So the CPS will not press new charges in the News of the World phone hacking case. We shouldn’t be surprised. They won’t be surprised at News International either.
The Metropolitan Police was never the right body to reinvestigate a case it has already made a mess of once. What motivation did it have? Had the CPS found grounds for a prosecution, after all, it would have been the same as saying that the Met got it all wrong first time.
For the sake of credibility alone, the Independent Police Complaints Commission or HM Inspector of Constabulary should have managed the reinvestigation. We know, in fact, that the Inspectorate wanted to, but the pass was sold. So establishing why no one stepped in is just another in the pile of seriously worrying questions associated with this affair.
Of course the scandal of tabloid phone hacking is not over. The 23 legal actions that are either current or in the pipeline will see to that. And it is instructive, if you are in any doubt about the moral questions involved, that many of these cases are being held up because convicted hacker and former News of the World employee Glen Mulcaire is challenging a High Court order telling him he must reveal the names of the people at the paper who gave him his orders.
Think that through: the issue is not whether he was given the orders but whether he has to say who gave them. His argument, to cap it all, is that by revealing the names he might incriminate himself. The News of the World and its former employee are that far from the moral high ground.
We will have to wait until the new year, I understand, to hear the result.
So far it has been worth at least £2m to News International to settle cases in this affair and prevent the facts coming out. That includes a settlement with Gordon Taylor and two of his associates. It also includes Max Clifford, who landed a seven-figure deal with News International at the just the moment he dropped his case against them. It includes, too, the pay-offs made to convicted hackers Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire.
Most of those now engaged in legal proceedings know, or have strong grounds to believe, that they were hacked. They have the indignation of crime victims and of people whose privacy has been violated. Nor, in most cases, are they nobodies — Andy Gray, Steve Coogan, Chris Tarrant…
They also know that News International is paying these large sums in the effort to hush up the affair. It is a perfect legal storm.
And beyond the pending cases, dozens and even hundreds more could follow. The Met is under very strong legal pressure — from Lord Prescott among others — to reveal the identities of more of those named in the papers it seized from Mulcaire’s office and home. For some reason it has been very reluctant indeed to do so — potential victims of crime they may be, but they don’t seem to have a right to know it, in the Met’s eyes. Again, the courts will be the judge of that.
No, it’s not over, by a long shot.
This post originally appeared on the Free Speech Blog – Official Blog of Index on Censorship and is reproduced with permission and thanks.Brian Cathcart is professor of journalism at Kingston University and media columnist at the New Statesman. He was specialist adviser to the Commons select committee on culture, media and sport for its inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel, 2008-10. Read more Brian Cathcart on Metgate here and here