I am at home today trying to recover from manflu, which I have been suffering from since Sunday, and reflecting on a momentous week at Westminster when the phone hacking scandal went from slow-burning Westminster village story to front-page news.
The law says all phone hacking by journalists is illegal. I suspect that in the court of public opinion, hacking the phones of politicians, public officials and celebrities to uncover wrongdoing or hypocrisy may not be viewed as a very serious offence. What has transformed this story is the news that the police have reason to believe that people working on behalf of The News of the World hacked the phones of Milly Dowler, the parents of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and the families of some of the 7/7 bombing victims and British servicemen killed in Afghanistan. If true, I can find no better words to describe how I feel than those of Mark Lewis, a lawyer acting for the Dowler family, who said:
"It is distress heaped upon tragedy to learn the News of the World have no humanity at such a terrible time. The fact that they were prepared to act in such a heinous way that could have jeopardised the police investigation and gave them [the Dowler family] false hope is despicable".
Questions are bound to be asked about the Prime Minister's decision to hire the former editor of The News of the World, Andy Coulson, as his director of communications and about his friendship with another former editor of The News of the World and now chief executive of News International, Rebecca Brooks. The same questions could equally be asked of Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, who appointed Tom Baldwin, a former News International employee whose journalistic practices are hardly a model for others to follow, as his director of strategy. One of the first things Mr Baldwin did in his new job was toadvise Mr Miliband and his colleagues not to attack News International.
But it is hardly a surprise that the leaders of our political parties seek to build bridges with those who own our newspapers. What matters is that, confronted with the evidence that is now before us, they are seen to act unambiguously in the public interest.
The Prime Minister made a good start yesterday when he said that there would be a public inquiry or inquiries. The choice of person to lead this inquiry and the terms of reference are very important.
We need to get to the bottom of how widespread phone hacking was and who authorised or knew about it. To date, all the stories have been about The News of the World but plenty of former journalists have suggested that this practice was used by a number of newspapers, not just those owned by Rupert Murdoch.
We need to find out why all of this didn't come to light in the initial police investigation. Pretty much all of the evidence that has led the news over the last few days has been in police hands for years. The police were very thorough in their investigation of the cash for honours allegations - some in the Labour Party would probably argue that they went too far, but it was important that they were seen to treat such allegations with the utmost thoroughness. Why was the same thoroughness not shown with regard to these allegations?
We also need to look into the allegations of police officers being paid by journalists. How widespread was this practice, who authorised it and who knew about it?
And we need to look at the current system of self-regulation. The Press Complaints Commission itself has admitted that the status quo cannot continue. A free press is an integral part of our democracy but we must have a system that makes sure that this kind of wrongdoing never happens again.
Even if parts of the inquiry can't proceed until the current criminal invesitgations are complete, I hope we will get some clarity on the nature of the inquiry or inquiries fairly quickly.
Finally there is the issue of News Corporation's proposed purchase of the 61% of British Sky Broadcasting which it does not currently own. I appreciate that in making this decision Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity and that this limits the Government's room for manoevure but nevertheless I think there is a very strong case for delay until we have established the facts about what has happened.
This scandal is an important test for the Prime Minster. He made a good start yesterday and he needs to follow that through.