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If a Bulger killer was hacked, how did Mulcaire get his top secret number? – Brian Cathcart

The Mirror and the Telegraph have reported that lawyers acting for one of the killers of James Bulger are planning to sue News International because their client’s phone was hacked.

Both papers dwell at length on the distress of the murder victim’s family at this reported development – and you can see why they feel that way – but both papers also fail to point out the most alarming implication of the story.

Robert Thompson was living under a secret and protected identity when Glenn Mulcaire acquired his mobile number, apparently in 2002. He had been released from detention only months earlier and, after many threats to his life, was one of the handful of people in the whole country most at risk from violent attack.

How did the News of the World penetrate the official security around him? Very few people can have known both his phone number and his real identity, and all of them must have been in positions of trust. The Mirror and the Telegraph don’t seem to be interested in whether one of these people betrayed that trust, or indeed in whether money changed hands.

And there are other questions, which may be more alarming still. If Mulcaire could get through that protective barrier, who else could, was anybody else hacked, and were people placed in danger?

The protection given to Thompson, after all, was similar to the protection sometimes given by the state to threatened witnesses to serious crime, and to people involved in crime who have turned Queen’s evidence. We would surely like to think that the state can guarantee the anonymity and thus the safety of such people, but can it?

There may be many who don’t like to think that Robert Thompson might receive thousands in compensation from News International, but we should ask ourselves who is responsible.

I suspect that the Mirror and the Telegraph would like us to believe that it is a sign of excessive zeal in the investigation of hacking – you can almost hear the words: “It has all gone too far.” But this misses the point, again.

Nobody in 2002 can have been in the slightest doubt that any attempt to breach the secrecy around Thompson was wrong, and equivalent to raising two fingers to the criminal justice system. But, as the Sunday Times was the first to report last year the News of the World went ahead anyway and Inforrm had a post at the time. (This was the same year that the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s phone.)

If James Bulger’s relatives are angry about the consequence, they should ask which journalist at the News of the World commissioned Mulcaire to do the hacking, because that is the person who is really responsible for their current distress.

Brian Cathcart, a founder of Hacked Off, teaches journalism at Kingston University London. He tweets at @BrianCathcart

This post was originally published on the Hacked Off blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks

2 Comments

  1. Jonathan James

    Of course the other question is why on earth NOTW wanted to penetrate the secrecy. Why would they want to track him down? Is there really no story which is beyond the pale and should not be published? Surely the thoughts of a child killer, whatever one’s views of his moral and legal culpability, should not be the foundation of a sensationalised tabloid expose?

    • Katy

      Perhaps the NOTW might claim a ‘public interest’ defence (“we were watching him in case he killed again”) or some such nonsense. However, given it seems he was hacked for years and they never found anything remotely dodgy about him (apart from apparently attending art school and being gay), then this defence appears to be redundant. My biggest question is who on earth gave them the details? And were they paid?

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