After Storm St Jude cut a swathe through the South and East of England this week, leaving four people dead and a bill of as much as £500m, a second storm (of the tabloid variety) began at the Old Bailey, when the Prime MInister's one time spin doctor Andy Coulson, ex-editor of News of the World Rebecca Brooks and six other journalists/News International executives went on trial for phone hacking and conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice.
Today's news - on the second day of proceedings - (although rumours were rife on the twittersphere earlier in the year) was that Coulson and Brooks had a six-year affair which lasted from 1998 - 2004, during which time Coulson edited the News of the World. At the NotW He replaced Rebecca Brooks, who had gone on to edit the Sun. On the recommendation of Chancellor George Osborne, Coulson became David Cameron's chief spinner after resigning his editorship in 2007. That post lasted until 2011, when he stepped down from his Downing Street role in the wake of new allegations about phone hacking.
For sure, there's nothing like a little salacious tittle tattle to sell newspapers, and in truth a consensual affair between two grown ups is not generally (and nor should it be) a matter of public interest, despite the prosecutor's attempts to argue otherwise.
But all reason is thrown aside because this trial drives right into the heart of the Prime Minister's personal and professional world; his close relationship with Mrs Brooks, and Mr Coulson's job as the PM's press secretary has created open season for the press. And additionally, the media gets to do what it likes best; namely to write, comment and pontificate about itself through the medium of a high profile trial featuring eight of their own in the dock.
Whether or not Coulson and Brooks are found guilty, Mr Cameron has already found it hard to shake off a sense that he made a disastrous error of judgement through his choice of friends (Brooks) and employees (Coulson), particularly as he was warned about Coulson before and after allegations of phone hacking started to come to light. Mr Cameron did not seek any independent assurances that Coulson was 'clean,' and famously said [I believe in giving] him a second chance" when new allegations came to light in 2011 that phone hacking was not the work of just one rogue reporter. His friendship with Mrs Brooks - part of the so-called Chipping Norton set - has also raised eyebrows, following revelations at the Leveson enquiry that they were in regular contact by phone, text and at social events.
An underlying theme throughout the phone hacking inquiry is the breadth and depth of the relationship between the Murdoch press and the Conservative Party hierarchy. Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were eager to get News International to throw their weight behind the Conservatives before the 2010 General Election. News International duly backed the Tories, but cordial relations quickly soured after Mr Murdoch's bid for Sky was scuppered in 2012, Mr Murdoch's son James resigned as chairman of Sky and Rebecca Brooks also resigned as CEO of News International.
Although the man in the street may not be too interested, the affair has thrown a harsh light on a very small group of powerful individuals in the media and politics who are in each other's pockets. Nobody would argue that this is a new phenomenon; the press barons have always been courted by ambitious politicians - but Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Northcliffee did their politicking out of plain sight. Now, technology has exposed to public view what journalist Peter Oborne describes as a toxic nexus of cosy and unwholesome relationships among the politicians and the press. The Brooks/Coulson trial matters because it will explore accusations of criminal wrongdoing which the Leveson Inquiry (into phone hacking) was not given the remit to consider. The trial is expected to last for five months.