Rupert Murdoch's grip on his media empire was dramatically challenged yesterday after his company was labelled a "toxic shadow state" which launched a dirty tricks campaign against MPs and now faces a salvo of phone-hacking claims in the United States.
The sense of a legal net tightening around Mr Murdoch and News Corp was heightened by the announcement that he and his son James will testify separately next week before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards during three days of what is likely to be uncomfortable scrutiny of alleged widespread criminality in their British tabloid newspapers.
In the book, Mr Thurlbeck, who has been arrested in connection with phone hacking, says: "An edict came down... and it was find out every single thing you can about every single member: who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use." Mr Thurlbeck told The Independent last night that the order to target the MPs, which involved assigning two politicians each to a group of six reporters, had not originated from inside the paper but instead came from "elsewhere inside News International". He insisted that NOTW staff had been reluctant and there was a "degree of procrastination" before the plan was "suddenly and unexpectedly halted about 10 days later".