers of the 7/7 victims were all that easy to obtain.
Who inside the mobile companies gave the News of the World a helping hand and what was their price? I hope, for their sake, that the mobile carriers have cut out the cancerous staff at the heart of their brands because there’s every chance that the toxic overspill surrounding the scandal could hurt them too if they have not.