By Mick Krever and Annabel Archer, CNN
It is the scandal that has shaken Britain to its core, embroiling the political elite, the police and the press.
Allegations that British journalists hacked into phones and computers, and were involved in bribery, forced media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to shut down the country’s best-selling newspaper and resulted in the conviction of Andy Coulson, a former newspaper editor and top aide to Prime Minister David Cameron.
“It begins with the crime in the newspapers,” Nick Davies, the reporter who uncovered the hacking scandal, told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, in for Christiane Amanpour, on Thursday.
“But when you look at the way the authorities reacted to that, you see first of all the press regulator, and then Scotland Yard, refusing to investigate properly, refusing to get anywhere near the bottom of the problem.”
Davies is the author of a new book, “Hack Attack: How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch.”
At the heart of the problem, Davies says, was the incredible power wielded by the Murdoch empire. He writes in his book about the wedding of Rebekah Brooks, another newspaper editor and one of Murdoch’s top protégés.
“Everybody's there – the whole power elite are gathering. And it's not actually that they want to be there, because the champagne and the canapés are that great. There's a kind of fear bubbling beneath the surface.”
“If you're Rupert Murdoch, you own these newspapers that specialize at exposing people's private lives. That's a very powerful, frightening thing to do for government ministers or police chiefs. Plus, you've got the ability to destabilize a government, a political party, a corporation.”
“People are frightened of Rupert Murdoch. And then he doesn't have to do very much. I say it's a bit like the power of a school bully – that once he's beaten up a couple of kids in the playground, all the other kids are going to step carefully around and try and please him.”
Davies said he had been covering the hacking allegations for years before the story started to gain traction.
At one point, he told Pleitgen, Brooks was asked how the story would end, “and she said it would be with my editor on his knees, begging for mercy.”
“It had become a really corrupted profession.”
The breakthrough was the story of Milly Dowler, a schoolgirl who had been abducted and killed, and whose phone messages were hacked by journalists.
“And all of these people in the power elite who'd been so anxious to be Rupert Murdoch's friend, suddenly didn't want to be seen with him,” he said.
Though Murdoch’s empire spans the globe, media in the UK seem to hold particular weight among the political elite.
“I would say that Britain is peculiar in having this highly competitive media market. So you've got sixty million people here, crammed into a space that's not much bigger than the state of Texas.”
“So a newspaper that's published in London or Glasgow – it can reach all of them. So it's fantastically competitive so it becomes ruthless.”
The lessons of the hacking scandal have lessons far beyond Britain’s shores, Davies told Pleitgen.
“What I'm trying to do in the book is in great detail, to look at the way power operates. Because it's often very subtle.”
“Wherever [Murdoch] goes, he creates media triangles. So if you have the down market newspaper like "The Sun," you'll also have, say, the "New York Post" in New York. And then the up market paper, "The Times" or "The Wall Street Journal." And then the TV outlets, Sky or the FOX in the United States.”
“And it's very powerful. And once that media mogul starts to play political games, off the back of that power that that triangle gives him you're in trouble. Democracy's in trouble.”
“And that's the lesson which applies to any country in the world where he or a mogul like him operates.”