Hacking trial: the mainstream Press
£100m case puts Cameron in the dock
What the commentators had to say
The hacking scandal has been used as the pretext for a culture war against the tabloid press. Innocent victims of phone hacking have effectively been used as human shields by those who think that “popular” is a dirty word.
The phone hacking affair has displayed the Prime Minister at his worst – a shallow, amoral, conniving careerist, determined to secure high office at any cost. Nevertheless, in Westminster yesterday, the general opinion seemed to be that David Cameron had got away with it...
On Tuesday evening, Harriet Harman, had the cheek to criticise Mr Cameron for having been so pally with Rupert Murdoch.
Hacking brought the children of his second wife, Anna, back to him, there to support their father in the teeth of crisis. Lachlan moved from estrangement to the end of a telephone. Father and son were talking again. Now, still champions of print, they share the same platforms and the same boardrooms...
The Conservative leader became utterly dependent upon his adviser’s insights – not only because Billericay always has something to tell Bullingdon, but also because Coulson took to politics quickly and easily, and understood how to translate Cameron’s strategy into messages that would be picked up by the media. Inevitably, much has been made of his past in the Murdoch print stable and the mystique that held for Cameron – as if his comms director had only ever been on secondment from Wapping. But Coulson’s principal task was to get the Tory party on to our television screens.
The Press Complaints Commission, set up and run by the industry, failed to notice criminal conduct at the NoW on an industrial scale. Its successor, IPSO, is another fake regulator which fails to comply with the reasonable proposals set out by Lord Justice Leveson after a very thorough public inquiry.I believe passionately in a free press. I've been a journalist all my working life and I don't want state regulation, even though my phone was hacked by the NoW in 2004 when it became interested in my private life.
I am not trying for one second to excuse the inexcusable News of the World when I make one point, as gently as I can: although the journalists’ motives may have been cheap and nasty, they were actually trying to find Milly, or at least to discover what had happened to her. They were emphatically not trying to murder her. Some other bastard did that.
Cameron knew perfectly well that during the time when Coulson edited the News of the World, the paper had become a criminal enterprise, hacking people’s phones, and that he had been forced to resign after one of his senior staff was jailed.
You could argue – and I would – that Cameron has been unfairly maligned over Coulson. First, he has been blamed for his loyalty, and specifically for keeping him on when he became Prime Minister, despite many warnings about the skeletons that lay in the Coulson cupboard. But loyalty in my book is a virtue rather than a vice – we saw it again, to similarly detrimental effect, when Cameron stood by both Andrew Mitchell and Maria Miller for longer than was politically advisable.
When it was revealed that poor Milly Dowler's phone was hacked, what was Blair's first reaction? It wasn't to ring Mrs Dowler. It was to offer to advise the company on their PR strategy. Like many others in the Labour party, I am ashamed of him.
For those of us who were both victims and witnesses, it has been hard to understand the lack of care and consideration shown in the rerunning of deeply sensitive events that even those of us in public life should not have to tolerate. As the judge pointed out, there was no public-interest justification, yet matters that would have remained private were it not for hacking were publicly paraded once again. I ask myself how others can be encouraged to come forward as witnesses.
The interception of voicemail messages may not be the most serious crime, but it is a crime nonetheless – to be punished like others of similar gravity, under laws that existed long before the Leveson Inquiry...
But one glance at the expenditure of manpower and resources on the marathon trial that ended yesterday, and the police investigation leading up to it, shows the jaw-droppingly disproportionate scale of the authorities’ reaction...
Meanwhile, at least 12 more trials are in the pipeline, involving up to 40 accused. They are among 96 journalists arrested since 2011 – many in melodramatic dawn raids – while some have been on police bail for months, their careers in limbo, waiting to hear if they will be prosecuted...
Which brings us to the chilling role played by the Prime Minister in turning what should have been a routine crime investigation, confined mainly to one company, into a frenzied assault on the wider newspaper industry.
As Mr Justice Saunders reminded the jury this week, David Cameron’s pretext for launching the Leveson Inquiry – a Guardian report that journalists had deleted Milly Dowler’s voicemail messages – was without foundation.
All too clearly, however, his real motive was to divert attention from his own gross misjudgment in appointing Andy Coulson as his director of communications
- Heavy price we all have to pay for
The acquittal of Rebekah Brooks... and four other defendants cannot be obscured by Mr Coulson’s conviction. Mrs Brooks insisted on her innocence from the start and said she was being subjected to a witch-hunt. The jury’s verdict goes a long way to bearing her out and gives the lie to those who believed phone hacking was endorsed at senior level by News International.
There were many who expressed surprise and disappointment at Mrs Brooks’s acquittal. But they did not sit through an eight-month trial in which the prosecution’s case against her was shown to be embarrassingly threadbare. There are serious questions about whether the case against her and the four other acquitted defendants should have proceeded at all.
That said, we have always argued that phone hacking did not require new press regulation but application of the criminal law. The criminal law has now been applied, although not necessarily with the outcome that those who seek to muzzle the press would have wanted...
In the meantime, thanks largely to Mr Cameron’s embarrassment over Mr Coulson, we have had the Leveson inquiry. Most newspapers have signed up to the new Independent Press Standards Organisation which, as recommended in the Leveson report, is “established and organised by the industry” and provides some of the toughest regulation in the world. The critics, of course, are not satisfied. It is safe to conclude they probably never will be.
- And this was worth £100m?
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