Graham King

Solvitas perambulum

The death of Sean Hoare, whistleblower


The News International phone hacking scandal is the case of a British tabloid’s staff hacking into several thousand people’s voicemail, over a period of at least six years.

They listened to voicemail of the 7/7 terrorist attack victims, politicians, a murdered schoolgirl (including erasing some messages, leading the family to think she lived), the British Royal Family, various celebrities, and other journalists.

The newspaper in question, the News of the World, is owned by News Corporation, who’s Chairman and CEO is Rupert Murdoch, 117th richest and one of the most powerful people in the world (13th according to Forbes, ‘Top 100’ according to Time).

This BBC timeline shows how bad things are:

  • The editor of the newspaper at the time, Andy Coulson, is now the Prime Minister’s director of communications. He has been arrested for phone hacking and for bribing the police.

  • Britain’s two most senior policemen have resigned: Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates. The police had found no evidence of wrongdoing at the tabloid and refused to investigate further. They employed Neil Wallis, who was deputy editor of the News of the World during the phone hacking.

  • The chief executive of the newspaper, Rebekah Brooks, has been arrested. She had previously admitted in a commons (government) inquiry to paying the police for information.

  • Several more journalists have been arrested, other papers owned by Rupert Murdoch also used illegally obtained phone tap information (The Sunday Times, and The Sun), and US politicians are calling for the FBI to investigate.

And now Sean Hoare, the journalist who first went on record implicating the editor of the tabloid (and Prime Minister’s advisor), who just last week claimed journalists paid police to locate people’s mobile phones has been found dead.

The weekend before, Sean Hoare explained a “broken nose and badly injured foot” by saying he suffered them “taking down a marquee erected for a children’s party”.

And, and this is the best bit, the police, yes the police who are deeply involved here, state that the death is “not thought to be suspicious”. Let’s do some stats on that.

Theory 1: He just, euh, died

He might have died without any help. People do. He was 47. He was at a 1 in 279 risk of dying in any given year, thats 0.35%.

He had “drink and drug” problems. He was a journalist and showbiz editor, so we can assume ‘drugs’ here means cocaine.

In a recent study 15% of 18-34 year olds said they had tried it. That’s just under a million people (15% of 6.4 million). Of those, 325 people died. That’s a risk of death of 1 in 3,000. I couldn’t find any stats on the risks to a 47 year old so let’s take a stab in the dark and double the risk to 1 in 1500.

Alcohol liver disease is one of the leading causes of death for people in his age group in Britiain (alcohol and drug addiction treatment). In 2005 alcoholism killed about 500 people like him, out of 1.8 Million in that age group, a risk of 0.027% or 1 in 3600.

So we do 1/279 + 1/1500 + 1/3600 ~= 0.45% risk of death.

I’m being fast and loose with the numbers here (for example part of the drug and alcohol death risk is already accounted for in the overall risk), but, in summary, the risk is low. 47 year old men in England don’t often just drop dead, even if they drink and take drugs. Note further that there has been no mention of the death being alcohol or drug related, so I’m being generous with the odds of death here.

Sean Hoare is not the only person who’s death would have been suspicious. I count 23 people in that BBC Timeline who seem to be involved enough to implicate others. Their ages and risk factors differ, so let’s go with a middle ground, the same 1 / 279. The risk of anyone involved in the investigation dying this year is about 8% (1/279 * 23), still pretty unlikely.

Theory 2: He was murdered

He might not have ‘just died’. He might have been killed. The beating he took the weekend before might not have come from a children’s marquee.

What is the risk of death for a 47 year old white male who’s testimony may send to prison policemen, political advisers, journalists, and private investigators, and who might have recently been beaten up? I’d say it’s higher than 0.45%, wouldn’t you?

So, British Metropolitan Police, “the death is currently being treated as unexplained but not thought to be suspicious”. Really?