Police in dock over phone hacking fury

Police have announced a new investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World. But why did it take them so long to get on the case?

The reporter and the private eye were going to jail, and the Metropolitan Police hoped the story would end there. So too did Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp, the world’s most powerful media organisation.

But now, the investigation – dead for years – has been reopened.

It started in 2005, at Clarence House, home of Prince Charles, where suspicious aides complained to police that somebody was eavesdropping on private messages left on their phones.

The trail led to Wapping, base of the UK’s biggest Sunday paper, the News of the World. There, the police arrested Clive Goodman, the paper’s royal correspondent, and a private investigator called Glenn Mulcaire.

News Corp, which owns the paper, quickly expressed their horror, and Murdoch made a statement declaring zero-tolerance for illegal activity. Goodman, claimed executives, was a ‘rogue reporter’ acting without the support or knowledge of his superiors.

Not many who knew the workings of the paper believed this optimistic account, but the police were happy to let the matter drop.With Goodman and Mulcaire safely behind bars, they declared the case officially closed.

But the story just wouldn’t die. Behind the scenes, several alleged victims of phone hacking were preparing to bring their own cases to the civil courts.

It soon became clear that the police had had much more evidence than they had brought to the original trial.

Papers seized from Mulcaire had contained 4332 names, and preliminary investigations had revealed a ‘vast number of victims’ and a ‘vast array of offending behaviour.’ Mulcaire’s notes were marked with the first names of several journalists who had commissioned phone hacks from him. None were ever questioned.

Among Mulcaire’s targets was Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, who later sued News Corp for invading his privacy. His case was strong enough to win damages in excess of £1 million.

Police! Camera! Inaction!
If the evidence against the newspaper was that strong, why did the police not follow up the many loose leads until now? Scotland Yard claimed this week to have just received ‘significant new information’ from the News of the World, allowing them to reopen the case.

But, as is becoming increasingly clear, the police have had huge quantities of incriminating evidence since they seized Mulcaire’s papers back in 2006. Now there are angry calls, from across the political spectrum, for a full inquiry.

You Decide

  1. Would you buy a paper if you knew that some of its stories were written with illegally obtained information? Why - or why not?
  2. Newspapers sometimes justify subterfuge by saying that they're acting in the public interest. What is the public interest? And is this a legitimate defense?

Activities

  1. Imagine someone had been listening in on your private messages or calls. Write a statement to the press explaining how you feel and why you think what the newspaper did was wrong.
  2. Newspapers and press organisations are bound by a code of conduct which is meant to prevent incidents like this. In groups, develop your own 'press code'. Remember to balance the need for a strong press against people's rights to privacy.

Some People Say...

“Police shouldn’t waste their time on this. Don’t they have real crimes to solve?”

What do you think?

Q & A

What’s so special about a ‘civil case’ then?
Criminal cases get brought against people or companies by civil servants called public prosecutors. They decide to prosecute when they feel evidence is strong enough to get a conviction. Civil cases, on the other hand, can be brought by anyone, to get compensation for injury, libel or other damaging actions.
And how many people have brought such cases?
Lots of celebrities either have sued or are planning to, including Sienna Miller, Chris Tarrant, Steve Coogan, Kieren Fallon and sacked Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray.
And now the police are in trouble?
Potentially. Senior Tories have joined former Labour minister John Prescott in calling for a full judicial review.
Why would anyone bother hacking phones?
Well, it just shows how far journalists will go for a good scoop.

Subjects