The very idea of a gagging out of court settlement in the News of the World hacking case is highly dubious in this age of trumpeted accountability. That a media group should seek such a settlement is typical hypocrisy of a high order. That a court should grant it and that the police and the CPS should take no further action when, as it appears, they knew most of the Guardian’s facts boggles the mind.
Without the Guardian’s scoop who would have given redress to these “thousands” of victims and perhaps thousands of others as yet unknown? Not the police, who didn’t even tell them they were hacked into. Not the courts who agreed to an out of court settlement. Not the voluntary press regulator the Press Complaints Commission whose follow up action aeems to have been wholly ineffective.
The PCC is finally exposed as a paper tiger in serious cases, though they argue that as lawbreaking was involved, it was not one for them.
Who blew the gaff about the gagging out of court settlement ? We may never know, unless a whistleblower emerges. But according to the BBC’s Nick Robinson:
the police showed a list of names of targets for phone hacking to one of those whose voicemails were illegally hacked into by the News of the World. This happened in the lead-up to the jailing of the paper’s royal editor and the private investigator he used. The individual, who I’ve spoken to, recognised the names of many familiar public figures and the stories that had appeared in the paper about them.
I guess the “one of those” was a politician. This makes it all the more gob smacking that no one took it further at the time. How much of this “blagging” went on?
Part of the extent of the buying and selling of information has been revealed by the office of the Information Commissioner who has just retired and is about to be replaced. As the (Murdoch owned) Times reports:
The Assistant Information Commissioner told The Times last night that 31 journalists had allegedly been involved in “the buying and selling of personal information”. Mick Gorrill said that his department had compiled a dossier within the past two years as part of a wider investigation into “the buying and selling of personal information”, which showed that journalists “had acquired people’s personal information through blagging”
Why did the Information Commissioner compile this dossier? Presumably because breaches of data protection were suspected or freedom of information requests were made. There’s much more to unravel here.
The authorities are now falling over themselves to intervene. Yates of the Yard is on the case and the pressure on Andy Coulson as David Cameron’s’ chief PR man will only intensify. It beggars belief that he didn’t know anything about what appears to be a whole culture of illegal snooping, even if we accept his word that he didn’t know about one single out of court settlement. But as Coulson’s position threatens to become a political football, it shouldn’t divert us from the bigger picture. Why did the police and others leave it to a newbreak before taking action, when they knew the facts long ago? If they are right now, they were wrong then. And there may be much, much more to come. We need not assume that the Murdoch press were the only ones up to dirty tricks. With Yates involved, will other canaries stay mum? I do hope not.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London